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Edmund Marsden, the British Council's Director in India and Regional Director for South Asia, was in Hyderabad to set the strategy for the British Council and secure long term relations between India and the UK through cultural, educational and scientific co-operation and exchange.



BRIDGING THE GAP: Edmund Marsden

ONE OF the largest operations of the British Council outside the UK is in India. Therefore, it is only natural that India figures high on the list of priorities of the British Council. With as many as eleven centres all across the country, the Council provides an apolitical link between India and the UK.

Edmund Marsden, the British Council's Director in India and Regional Director for South Asia, was in Hyderabad recently as part of his visit to the various centres in the country to "set the strategy for the British Council and secure long term relations between India and the UK through cultural, educational and scientific co-operation and exchange."

The British Council, of course, does have a very extensive presence that is pretty well known and appreciated, mainly because of the libraries. Over the years, they have been adapting to the changing needs and requirements of the users - a separate children's section and working six days a week for instance.

"I am here to identify the audience, a young professional audience in the 20-35 age group since, they will, over the next 20-30 years play a leading role in securing and strengthening India's ties with the rest of the world. Besides, we would like to build up the membership, promote our services and ensure a good flow of material," says Edmund Marsden, outlining his immediate priorities.

Having already played a key role in making the British Council a major partner in the Global Knowledge Initiative (with the World Bank and the Government of Canada), Edmund Marsden, an alumnus of Trinity College, Cambridge, has also devised a long-term strategy for the operations of the British Council in India.

"We would like to ensure that the information/knowledge is shared between the industrialised and industrialising nations or the transitional economies. I have been concerned about the digital divide with hardware and connectivity still remaining major issues. There are barriers to access the best information because of the high charge that is attached to it. I do believe that in the next five to six years connectivity issues here in India will be fully sorted out, enabling uninterrupted rapid research," he says.

The British Council has major plans for India as part of the global knowledge initiative. Online products and a virtual library are being designed that will provide access to a very large range of journals, opportunity to learn and teach English and a range of courses that will enable the user to improve his workplace skills - Information Technology, negotiation, time management and people management.

Disclosing the ideas, he said, "these are likely to be launched by the end of this year and will be a mould-breaking service. We are pioneering the concept in India. We will have tie ups with local software companies and the content will be developed in the UK, US, Europe and India."

"The services will be high value and delivered online as part of a package of the membership of the British Library. Each member will be allotted a user id and password and this will provide global access. We are working on the business aspects; it will be a very interactive service and also provide for considerable networking among the members of the library," he added.

Apparently, a lot of homework has been done before the project was conceptualised what with an extensive research survey being conducted by ORG Marg. The survey, which had the 20-35 age group as the target group, revealed that they were confident that the British Council could transform offline information online. "Based on the survey, the service has been designed not as a global service, but specifically for India."

"Essentially, a lot of study will take place online in future. There will be no limits to it. We will be offering learning modules for improving effectiveness in the workplace," he explains. In the fullness of time, there are also plans to have collaborations with universities in the UK and offer courses online to students here.

The British Council is also making a conscious effort to shed its image of being "exclusive." "We are making efforts to make it more accessible to all sections of society. We want the whole family to come," he says. Hopefully, as a result of this initiative, the total number of the British Council users are likely to go up to 300,000 from the existing 100,000 in the next few years.

SUDHEENDRA PUTTY

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