Paul Smith – Di­rec­tor of British Coun­cil In­done­sia

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It is well known that BritCham is one of the three “Bri­tishes” that lead and sup­port brand Bri­tain - the British Em­bassy and British Coun­cil be­ing the other two. For BritCham, the role is fa­cil­i­tat­ing trade and in­vest­ment and it re­lies on close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the other two. An Em­bassy role is clear. The British Coun­cil role is less clear to some and Paul Smith clar­i­fies and asserts that the arts and cul­ture it em­braces should not be re­garded as just a wrap-around for trade. Paul, per­haps we could be­gin by ask­ing you to clear up any mis­per­cep­tions there may be re­gard­ing ex­actly what the role and pri­or­i­ties are of the British Coun­cil in In­done­sia.

We’re the of­fi­cial cul­tural rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the British peo­ple over­seas. We’ve been in 110 coun­tries for 85 years and in In­done­sia for 70. We pro­mote ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and cul­tural re­la­tions and our pro­grams work to cre­ate bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween peo­ples to gen­er­ate the trust for them to want to col­lab­o­rate to­gether over the long term. We’re a peo­ple to peo­ple or­gan­i­sa­tion rather than gov­ern­ment to gov­ern­ment which is why we’re of­fi­cial but par­al­lel to the Em­bassy and why we call our work cul­tural re­la­tions rather than pub­lic diplo­macy.

What are the British Coun­cil’s top two projects from now and over the next six months?

We have loads of projects across ed­u­ca­tion at all lev­els, sci­ence and re­search, the arts and cre­ative in­dus­tries, civil so­ci­ety and youth en­gage­ment, in­clu­sion and di­ver­sity, sports for devel­op­ment and skills for em­ploy­a­bil­ity par­tic­u­larly busi­ness English. How to pick just two? Well our great three-year cam­paign UK/ID will end this De­cem­ber in In­done­sia. This pro­gram has built more than 150 new part­ner­ships be­tween artis­tic and cre­ative groups in the two coun­tries to re­ally strengthen bi­lat­eral cre­ative in­dus­try and en­ter­prise. In the UK the ini­tia­tive will ex­tend a lit­tle longer un­til In­done­sia is the guest of hon­our in March 2019 at the great Lon­don Book Fair. We’re par­tic­u­larly proud of how UK/ID has ma­jored in en­cour­ag­ing the arts & dis­abil­ity, stim­u­lat­ing the first ever Arts & Dis­abil­ity Fes­ti­val – Be­bas Batas – at the time of the Para Games. An­other project we are par­tic­u­larly proud of is Premier Skills where coaches, ref­er­ees and train­ers from In­done­sia’s favourite Premier League (ie the UK one) train and men­tor young soc­cer pro­fes­sion­als and kids across In­done­sia and also stim­u­late com­mu­nity devel­op­ment pro­grams.

The British Coun­cil has just in­tro­duced a web- based and free- to- use English lan­guage learn­ing tool named English for In­done­sia. Is this op­er­at­ing in other parts of the world and why is In­done­sia a ben­e­fi­ciary of this ini­tia­tive?

Our new English for In­done­sia progam will en­able ev­ery In­done­sian who chooses, right across the ar­chi­pel­ago, to freely learn and im­prove their English by ac­cess­ing the very best (ie British Coun­cil) English learn­ing ma­te­ri­als on­line and rapps and MOOCs. English for In­done­sia will also be avail­able by In­done­sian ra­dio (RRI),

TV ( TVRI) and in news­pa­pers ( Kom­pas).

It’s one of our great world­wide of­fers and it’s in­clu­sive as it is free to ev­ery­one. It’s pop­u­lar around the world, and some 100 mil­lion peo­ple use these ser­vices in China alone, but we’re par­tic­u­larly keen to pro­mote the port­fo­lio of op­por­tu­ni­ties in In­done­sia as so many in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions ask us daily for help with English as a crit­i­cal 21st cen­tury skill. British Coun­cil re­search is be­com­ing more widely known that, in coun­tries where English is not the first lan­guage, work­ing peo­ple who have good English are likely to earn, on av­er­age, 40 per­cent more than those who don’t.

As you men­tion, cul­ture and cre­ativ­ity fea­ture sig­nif­i­cantly in the British Coun­cil agenda. To what ex­tent do you sense that In­done­sia projects its cul­tural wealth and cre­ative tal­ent?

I’ll be hon­est. In­done­sia should be much more cul­tur­ally ap­pre­ci­ated around the world – cer­tainly in the UK – than it cur­rently is. That’s why we’ve been fo­cus­ing on cre­at­ing new artis­tic re­la­tion­ships be­tween our two coun­tries rather than sim­ply show­cas­ing UK tal­ent here. There has been an in­crease in the num­ber of In­done­sian con­tem­po­rary artis­tic events we’ve been able to help de­velop in the UK in­clud­ing a ma­jor site-spe­cific art in­stal­la­tion pro­gram in Liver­pool re­cently, with four young con­tem­po­rary In­done­sian artists, and so much will peak at the Lon­don Book Fair in March which is so strongly sup­ported by Bekraf and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Cul­ture as well as the British Coun­cil.

How would you de­scribe the con­nec­tion be­tween cul­tural pro­mo­tion and bi­lat­eral trade ben­e­fits?

