Dr. Patrick Hart (Deputy Director, British Council Germany)

31.07.2009 - Interview conducted by Gráinne Toomey

Dr. Patrick Hart joined the British Council in 1989 and started his posting as Deputy Director of the British Council’s Germany office in July 2005. His various posts, both in the Far East and Europe, have provided him with insights into a wide range of the Council’s activities, particularly science, arts and education promotion.

Dr. Hart participated in the International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy on Friday. The ICD News team took the opportunity of interviewing him on the current and future projects of the British Council in Germany. He also talked about his experience of opening a British Council office in Taiwan, and his interest in the field of sport as cultural diplomacy.

Can you tell me what you thought of the lectures today at the ICD?

Well, I was present for three of the sessions. I came to the Olympia Stadium for the Sports and Soft Power session and I also attended the presentation by Dr. Arpad Sölter, as well as the final one by Demos. I got something out of all of them.  And I very often think that the bits you take away from lectures like these slowly add to the organic build-up of your own experience and ideas.

It was quite good to hear about some of the ways in which international sports can directly contribute to cultural relations. I also think it can be quite revealing to think about the wide range of different types of sporting events that really have potential benefits in terms of cultural relations. We tend to think of the World Cup in Germany, or the London Olympics in 2012, or some other event where large numbers of people are coming together, meeting, exchanging ideas and learning about each other’s perspectives. It hadn’t really dawned on me until now just what a wide range of such opportunities there are. There are smaller events that are not so much in the public spotlight and don’t necessarily have the top sportsmen and women participating in them. Maybe there’s actually more of a potential benefit for cultural relations in those than in some of the really big events. We’ve not done a lot on sports since I’ve worked with the British Council in Germany, but we’re anticipating that there will be some initiatives associated with London 2012. We have to wait and see what projects and ideas are going to be suggested by the overseas offices as a result of that.

Can you expound on some of the British Council's projects, such as “Creative Europe”?

Creative Europe is one of the four themes that provide a framework for our programmes, which are: Creative, Competitive, Open and World Europe. Creative Europe addresses the fact that the issue of creativity is a common one across all of the countries of Europe. We need creativity and we need to foster and encourage it. I would argue that this is important for a number of reasons. One reason is economic, because creativity can fire innovation and create other economic opportunities. It’s also very important from the point of view of social well-being.  Cultural creativity contributes to the soul of a nation and enhances our lives in a wider and more subtle range of ways than just through economic benefits. My colleague, Elke Ritt, the head of the Creative Europe programme, would say that creativity is actually essential to our survival. The more I think about it, the more I think she’s right. We have issues like climate change and other environmental challenges, as well as global diseases and epidemics like swine flu. We need to be creative to combat the effects of these. Our survival then is, in part, bound up with creativity.

How well are the other countries of the UK apart from England represented in the activities of the British Council?

We represent the whole of the United Kingdom, not just England. In many ways, the other three constituent nations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland may have even stronger cultural identities than England. Scotland, in particular, I would say, has a very clear national brand. We do endeavour to provide a balanced perspective and not just orientate things towards England or any one part at the expense of the others. That is part of the British Council’s cultural remix. It’s not just the diversity of the four constituent nations; it is also the diversity which is reflected in the national populations. We are now a very diverse nation and we try to reflect that in our programmes.

Earlier in your career at the British Council, you worked in several Asian countries, and while in Taiwan, were responsible for setting up the British Council office.  Can you tell me some more about that?

Britain, like other nations, doesn’t have cultural relations with Taiwan, because you can’t have cultural relations with both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.   There is no British Embassy in Taiwan; instead, there is the British Trade and Cultural Office. Formerly, there was also an independently-run education promotion agency called Anglo-Taiwan Education Centre. The university in Britain that managed and funded this centre found that it was growing too large, so they asked the British Council if they would take over the management of the education centre, which they did.  They also used the centre as the basis for a much more broadly-based British Council operation. I came in to manage the transition to a fully fledged British Council office, which was great.  It was a fantastic challenge.

You raised the issue of the long-term evaluation of soft power initiatives during the question and answer session after the lecture by Dr. Sölter of the Goethe Institute. Can you elaborate on the example you gave of British-educated diplomats in Taiwan?

It wasn’t seen as a soft-power initiative at the time, but I think it’s a very good example of the importance of taking a long-term view when measuring the effectiveness of soft power.  There I was in Taiwan, between 1996 and 2000, with the five members of the Taiwanese Cabinet who had studied and gotten their PhDs in the UK. I used to say there were more British PhDs in the Taiwanese Cabinet than in the British Cabinet.  That included the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Education—two very key individuals. This wasn’t the work of the British Council; we didn’t exist in Taiwan 25 years previously, so we can’t take any of the credit for it. But however they had come to know about British education, however they had come to be intrigued by British culture, however they had become persuaded that going to study in Britain was a good thing—it was really paying off, twenty-five years later. A lot of the conventional forms of measurement of soft power and cultural relations, the type of work that the British Council does, fail to capture or really measure and reflect those longer-term benefits.

The British Council office here in Berlin is smaller than it used to be.  How does that affect your outreach?

The British Council in Europe, generally, has seen a cut in its budget, and a geographical reprioritization with greater emphasis on Asia and the Middle East—for understandable political reasons. What we have tried very hard to do is to make sure that we maintain the degree of impact that we had when we had a larger budget. That means that we are much more selective now and targeted in terms of where and with whom we work. We don’t try to cover the whole of Germany, but we do prioritize certain regions and cities, and we have very clear focuses for our work through the core themes of Creative, Open, Competitive and World Europe.  It would be more difficult if we were providing services that were directly accessible to the public like a language teaching centre or a library, but we don’t provide that type of service anymore. We’re doing much more large-scale projects, which are seen as having a national coverage.

Dr. Hart, thank you very much for your time.