Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by the British Council


  The British Council plays a key role in the Western Balkans building long-term relationships for the UK, and encouraging the development of positive perceptions of the UK's ideas, values and achievements. It also works with partners in the region to encourage the reform agenda, reconciliation and mutual understanding, and the growth of stability and democratic institutions and civil society.

  Our objectives are achieved through a strong focus on work with younger people. Key activities include support for English language learning, providing access to UK information, and encouraging creativity and networking in order to build understanding and reconciliation. In addition, the British Council is involved in education and public administration reform, leadership development and support for civil society.

  The British Council has operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo). Key themes include:

    1.  Raising the UK's profile amongst younger and wider audiences.

    2.  Supporting skills development through English Language.

    3.  Teaching, exams, access to information and strengthening civil society.

    4.  Working in close cooperation with the foreign missions of HMG to support the UK's overall objectives in the region.

    5.  Strengthening regional networks of young leaders throughout South East Europe.


  The main British Council office in Bosnia and Herzegovina is in Sarajevo. The British Council aligns its work to support Bosnia and Herzegovina's efforts towards EU and NATO accession and HMG's overall objective of ensuring a stable, functioning and self-sustainable Bosnia and Herzegovina on the path to EU-Atlantic integration. Planning is closely linked to that of the Embassy.

  The British Council has worked to raise its profile significantly to reach a wider, younger group, to increase the number of young Bosnians who have first-hand involvement with the UK, through education, culture and the English language, and to raise its profile across the country beyond Sarajevo.

  The Military English Support Project is widely viewed in the region as the strongest military English Language Teaching (ELT) operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As well as supporting defence reform, it has pioneered innovative learning techniques.

  Learning from this experience the British Council will pilot its Blended English Language Learning approach in October 2004. This pilot programme blends taught English in the classroom with computer-assisted learning, using multi-media study as its central feature, and will be part of an integration of services in a Learning and Information Centre. Other services provided will be examinations, library and information services, a new multi-language website and the use of the mobile networks.

  We work in cultural heritage to assist in the reconstruction of communities. Following a study earlier in the year we will be launching a project to look at a Cultural Heritage Trail for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a multi-disciplinary activity including cultural heritage preservation, local community involvement and tourism development. The British Council continues to work with festivals such as the Sarajevo International Film Festival and the JazzFest. We integrate our work in this field with education, development and governance.

  We also involve networks of young people in Bosnia and Herzogovina in the British Council's Connecting Futures programme, a global initiative to build mutual understanding, learning and respect between young people with different cultural backgrounds in the UK and other countries. In Bosnia and Herzegovina we are actively engaging in issues of faith and identity, launching a regional approach to explore the nature of European identity and its relationship with the main religious and political traditions, to bridge misunderstanding and to explore how this process might inform wider networks in the UK and beyond.


  The British Council's office at Skopje includes a library, cyber café and information centre. The British Council's work supports the aims of the UK to encourage the reform process that will assist Macedonia become a stable and successful European state and create lasting, positive relationships with the UK, particularly amongst young people.

  The British Council in Macedonia is creating an interactive network called Blue Sky consisting of students and young professionals who look to the UK as their source of knowledge and inspiration. Under this initiative, we run workshops, small projects and an annual summer school focused on creativity and citizenship. Blue Sky-related projects include the launch of the European Youth Parliament in Macedonia and the development of a range of projects to revive links between the twinned cities of Bradford and Skopje, focusing on the interests and aspirations of their young people. Arts events remain the most effective means for the British Council in Macedonia to highlight key messages on diversity, innovation and the UK's commitment to the republic.

  Foreign languages are a compulsory part of the school curriculum from mid-primary level. The British Council is working with the Ministry of Education, the English Department of Skopje University, the South East Europe University and the English teachers' association (ELTAM) to bring about changes in policy and practice and influence the wider reform agenda in education.

  The successful Peacekeeping English Project continues, with additional activity having begun with the Ministry of the Interior. The British Council will work closely with the British Embassy and DFID to develop further ideas in this sector and will continue to work closely with the British Embassy on public diplomacy in general.


