Examination of Witnesses (Questions 62
TUESDAY 7 MAY 2002
62. We welcome you. May I welcome you Baroness
Kennedy, Chair of the British Council; Mr David Green who is very
well-known to our Committee as Director-General; and Mr Andrew
Fotheringham, Director, Planning Research and Evaluation. Baroness
Kennedy, you may have heard my question to the predecessor World
Service colleagues in relation to the degree of co-operation and
co-ordination between you, the British Council, and the World
Service. Can you give the picture from your perspective.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I heard
Mr Byford describing it as being in the order of 50 projects.
Indeed, it is over 60 projects and we feel that the collaboration
has strengthened considerably in the last few years. There has
always been collaboration between the World Service and the British
Council, particularly in the delivery of educational services.
It is on that education front that real co-operation can take
place with the broadcasting expertise of the BBC and then the
educational and teaching expertise from the Council side, and
in bringing those two things together you can deliver a very good
product. We have strengthened that considerably and, as I have
said, there are now 60 projects. Many of the projects in which
we are now involved are broader than the traditional educational
ones. We are doing many more around civil society building and
strengthening democracy. We have been doing a number of projects
on journalism courses bringing in again the expertise from broadcasters.
63. Bringing in journalists?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Bringing journalists
to the United Kingdom or sending people out to take part in fora
in their part of the world to deal very directly with the problems
journalists face and trying to create a free press in parts of
the world where that tradition has not existed. That is another
area of project work where there has been great collaboration.
I have been very involved with it myself because there has been
marvellous human rights work where basically they can have discussions
and debates on the radio and then give some reference to the work
which we are doing on the ground as well, strengthening links
between the legal profession here in Britain with lawyers working
in emerging democracies in areas where human rights issues are
very tested and in strengthening the links between the judiciary
and so on.
64. So if you were to project three years hence
are there any areas where you think there could be closer co-operation?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I think that there
is obviously an exponential growth of what we have already been
doing. I think there is potential for doing more work on civil
society building and creating links using broadcasting at one
level but then with us on the ground, with people who are building
up organisations very similar to organisations which have existed
here for many years, and creating those links using broadcasting
as one of the mechanisms. We can see lots of creative ways in
which we could do that much more effectively.
65. Can you give an example. I know that you
have some expertise in Africa of judicial proceedings, as we appeared
together recently on that. Can you give some examples in that
field of where you think there could be productive co-operation?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) In Africa a lot of
our work is around helping develop the great potential of African
people in areas of leadership in becoming community leaders. People
say to me that the hope for Africa is often amongst many of its
women folk who are really fantastic women working in the communities
doing fantastic things, particularly in areas where many of their
men folk have been laid low by terrible tragic events like the
Ruandan massacres. Women are at the heart of regenerating societies.
We have created real links with women's groups here, with women
politicians here, with organisations here that help develop women's
strengths. In that field, for example, in broadcasting we could
develop that too. We had a wonderful Scottish journalist/broadcaster
Lesley Riddoch who went out and worked with women and men in the
field who were bringing up those issues which were very much development
issues for women, around education, around health issues, and
having them reported in ways that were not being covered in the
media in many of these African countries. That development of
journalists, of health sector leaders, of community leaders is
a way in which we could collaborate even better with the World
(Mr Green) Can I add on the subject of collaboration
with the BBC World Service the project Mark Byford referred to
in Beijing the CELLS project, which stands for Centres for English
Language Learning Support, has just been launched in January and
we believe that will make a very significant difference to state
education for English language teaching. You asked the question
about further collaborations. We would like to see that project
rolled out in other parts of the world, in particular the Middle
East, Russia, and perhaps also parts of Africa, for example Francophone
Africa. There is huge potential there bringing together a broadcasting
organisation and our very extensive English language learning
66. You mentioned about building civil societies.
In the last spending review new money was targeted at extending
your operations in Russia, China and India. In hindsight and in
the light of the events of 11 September, might these funds have
been spent in the Muslim world?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) One of the things
that we felt very strongly was that there has to be an intensification
of our work in the Islamic world. You are absolutely right about
that. In retrospect could that money have been better spent there?
