Letters to the press

The Daily Telegraph
The value of soft power
Published 21 July 2014

Ideas and ideology drive modern conflict, not nation states or power blocs. So when Dan Hodges dismisses soft power, he forgets that aggressive ideas and isolationist ideologies are the weapons of Britain’s main modern adversaries.

The patient work of attracting young minds around the world to our open culture and to Britain’s education and opportunities – as exemplified by the BBC World Service and the British Council – is a wise investment in our long-term national security.

Military force will always be a necessary evil. And we should be proud that Britain’s own young minds have been prepared to fight on many fronts for what Britain stands for over the past two decades. But there is no point winning the ground war if we give up the battle of ideas.

Sir Vernon Ellis
Chair, British Council 

The Independent - Let's have a go at Languages
Published 27 November, 2013

Alexander McGeoch is half right with his comments on the British Council's Languages for the Future report (letter, 25 November). Our report agrees with him that Spanish, French and German are still languages the UK needs. But his own argument only reinforces the importance of Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. As he says, he has "only come across a handful of British nationals who spoke Arabic with any degree of fluency, or indeed at all".

As to difficulty, non-European languages with different scripts are considered "harder", but 230 million native and 200 million second language speakers of Arabic suggest many people succeed. Add 1.2 billion Mandarin Chinese and 120 million Japanese speakers, and the total suggests it's not impossible, and well worth us having a try.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, British Council

The Guardian - UK universities move into Uzbekistan even as human rights fears grow
Published 9 October, 2013

At the British Council, we make no apology for working to build greater understanding – and ultimately trust – between young people in the UK and other countries, wherever they are in the world (Uzbekistan: forced labour, fear and a fine British education, 10 October). The partnerships we supported between UK and Uzbek universities through our Inspire programme, which also operates in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, are publicised on our website – we make no secret of our work to facilitate the growth of long-term partnerships between the UK and central/south Asian countries. The British universities that were part of Inspire deserve praise, not condemnation, for their commitment to creating international opportunity in less open societies. When calling educational links with Uzbekistan into question, we should ask ourselves what isolating the people who represent Uzbekistan's future would achieve – either for them, or for us.

Dr Jo Beall,

Director of Education and Society,
British Council, London SW1, UK


The Daily Telegraph - Britain may be a small island, but its 'soft power’ is unrivalled globally
Published 9 September 2013

SIR – David Blair paints an incomplete picture of Britain’s profile overseas (We’re not a small island...telegraph.co.uk, September 6). Our international influence has far more to it than the Government’s spending on defence, aid, and diplomacy alone.

Britain’s “soft power” – the power of attraction rather than coercion – comes from our people, institutions and icons, as well as our Government. Our language, our world-class education system, and our strength in arts, sports, music and drama all attract people to visit, study and live in Britain. They build trust, friendship and relationships, including trading relationships. The British Council’s research has shown that people who have a cultural interaction with Britain, especially through education, are far more likely to do business with it.

The Government already supports businesses and creative entrepreneurs in seeking out opportunities overseas. But its support for museums, universities, theatres, galleries, sporting institutions, the BBC and creative industries is vital for our global standing, as is teaching the next generation to be better at foreign languages. David Blair may classify this as “domestic” spending, but it shapes much British potential in the world.

A survey from the Institute for Government recently placed Britain at the top of the global table for “soft power”. Just last week Ipsos Mori placed London as the number two global city (number one in Europe). In tough times we need to look out as a nation, not in. We need to see the big picture, not feel small.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, The British Council
London SW1, UK


Financial Times - UK is a strong player across the board
Published 6 September 2013

Sir, Following parliament’s vote against direct military action in Syria, it is important to balance the current jeremiads about the UK’s compromised global clout (for example François Heisbourg’s “The west is accelerating its own strategic decline”, September 5). No country is more internationally connected than the UK and, if we are to ensure our long-term prosperity and remain a major nation in world affairs, no country has more reasons to stay that way.

Our military strength is an essential component of the UK’s position in the world. No one should doubt that. But we make many more contributions through our wider institutions, values and culture – including demonstrating our democratic values. Our great international organisations – the Department for International Development, the Foreign Office, the British Council, the BBC World Service – as well as our global institutions of education and culture – the great museums, universities and sporting leagues – are world leaders and contribute to the economic, social and cultural life of nearly every country in the world.

The UK is a major force in world affairs precisely because we are a strong player across the board: culture, education, international development, peacekeeping, the global economy and more. Our resilience lies in the sweep of our international engagement. Armed force is only one of our options for influence – let’s not forget the value and impact of the all the others.