Cul­tural pro­mo­tion is the “trade” of ideas and cre­ative chal­lenges. For me the arts should never be the wrap around, the sugar coat­ing, to make trade more en­tic­ing. Cul­ture should be self-pro­mot­ing and peo­ple should “buy” it, or buy into it, be­cause they love and value the ex­pe­ri­ences that mu­sic, dance, theatre, lit­er­a­ture, film, vis­ual arts, de­sign give them, the changes they ef­fect in them, the new per­spec­tives they pro­vide, and the val­ues they en­shrine. And great cul­tural ini­tia­tive – “prod­uct” if you must – de­rives from dif­fer­ence and from di­ver­sity and, for me, In­done­sia is the most cul­tur­ally di­verse coun­try in the world.

In terms of the higher ed­u­ca­tion agenda, the gov­ern­ment is open­ing up the sec­tor to for­eign in­vest­ment. Why do you think this move has come now and what early im­pact do you see in terms of British ed­u­ca­tors in­flu­enc­ing pos­i­tive struc­tural change in ed­u­ca­tion?

In­done­sia is on a fan­tas­tic jour­ney from the world’s 16th econ­omy to­wards the top five. One thing more than any­thing else – any macro or mi­cro eco­nomic strat­egy or new reg­u­la­tory sys­tem - will make that jour­ney suc­cess­ful. That’s the ed­u­ca­tion, the skilling of the peo­ple of In­done­sia to gen­er­ate the work­places, the en­ter­prise, the prod­ucts, the ser­vices, the achiev­able am­bi­tion. That means that univer­si­ties, vo­ca­tional col­leges, and schools at all lev­els have to skill them­selves to skill their stu­dents. Learn­ing must be pure and in­spir­ing but also linked to em­ploy­ment am­bi­tions and the needs of com­mu­ni­ties, cities and prov­inces to achieve so­cioe­co­nomic suc­cess. Again, let’s be frank, In­done­sia does not yet have an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem which is com­pa­ra­ble in qual­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness even to those of some other SEA na­tions. With the right in­vest­ment and with sup­port from for­eign univer­si­ties and in­sti­tu­tions who are will­ing In­done­sia to im­prove their in­ter­na­tional stand­ing, that am­bi­tion is achiev­able. But it needs gen­uine com­mit­ment to re­form and im­prove­ment and the right­ful use of in­vest­ment to strength in­ter­na­tional ca­pa­bil­ity and rep­u­ta­tion.

It ap­pears that more young In­done­sians are choos­ing the UK for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion in re­cent years. Try­ing to set aside your own Bri­tish­ness, what would you say is driv­ing this ap­petite and trend?

I could give you dozens of sta­tis­tics to show how the UK HE sys­tem leads the world in so many ar­eas. But I’ll stick to one fact. In­done­sia has about 4,400 univer­si­ties whereas the UK has just over 150. What that means, given Bri­tain’s out­stand­ing in­ter­na­tional HE rep­u­ta­tion, is that ev­ery one of those univer­si­ties must be a world leader and truly in­ter­na­tional in out­reach and ca­pa­bil­ity – strong in all ar­eas. At present UK higher ed­u­ca­tion is more eco­nom­i­cal than our com­peti­tors, our univer­si­ties are more staffed with in­ter­na­tional fac­ulty and our re­search and teach­ing is more di­rectly geared to en­abling stu­dents to grow in aca­demic and vo­ca­tional learn­ing to help route them into their fu­tures. I have not met an In­done­sian who has re­turned from a pe­riod of study in the UK who has not told me that it has been the most en­light­en­ing and uplift­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of their life.

You have led the British Coun­cil in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, in­clud­ing Nige­ria, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Burma, In­dia, Egypt and the USA. Which coun­try have you en­joyed work­ing and liv­ing in most? (If not In­done­sia), where does In­done­sia rank in your ex­pe­ri­ences?

There’s nowhere I’d rather be than In­done­sia at the mo­ment. I love this jour­ney it’s tak­ing, its some­times wob­bly Pan­casila val­ues and its rich di­ver­sity. In­done­sians are also the nicest peo­ple I’ve lived amongst - and I mean that. But In­dia is spe­cial for me too. It was where I first worked, as a univer­sity lit­er­a­ture lec­turer from 1978 – 80 (yes I’m that old!) My wife is from In­dia (though she of course is ex­tremely young) so my kids are of both na­tions.

Paul Smith is cur­rently the Coun­try Di­rec­tor for the British Coun­cil in In­done­sia. Paul’s pre­vi­ous roles have taken him to In­dia, Nige­ria, Bangladesh, Chile, Ger­many, Burma, New Zealand, Egypt, Afghanistan, the USA (and even, oc­ca­sion­ally, the UK!) Paul is also a nonex­ec­u­tive Board mem­ber of BritCham.

BritCham en­gages with the Na­tion’s most in­flu­en­tial per­son­al­i­ties. BritCham Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, Chris Wren has had priv­i­leged per­sonal time with na­tional in­flu­encers from gov­ern­ment and lead­ers from the pri­vate sec­tor, from the Re­pub­lic’s first un­elected, post-new or­der Pres­i­dent Habi­bie to the pro­lific Panorama Group CEO Pak Budi Tirtaw­isata and dozens in be­tween. Our mem­bers have been first to hear anec­do­tal in­sights that can shape and change opin­ion. For the first time, BritCham is pleased to of­fer these in­sights to read­ers of In­done­sia Ex­pat.

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