We were reflecting what was seen as being general Foreign Office
and Government concerns, cross party concern that we should be
doing serious work in Russia and China. These are huge, huge nations
which are on the cusp of joining into global activity in a way
they had not before and there is a role that we could play in
helping to create opportunities for Britain in strengthening those
relationships. It was very much a reflection of the priorities
that were being set at that time by the Foreign Office. I would
not in any way demur from that. If you were to go to Russiaand
I was there a month agoand you see the roll out of work
the Council is doing, particularly on education and helping the
reform of the education sector, it is quite phenomenal and we
could repeat that in other parts of the world. The other thing
we are doing is reforming the legal system. The courts were really
in some difficulties and the work that we have done in strengthening
their legal system and helping them create an independent judiciary
and helping with that process has been fundamental because nobody
wants to do business with places that do not have a legal system
which will recognise and respect their contracts.
67. It is a question again of money.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is of course always
about how you use your money. I do not think we can get away from
the fact we have to invest in those big areas of Russia and China.
What we are saying now is if there are any lessons from 11 September
it is that a gear shift has to take place in relation to our work
in the Islamic world. It has to be about reaching younger people,
a different generation. The outreach to the young in the Islamic
world must be a priority and that is why that whole project of
Connecting Futures is one to which we are giving high priority
in our new spending round.
68. Specifically, Chairman, on that sort of
area and Connecting Futures, what have been the findings of your
detailed research between the 5,000 young people and their views
on the United Kingdom? Then specifically the Muslim element within
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) There is a schizophrenia
here. Part of it is seeing Britain as a rather old-fashioned country.
That has its good and bad sides because what is old-fashioned
is being about the very things that are good values. We have a
very historic, democratic system and they see all that as being
one of the things that they perceive about Britain which is that
it is an old country. Yet for many young people they also separate
it out from the fact that they see some of our culture as very
much at the cutting edge, our music world, much of the world of
modern technology. We are at the forefront of creating computer
games apparently. Many of those creative industries are recognised
by youth around the world as being something very distinctive
about Britain and very modern. They also see a lot of things as
being very old-fashioned. A lot of countriesand this has
to be a clear message to ussee us as being over-closely
linked to the United States. This was a message that came very
strongly to us from young people in the Islamic world. They do
not hear our views as being a distinct voice from that of the
American voice and they hear it as being a single voice.
69. How do you explain that when in the United
Kingdom we have got second and third generation Pakistani immigrants
over here? I would have thought the real views of what happens
in the UK would have filtered back to these societies.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) That is one of the
interesting things. Despite that huge diaspora community here
in Britain of people from the Islamic world, generally speaking,
young people around the worldand here I am not just talking
about Islamic young peopledo not recognise Britain as being
as diverse as it actually is. It is not recognised just how multi-cultural
Britain is. One of the messages that we feel is a priority for
us is to represent Britain as it really is in all of that rich
diversity, which is one the things that we should be proud of
and we should celebrate. It comes as a surprise to people, even
people in the Islamic world, particularly in the Arab world, that
we are as diverse as we actually are. The other thing where there
were lessons for us is we have to be making stronger connections
between our own minority communities here in Britain and the Islamic
world beyond. It is why one of the important elements in this
new programme Connecting Futures is to make sure that we create
links between our minority communities and the world of Islam
outside and to make those links much clearer. In the recent forum
we had we made sure there was a strong representation of young
people from Bradford, from Burnley, from places with huge Islamic
communities, so that they could make their voice heard in this
70. When do you intend to go back to these 5,000
young people and re-examine this because the world for young people
moves on fairly quickly and the rise of the extreme right within
Europe must be starting to make some sort of difference in their
minds? When are you going to go back to get this added information?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Rather than seeing
it as going back, what it has taught usand we have always
worked with young people, I do not want you to imagine that we
have notis that there has to be a strengthening of work
in this area particularly around strengthening understanding.
