Should the U.S. State Department Copy the British Council?


The British Council, as an education provider, a research analyst, and a conference convener is an interesting model. At the very least, taking a look at the British Council makes me wonder why the United States government does not pull back and take a big-picture look at what it might do to provide better global support for U.S. universities.

This is the title of a 14 March 2012 piece by David Wheeler of The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE). I have often asked myself this question, having worked for a quasi-US governmental organization that once had a contract for EducationUSA activities in Vietnam, among other countries.  (Some US diplomats I’ve known over the years have asked themselves the same question.) 

The fact that the “United States government does not pull back and take a big-picture look at what it might do to provide better global support for U.S. universities” has resulted in the absence of a comprehensive national export strategy for education, a sure-fire recipe for disorganization, conflicting signals and piecemeal policy-making.  The relevant Cabinet-level departments not only do not cooperate but some colleagues in those departments don’t even talk to each other. 

The inability of the US government to present a united front and speak with one voice about all matters related to the promotion of American higher education around the world reflects a lack of vision and leadership at the highest levels.  In a sense, the US is resting on its laurels as the world around it changes, and other countries aggressively and persistently chip away at its international student market share. 

What about EducationUSA, you may ask?  This public affairs activity is constrained by its limited mission, a lack of funding, inadequate staffing, a lack of consistency and coordination, the gaping chasm between rhetoric and reality across countries (i.e., U.S. diplomatic missions) and its steadfast refusal to constructively engage a select group of education consultants.  In a phrase  “it is what it is.” 

The answer to the question posed by the CHE article?  A qualified “yes.”  Not copy but certainly be inspired by and devise ways to adapt this model in a strategic and productive manner. 


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