In the last year, two debates have dominated our political discourse: Britain’s future role in the world as we face major global challenges, and tackling the UK’s economic and social divides to ensure no community or individual is ‘left behind'. Both are fundamental to the future of our society and will affect the lives of the next generation. While they seem to live on opposite sides of the policy debate – international and domestic – they are fundamentally linked.
For the UK to flourish and prosper in the century to come it must be in a position to compete and succeed internationally. In order to do that, to realise the potential of Global Britain and its people, we simply cannot afford to leave anyone behind. That imperative starts with children and young people who will become future ambassadors for the UK.
But whether in school, vocational training or in non-formal learning programmes, opportunities for young people, particularly those from disadvantaged or isolated parts of the UK, are disappearing. This is not only holding many children and young people back from their full potential, but it stifles creativity and growth for the whole of the UK.
The latest inquiry from the British Council All Party Parliamentary Group sets out to demonstrate the links between these issues and reflect how international experience can support positive change at home. The inquiry attracted an unprecedented number of submissions from across the UK. Organisations representing formal and non-formal education, civil society, business, local government and the arts provided tangible examples of the transformative impact of international opportunity – not only on the young beneficiaries involved, but also on the wider prosperity and wellbeing of their communities. This was also reflected in the experiences and ambitions of the young people who contributed substantially to the inquiry.
Ensuring children and young people have the opportunities to explore, experience, understand and contribute to the wider world, as this report demonstrates, is not only in the interests of young people themselves, but of the whole country as well.
We are at a time when it is even more important that we increase equity of opportunity across the UK, if we are to achieve our ambition for all of the UK to share the benefits of increased wellbeing and prosperity, which we can build through the networks, partnership, reciprocal investment, trade and enrichment of our cultural life on the world stage.
The APPG sets out recommendations for widening access to international connections in order to see the whole of the UK benefit from the successes of ‘Global Britain’. This includes a recommendation for the continued work of the Internationalism Alliance: a growing group of organisations founded by the British Council and The Prince’s Trust in 2019 and open to all mandated organisations working with children and young people. Finding strength in cross-sectoral collaboration, the group is building place-based interventions, accessing funding and resources, and strengthening the evidence and research base for the individual and community benefits of international connections. A recent collaboration with International Newcastle saw the first British Council Internationalism podcast, celebrating the value of languages in the city.
For a global cultural relations organisation, the report is an invaluable reflection on how the British Council can contribute to building back better at home by ensuring that our international capabilities can meet the UK’s ambitions, both now and in the future.
Julia Handelman-Smith, Head of Internationalism