Vernon Ellis, Chair
Martin Davidson, Chief Executive
British Council, London SW1, UK


The Times - Sport Economics
Published 10 July 2013

Sir, Matthew Syed is only half right that Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph won’t yield much genuine “soft power” for the UK (July 8). Beyond individual performance, sport really can influence a country’s standing on the world stage.

Look no further than English Premier League football and Indian Premier League cricket. These are huge assets for the UK and India — worth a fortune in economic terms, but just as valuable for their power of attraction.

The appeal of these great brands doesn’t necessarily come from the performance of the Brits or Indians on their respective pitches. It’s the fact that they are truly international stages on which the world’s finest come to perform. The excitement and excellence generate fan bases in countries from Afghanistan to Zambia.

And with the right leadership, sport can change lives too. The Premier Skills programme that the British Council runs with the Premier League uses its brand and football to teach young people English worldwide and tackle social issues from the favelas of Brazil to the playing fields of Kabul.

So, in the well-deserved volley of praise for Andy Murray, let’s not forget the UK’s other world champions — our great leagues and tournaments which attract the world’s best and return a whole lot back.

John Worne 
Director of Strategy, British Council


The Guardian - Denglish
Published 27 June 2013

Schadenfreude is all very well (Pass notes, G2, 26 June), but the "gag", as the Germans also say, is on us. We can revel in Chinglish, Spanglish and now Denglish but unless we can help more of our own kids to master Mandarin, Spanish and German, the UK's up the proverbial creek without a "paddel" when it comes to competitiveness.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, British Council


London Evening Standard - Schools need to think Chinese
Published 6 June 2013

Sarah Sands is absolutely right that we need a better understanding of China if we want to capitalise on the many opportunities that its economic ascent will bring (Bye-bye USA – hello China, 4 June).

Fortunately there are some great schools in London – both state and private – who already realise this, and are working with organisations like the British Council to equip our young people with the knowledge of Chinese culture and language that they need for the future.

I recently visited a North London comprehensive and met a 17 year-old who had been learning Mandarin and, as a result was being courted by three different companies. It’s what the Chinese call the ‘iron rice bowl’ – the notion that, with the right skills, you’re guaranteed a job for life.

But sadly examples like this are still a minority. With our recent research suggesting that as little as 6 per cent of schools are teaching Mandarin, we still have a long way to go before we’ll be truly ready for the Asian century.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, British Council


The Guardian - Student visas are an open door to talent

Published 6 March 2013

Polly Toynbee rightly identifies education and culture as our most valuable international assets (1 March). Our research clearly shows that these – and the English language – are vital in attracting talent, trade and tourism. She is also right that perceptions about UK immigration policy must not be allowed to pull out the welcome mat from under hard-working international students.

There is a clear case for continued investment in education and culture – but those of us who are able must adapt to an age of austerity. Public service organisations like the British Council, the BBC and UK universities already look to the world to earn and partner to deliver more public benefit at less cost to the public purse. For entrepreneurial public services and private sector providers in education and culture, the global demand is immense. To know the UK is to love the UK – but it starts with seeing all the world as our stage and throwing open our own doors wide enough to let talent in.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, British Council


The Times – English language and the zeitgeist
Published 28 February 2013

Germany’s President, Joachim Gauck, is right to believe that Europe has nothing to fear from English becoming the common language of the EU (“German call for English as EU language”, Feb 23).

A large part of its success is that English is constantly evolving through contact with other languages — it is half German anyway. The British Council will soon be hosting a major exhibition exploring the power and value of English, and a key focus will be the abundance of English words with overseas roots.

English is not a neo-colonial power tool for the UK, but a language which belongs to the world as much as to us. It opens doors and creates prosperity for people around the world. It does not seek to elbow out mother tongues, but to coexist and continue to evolve alongside other languages.

Mr Gauck should be heartened to know that we have Germany to thank for our dollars, glitz and wanderlust — three things the English language brings the UK in spades.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, British Council 


Financial Times – Follow Austraila on Asia-Pacific ties
Published 21 January 2013

The UK has much to gain from closer co-operation with Australia (“Pact with Australia seeks to boost British influence”, January 18). Few countries “get” the UK people better or know us and love us more (except on the field of sport). But the Australians also know the economic rewards to be reaped in the Asia-Pacific region far better than we do.

Last year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a 25-point plan to create greater ties with Asia – including Asian language lessons for all Australian children. Despite much work by the British Council and other organisations to promote Asian languages in the UK, all the evidence suggests that the number of schools offering Mandarin, for example, is still startlingly low.

Trust, built through mutual cultural understanding, ultimately underpins trade. Let us hope that, as we collaborate more closely with Australia, their considerable efforts in the Asia-Pacific region will inspire more at our end – while we continue to whack them for six at all forms of cricket all summer long.

John Worne
Director of Strategy, British Council