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Fri, May 26, 2000 - Page 2 News List

BTCO gets failing grade in education

LICENSE TO TEACH The British Trade and Cultural Office has come under more fire for offering language classes and tours without the necessary permits

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Local education groups said yesterday that they aren't happy with the British Trade and Cultural Office's (BTCO, 英國貿易文化辦事處) reluctance to stop its unauthorized language courses and tour groups, despite its proposal to work with them and its recent agreement to suspend promotion of new group tours.

"It's like tossing us the bone but not letting us eat the meat," said Albert Lee, president of the Taiwan Overseas Study Association (TOSA, 中華留學務交流協會), after a meeting yesterday with the BTCO.

In the closed-door meeting, Geoff Evans, BTCO's new director of education and cultural operations met with TOSA members to discuss the possibility of the office stopping all of its unauthorized operations, including recruiting students for language schools, school placement services and organizing tour groups.

Evans later said that the BTCO has never done anything illegal "intentionally" and said other countries' representative offices provide similar "generic" services.

"Every aspect of our work is undertaken to reinforce the British Council's purpose of enhancing the reputation of the UK in Taiwan as a valued partner and to help each other to expand businesses," he said.

However, Evans reportedly admitted during the meeting with the TOSA members that the office did get commissions for school placements.

"While they said they wanted to focus on wholesale, they're also doing retail businesses and getting paid," said Brian Hockertz of TOSA.

"We believe they should either immediately stop or register the center as a profit-making company, or have two separate sections," Hockertz said.

BTCO's statement on Monday that it would suspend recruitment of more students for its tour groups was not enough, Hockertz said.

"As they are not a registered company, nor legally licensed to do business, and since its authorizing party -- the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- has indicated that it cannot do such business, we would like to see them cancel all their programs and refund all the money to students," Lee said.

In a letter dated May 12, the ministry asked BTCO to "immediately stop" its tour groups and language courses.

The office had ignored a letter from the ministry dated April 5 that asked BTCO's Education Training Center to apply for an operating license to offer language training courses.

The April letter also informed BTCO's Education and Cultural Section that it was in violation of national and international laws by using its diplomatic immunity and official status to recruit students both for its courses here and for language schools in the UK.

Even though the issue of the local courses was not discussed during yesterday's meeting, Hockertz said that in the spirit of consumer protection, TOSA members would like to see the office either legally register or stop all of its classes.

The meeting followed complaints Monday from Taipei City councilors and representatives of local education groups about BTCO's illegal operations -- offering language courses and recruiting students for overseas study without a license.

New Party councilor Jeffery Sheu (許淵國) called on Monday for the relevant municipal divisions to investigate BTCO's allegedly illegal operations and complete the investigations within two weeks.

Yang Chu-min (楊莒民), of the foreign ministry, told the Taipei Times yesterday that the BTCO is considering shutting down both operations and either working with local universities or registering as a company.

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