One of the problems about it is that we often talk about dialogue
but dialogue means real listening as well as talking. I am afraid
we sometimes do not get that quite right. In having that dialogue
and bringing young people together it has to be a continuing thing.
Rather than going back to the 5,000 what we are feeling is there
has to be a real concentration of our work around creating continuous
dialogue between young people in Britain and young people around
the world generally, but particularly we want to make sure that
is happening with the Islamic world where very often there is
a break down of communication and a real conversation does not
actually take place. So it to be continuing rather than re-visiting
those 5,000. It is about redirecting our work.
71. How do you then meet the cynics who say
that this forum brought together a small number of young people,
what is the benefit of that, it is a mere drop in the ocean, what
possible overall conclusions can you draw from such a small experiment?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Except that it does
not work quite like that, Chairman, because what happened was
that from each of the Islamic countries, who chose very carefully
young men, women, many of them still students, some of them still
at school, some of them older but beginning their professional
lives as young lawyers, young teachers, they came and they will
go back to Iran or to Saudi Arabia and our people in the British
Council know them and our people will continue to work in creating
further groups of activity there, going into education, bringing
some people out of Britain. It is a cascading activity.
72. How many people came from Iran?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I think we brought
three from Iran.
73. You brought three from Iran, a country of
what, 60-odd million people?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) You have got to remember
we have only just recently opened a British Council office in
Iran. Iran was closed to us for rather a long time. We have started
off tentatively, most of our work there now is educational and
we are building links with those in the universities. It is one
of the things that we have to keep reminding people about the
British Council, that we are not in this business for the short-term,
we are here in creating long-term relationships and we are here
in the process of building something up and that is how it works.
Unfortunately, as we know, too often people want returns immediately
and the British Council's work is not like that.
74. Three people go back to Iran, what is their
part of the compact, what are they meant to do?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I am going to turn
to David Green because he can tell you, but as I understand it
one of them, for example, was a woman who runs a women's organisation
inside one of the major universities in Tehran and she went back
quite interested in keeping links with women's organisations here
in Britain and wanting her women's organisation to have that way
of keeping a connection. They also have a network through the
Internet. David can fill in on the way he sees it.
(Mr Green) The important point was this was a forum
which engaged people from the ten priority countries in the Arab
and Islam world, including Iran, and also 25 participants in the
UK. It was about making connections between young people in the
UK and in those ten countries. The other important point was that
from each of the countries we brought a journalist amongst the
young people and they were all aged between 16 and 25 and none
of them had been to the UK before. Part of the compact was that
they went back and they were part of talking about their experiences
and disseminating those experiences amongst their colleagues,
amongst their institutions, amongst their friends. We see it as
an important start in building those networks. The research that
was referred to will be an important body of information. The
actual fine tuning of it, the analysis of it, is going on at the
moment and will be available at the end of this month when we
will publish it. That will answer some of the questions about
what these young people's aspirations are and what they actually
do think of the United Kingdom and, perhaps critically, how they
gain information about what is happening in the world, what are
their sources of information.
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We learned a lot,
not just the British Council but many British organisations of
young people learned a lot from making that contact. It is as
important that we learn about the thinking of many young people
in those parts of the world as the reverse.
75. I hear you on that, it is clearly how representative
are the representatives. You have an enormous problem in finding
people who will indeed reflect adequately the groups from which
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is a great challenge.
