The oldest cultural relations organization in the world, British Council dates back 89 years and it has been continuously present in Hungary for six decades now. On this 60th anniversary, the recently appointed Country Director of British Council Hungary, Georgina Szilágyi tells Diplomacy&Trade about the organization’s role in the world, its activities in Hungary and the values it represents.
Talking about the almost nine decades of the organization’s history in promoting English language education and that of British culture, the Country Director highlights that “our work has evolved, but we continue to make a positive contribution to the countries we work with. In doing so, we improve the United Kingdom’s international standing, prosperity and security by building connections, understanding and trust between the people in the UK and worldwide.” She adds that it takes time to build trust and they have been doing this for almost nine decades. “Moving from a process of understanding different cultures to trust between cultures can lead to genuine collaboration. Our ability to innovate and being independent of government allowed us to work for the long term and carry out sincere people-to-people engagement.”
Six decades in Hungary
British Council Hungary celebrates its 60th anniversary this year but this period could have been over seven decades – should political circumstances have been different. As Georgina Szilágyi explains, “the British Council opened in Hungary for a short period after the Second World War but was forced to close in 1950. In 1963, we were allowed to re-enter Hungary under a cultural agreement renewable every three years. The British Council operated as part of the British Embassy until, in 1987, a revision of the agreement allowed it to function in its own right and name. Our role, influenced by the relationship between the two countries and technological development, had changed over the years. Although we work with a smaller team and resources, our role in connecting cultures and brokering relationships remain pivotal.”
Helping young people
Georgina Szilágyi joined the British Council Hungary team as Country Director in December 2022 from the British Embassy Budapest where she had worked in Communications and Public Diplomacy for almost two decades. Regarding her plans in this new position, she says she will continue to build connections, foster new relationships and further expand partnerships through arts and culture, education and the English language.
She stresses that “this is not a one-woman show. With my inspiring team, we work directly with individuals to transform their lives, and with the Hungarian government and partners to make a bigger difference for the longer term in both the UK and Hungary. We help young people to gain the skills, confidence and connections they are looking for to realize their potential and to participate in strong and inclusive communities. We support them to learn English, to get a high-quality education and to gain internationally recognized qualifications.”
Unique learning and examination experience
One issue that people definitely associate with the British Council is English language education: courses and exams. As to what the specialty of the British Council is in this field compared to other language schools, the Country Director points out that they promote the English language worldwide, both through their own teaching centers and through programs, which they manage in partnership with national governments. They make available high-quality online resources for both teachers and learners of English.
“Our uniqueness lies in the aim that we want to help people improve their language competence and at the same time develop other skills – presentation, cultural awareness, emotional intelligence just to name a few – that can create competitive advantage,” she adds.
The British Council’s biggest cultural relations program is exams, which is all about educational opportunity and mobility both socially and geographically.
“We provide innovative and accessible learning and examination experience for Hungarian students and our Cambridge Assessment English Exams have become equivalent to the state-recognized, accredited language examination systems in Hungary. In 2020, we launched online language courses that allowed students to learn English from the comfort of their own homes, and we offer computer-based language exams that allow flexible exam dates and faster results. This has demonstrated the United Kingdom's commitment to educational innovation and supported the UK's ambition to be a leader in digital education,” she adds.
In order to accommodate the high demand for its exams in Hungary, the British Council has doubled its computer venue capacity. This has allowed the organization to grow its business, and it is now aiming to increase registrations by 15% in 2023-24.
Working in partnership
In achieving its objectives, the British Council works in Hungary with a wide range of partners in education, English language and the cultural sector, government, communities and professional associations, alumni organizations, and, naturally, the British Embassy. “Our partnership work involves youth, students, young professionals, artists, and civil servants. Working together we make a bigger difference, creating benefits for thousands of people in Hungary,” Georgina Szilágyi points out.
British values put in practice
The British Council represents UK values such as equality, diversity, and inclusion. Regarding the tools and methods, the organization has at its disposal in sharing and promoting these values in Hungary, the Country Director stresses that these UK values feature in all their work and appear as an overarching theme in everything they do in this country. As for some specific examples, she mentions “catering for special needs and accessibility when it comes to teaching English and delivering exams, promoting diversity and inclusion via all our program work on social cohesion, climate change and gender equality, working with underprivileged communities all reflect these values, be it capacity building or arts and culture focused.”
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