School students in India
School students in India

South Asia is on the cusp of a demographic dividend even greater than China’s in the last century. With a population of 1.6 billion of which 20% are aged between 15-24, there is a next generation emerging. This is a region of extremes from an aspiring middle class of over 400 million to over 520 million living below the poverty line. It is home to the world’s largest democracy and also to fragile states, it has centres of world class innovation and technological literacy yet faces major challenges on access to education. The numbers speak for themselves in South Asia: 1 million new entrants will enter the labour force every month for the next 20 years, the fastest expansion of Higher Education provision and social media usage increasing at 38% per year! This fast-moving and turbulent region has huge problems but these are matched by huge opportunities and resilient communities. South Asia sits at the centre of an emerging network that links the countries of South Asia with the Middle East and Africa in a web of new economic, political and security relationships.

Did you know that…?

  • There are over 2 million people of South Asian heritage living in the UK which means there are powerful diaspora connections to the region
  • Many of the economies in the region are growing at an annual rate of 6% - 9% and huge investment is now going into education. 
  • There are over 750 universities in the region but there are plans to build 1500 new universities in India alone over the next 10 years
  • Over 500 million young people will want skills training by 2015 but only 4 million are currently enrolled in courses
  • Over 420 million people are learning English across South Asia

What we do and where we work in South Asia

We work in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and our work includes: 

English – we have Libraries and Teaching Centres in India and Bangladesh, we support teachers in all countries and by 2017 we aim to reach 100 million learners

Exams - over 427,640 candidates sat UK qualifications in South Asia in 2012-13

Education – we work with Governments, policy makers, teachers and learners to improve quality education and last year over 5 million people accessed our services

Arts – from Design Development to mapping the Creative Industries, from showcasing Arts to using Arts as a tool for reconciliation, over 1 million people in South Asia saw our work in 2012-13.

What are we going to do in the future?

This region has rapidly-growing economies and a rising middle class, as well as conflict, extremes of poverty and low literacy rates. There are significant opportunities for the British Council’s work across the region, especially for English and Skills, a rapid expansion of Higher Education, major investment in school education and a growing demand for, and interest in, the Arts, particularly the creative industries.  We can only do this in partnership and we plan to:

  • Make our English programmes and materials readily available to much larger numbers of learners, policy makers and teachers in South Asia, especially through on-line access.
  • Expand our work in supporting access to education opportunities for all young people.
  • Extend our skills work across all countries supporting the demand for vocational opportunities.
  • Increase our research and thought leadership work with Policy Dialogues and research in English, Education and the Arts.
  • Increase educational opportunities for young people through access to UK education and qualifications and by strengthening higher education and school systems in South Asia.
  • Use the arts to build greater understanding and trust between the peoples of the UK and South Asia and to develop closer links between practitioners and policy makers.
  • Support the development of the next generation of leaders in South Asia in education, the arts, English language teaching and civil society.

South Asia is at a demographic turning point with huge opportunities and the British Council wants to be an effective partner in supporting the region and its growth through building trust and opportunity between the UK and South Asia.


Did you know…?

  • The Indian education system is the biggest in the world with 40 million students due to enter higher education by 2020. 
  • India has an estimated 3 million English language teachers of which British Council has reached nearly 750,000 across eleven States.
  • A new five-year arts and culture initiative (2014-18) will build creative connections in new ways between the people of the UK and India.

India and the UK are bound together by 400 years of shared history. The past offers a strong platform for rebuilding this relationship but the new “special relationship” has to be based on an equal footing, recognising the cultural nuances and current ambitions of both nations. In this context the British Council’s cultural relations work assumes special significance. 

Over 600 million people in India are under 25 years old with a huge appetite for education. India desires to extend its Gross Enrolment Ratio in Higher Education from the current 18% to 30% by 2020. This offers a massive opportunity for the UK as a leader in transnational and digital education. 

UKIERI is a multi-stakeholder partnership programme funded by both Indian and the UK Governments to support educational partnerships, develop professional capacities and facilitate policy dialogues on areas of mutual interest. UKIERI has enabled 142 Higher Education Partnerships involving over 280 institutions to undertake joint research and programme delivery since 2011. 

The English language is perhaps the clearest common legacy of India and the UK but far from being a mere historical hangover, it looks set to be an important part of India's future. The total market for English language learning currently comprises 300 million learners, or a massive 25.77% of the Indian population. Of these 255 million are in formal education, whether public or private, while a further 4.5 million are consumers of private English language teaching and 46 million are learning English using self-accessed resources. In English for skills, UK providers are most sought after. 

The British Council delivers high-quality English language services and we will reach 1.5m teachers over the next 3-5 years. Working through British Council teaching centres, corporate and public sector partnerships, schools and the Indian government we reach out to millions of learners and teachers of English. Our aim is to develop a range of partnerships that provide innovative digital English learning opportunities to young people whose economic or geographic situation gives them limited access. We also deliver more than 200,000 UK examinations in India every year and create opportunities for 2.5m young people through our work in schools and sports.

A new long-term engagement in the Arts is being planned through Re-Imagine, involving a range of Indian and UK partners. This is expected to change the nature and scale of creative collaboration between the two countries and will build on the successful showcases presented in 2013. Homelands, the largest exhibition of work from the British Council Collection, has toured to four Indian cities and the first Impulse Dance Season demonstrated that Indian audiences are keen on contemporary dance - more than 25,000 people had the chance to see new work by five top companies from the UK.  Indian States are growing in importance and in response to that the British Council library network in nine Indian cities is being re-shaped and developed further as hubs from where we will reach out to new audiences, engaging both face-to-face and digitally.

For more information contact: Rob Lynes, Director India