76. Can I turn to the Madrassa schools. I see
that you are doing work both in Pakistan and in Bangladesh in
respect of Madrassas. Clearly following 11 September they had
a certain dubious reputation for being breeding grounds for terrorists
and extremists, having a very poor quality of religious education,
limited, confined and so on. How do you address this sort of problem
of the current reputation and the very limited education which
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Of course, we are
as guilty here in Britain of sometimes getting false perceptions
as other parts of the world are about getting false perceptions
of us. While it is fair to say that Madrassas can be breeding
grounds for fundamentalists and, if you like, hostility to the
West, it is not true of all Madrassas. We have been asked and
invited to work with a number of them in Pakistan and Bangladesh,
but mainly in Pakistan, where they are interested in looking at,
for example, English language, the use of IT in the development
of education, training for headmasters, one of the things that
has been developed here in Britain which they are very interested
in. Many of those schools are not as we perceive them to be as
a result of the recent publicity.
77. General Musharraf himself has had great
reservations about the schools and their product. Presumably you
are working closely with the Pakistani authorities in this respect?
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is not the Pakistani
authorities who are necessarily the best informants on this, it
is much better having your ear to the ground. The British Council's
great strength is that as an organisation it is very good at getting
below the surface and finding out exactly what the position is.
We would only be working with schools where we do believe that
there is actually an openness to different kinds of ideas and
an exchange. That is where we feel it is valuable to put effort
and work because if you are going to do this kind of thing then
education and the teaching area is one of the areas where ideas
are rooted as we know.
(Mr Green) Can I just add that as well as working
at grass roots level we invited the Federal Minister for Education,
Mrs Zobaida Jalal, over to the UK. She came about six weeks ago
and her agenda was exactly as Baroness Kennedy said in terms of
looking at management of schools, use of IT and so on. She is
very keen that we help to reform the curricula in the Madrassas
and to help them look at those issues of reform that they have
78. I am going to come on to the Knowledge and
Learning Centres. Your new Knowledge and Learning Centres are
IT based. Are these going to be a substitute for the old-fashioned
British Council libraries? Will the two run side-by-side or are
you moving towards a more online service, a more Internet based
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It really is an elaboration
of the work of the Council as it always has been, except that
we are harnessing the new technology in very exciting ways. It
does not mean the elimination of books from any of our operations.
I was at the opening of two of the Knowledge and Learning Centres,
the one in New Delhi which was opened in January when the Prime
Minister was in India, and the second one was in Belgrade just
a month or so ago. The book libraries are there still but more
than just providing, if you like, online opportunities what is
fantastic about the Knowledge and Learning Centres is that they
actually can do much more than that. In Belgrade I was present
when they had a youth parliament where we had young people in
Belgrade from Serbia, from Kiev, linked up with young people in
Britain and young people in Paris talking about what does it mean
to have national identity, what does your national identity mean.
If ever there was an issue you can see that just now it is absolute
courant. It was very interesting to hear people talking
about what national identity meant to them in those four places
where you can understand the resonances would be very interesting
and to talk about whether diversity was something that could be
embraced and to hear young people in Britain talking about how
we have now had devolution and yet there is a sense of civic nationalism
rather than ethnic nationalism in a place like Scotland where
Pakistanis can proudly call themselves Scots, and so can Italians,
Irish and so on, and you do not have this ethnic issue, which
was quite interesting to many of the young Serbian people. You
had this all happening on one screen where you could move between
them, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest, and they were taking
part in a debate. That will be used for educational purposes,
for journalists being brought together on journalist training
programmes, on leadership programmes, on all sorts of possibilities
where you are going to be able to use technology with Britain
being at the lead in this kind of thing.
79. There is no danger of leaving behind the
people who do not have access to new technology or who are unfamiliar
(Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) You have got to remember
you do not leave them behind because the people who come into
the British Council for books will also be excited about the opportunity
of being able to access, as they do in Delhi, technology which
they could not afford. The other thing is that using technology
and linking it up to other partners in places means you have a
bigger reach. People can have access to the British Council from
places where their university might have a link or their high
school or their town hall but they would not be able to have access
to the British Council because it is not in their particular town.
So you reach even more people and that is one of the great things,
that it gives us even greater reach than before.
Chairman: Before calling Sir John on funding
matters, Mr Olner has a question.