  The British Council has offices in Belgrade, Podgorica and Prishtina and is playing a leading role in Serbia and Montenegro's transition to becoming a full member of the European Union and the development of a stable and democratic society with strong links to the UK and its neighbours in South East Europe. In supporting wider UK objectives, operational priorities have been Governance, Education and English Language Teaching to support the reform agenda. The British Council in Serbia and Montenegro works very closely with HM Embassy to co-ordinate and complement activities in public diplomacy.

  In 2002, Belgrade became the second of the British Council's new IT-based Knowledge and Learning Centres, providing technologically the most advanced facility for a cultural centre in Europe. It uses a multimedia approach to reach younger and larger audiences. In 2003 British Council moved into new offices in Podgorica, shared with the HMG mission, which has assisted the Embassy to have a full-time member of staff based in Montenegro. These changes have increased British Council's profile in Serbia and Montenegro significantly.

  Through the use of a multimedia approach, videoconferencing, the Internet and the Cybercentre at the Knowledge and Learning Centre in Belgrade, the British Council is achieving a step change in engagement with target audiences and their perceptions of the UK.

  Support for the Republican Governments of Serbia and Montenegro's reform agenda includes capacity building through the provision of training to the Ministry of Education and the Agency of Public Administration and Development. We are supporting the Federal Government and the Republican Governments of Serbia and Montenegro in managing the transition to a stable democracy with respect for the rule of law and the development of the economy. This includes support for the decentralisation of decision-making to the regions with events and project work taking place outside the principal cities of Belgrade and Podgorica.

  A Peacekeeping English Project was established in Serbia and Montenegro in September 2002. Increasing knowledge of English assists users meet regional and multinational obligations and facilitates international contact amongst senior personnel. This contributes to the improved professionalism, standards and capabilities of the Armed Forces and public security agencies, with particular regard to their respect for human rights, the rule of law and the primacy of a democratically elected executive. The UK is perceived now as the Armed Forces' leading partner in its reform process.

  The British Council has been working with the Ministry of Education and Sport in Serbia and Montenegro to provide training in English Language Teaching. We have also introduced a project under the British Council's Dreams + Teams sports initiative. This develops leadership and cross-cultural awareness amongst young people through sport and international educational links. "Football in the community" projects at Red Star FC are linked with those at Manchester United through web projects and video-conferencing. Support for the arts includes an award-winning project between the National Theatre, Belgrade and the Royal National Theatre, London as well as the ground-breaking project Narratives of the Unseen between the Universities of Glasgow and Belgrade. In science, the focus is the environment and linking young researchers and school children with the UK and other countries in South East Europe.


  The British Council has been working in Kosovo since September 1999, with an office and library in Pristina. The operation focuses on education and the arts, with young professionals as our main target audience. In the first five years of operation, we have given basic training support to English teachers; assisted the Ministry of Education with curriculum reform in foreign language teaching; introduced British qualifications in English as well as UK distance learning packages; supported the development of the public administration and media studies departments of Pristina University (funded by DFES); and raised the UK's profile through a series of partnerships in the arts. We also manage the Chevening Scholarship programme on behalf of FCO.


  The UK-South East Europe Forum ( is a new British Council regional programme run jointly by our offices in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia and Montenegro. The Forum aims to build alliances between the next generation of leaders from the UK and the countries in South East Europe (SEE), and within South East Europe itself, creating future advocates for the UK and for the countries of South East Europe.

  The Forum has three parallel strands, focusing on People and Politics, Youth Action and Creative Industries. A conference to launch the "People and Politics" strand of the Forum took place in Croatia in March 2004 and involved 100 young political and civil society leaders from the UK and SE Europe. The first meeting of participants in Youth Action, 130 people from the UK and 10 countries in South East Europe including Greece and Turkey, will take place in Macedonia in September 2004. The first activity under the Creative Industries strand took place in September 2004 when a group of South East European young cultural leaders met UK counterparts in a study visit coinciding with the World Creative Forum in London. The aim of these three strands is to create long term partnerships through joint projects and programmes which will initially run for a two year period.

  The British Council would be pleased to provide any further information on its work in the Western Balkans and would be delighted to welcome the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to our offices, or to see projects and meet participants if and when they visit the region as part of this inquiry.

British Council

12 October 2004

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