The British Council is the United Kingdom's international cultural relations organisation founded in 1934. We are on the ground in six continents and over 100 countries, bringing international opportunity to life, every day. We have been in Singapore since 1947.
How it all started
Discussions in the 1920s and the early 1930s led to the setting up of a British Committee for Relations with Other Countries on 18 November 1934, renamed 'British Council' in 1935. Working at first through British Embassies and High Commissions, the British Council set up its first overseas operations in Egypt and Portugal in 1938. In the same year, the organisation took over the responsibility for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
It was granted a royal charter by His Majesty, King George VI in 1940.
Our Patron is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
1947 to 1965: The Early Years
British Council Singapore was established in 1947, with the temporary office located at Empress Place, today occupied by the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM).
Paul Abisheganaden was the first Singaporean to receive a scholarship from British Council to go to the UK from Singapore on 14 August 1947. Paul was a Singaporean conductor and 1986 Cultural Medallion recipient for his contributions to music.
In 1948, British Council Singapore relocated to its first 'proper home' at the old St Andrew's Mission School building on Stamford Road.
A distinguished Singaporean, Professor Wang Gungwu was selected for a British Council scholarship in 1954 to prepare for his PhD at the London University, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Currently, Professor Wang is University Professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Chairman of the Managing Board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and Chairman of the East Asian Institute.
We moved first to the Raffles Museum in October 1957 (now known as National Museum of Singapore) and later to Amber Mansions on Orchard Road in 1960.
1965 to 1978: The Years of Technical Assistance
British Council was heavily involved in setting up and development of the Educational Television Service (ETV). In 1967, one of the ETV's English programmes won the Japan Prize in the International Educational Broadcast Competition. British Council played a major role in helping to establish a valuable educational service in Singapore.
British Council Singapore was closely involved in developing language courses and setting up the library of Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organisation Regional English Language Centre (SEAMEO RELC) during the formative years of its establishment in the 1970s. SEAMEO RELC was renamed SEAMEO Regional Language Centre in 1977.
Princess Anne opened the British Council's newly refurbished premises at The Cathay Building on 19 February 1971. We moved here from Amber Mansions.
A letter dated 27 October 1977 from Mr H. R. Hochstadt, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, to Mr John Harniman, which gave British Council the green light to go ahead with the Direct Teaching of English (DTE) in Singapore.
1978 to 1988: Going It Alone
British Council has worked closely with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) since its foundation in 1979. The SSO was founded along with the Singapore Cultural Foundation. These would become valued partners for the British Council's arts activities in the years to come. The Singapore Cultural Foundation, together with the Ministry’s Cultural Affairs Division and the National Theatre Trust, are the predecessors of the National Arts Council (NAC).
The year 1979 to 1980 proved to be the most noteworthy in the British Council's 33-year existence in Singapore. From the Prime Minister downwards, government leaders called upon the British Council for assistance in ELT, education, cultural and library development and, as a result of rapid and successful responses to their requests, the British Council became increasingly involved in many sectors of Singapore life.
The late Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Minister for Education, Singapore, opened our Collyer Quay premises at the Singapore Rubber House in the presence pf the Director-General of the British Council, Sir John Llewellyn, in February 1979.
From 1982 to 1986, we continued our co-operation with the Public Service Commission in sending Singaporeans for varying types of training in the UK, as well as operating its own scholarships and visitors schemes. In 1986, there were 85 such awards.
British Council assisted Lim Yau, the Assistant Conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), to participate in an advanced course in conducting at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1982 to 1983. This was part of the British Council's close involvement in Singapore art scene.
In 1983, we won a contract from the Ministry of Education to set up the College of Physical Education, which later merged with the Institute of Education to form the National Institute of Education (NIE). The British Council was closely involved in planning and developing the Centre for Computer Studies, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, which was opened on 4 March 1983. The Centre was renamed as the School of InfoComm Technology (ICT) in 2003.
The Educational Counselling Service (ECS) was set up in 1984 to counteract the effects of charging full fees to overseas students in Britain. The ECS organised the British Education Exhibitions or Study in Britain Exhibitions in Singapore every year from 1988. Today the ECS is part of the Education Team and they organise the annual Education UK Exhibition.
The late Dr Tay Eng Soon, then Minister of State for Education, was at the cut the sod ceremony for the Napier Road building in 1986. On 16 April 1988, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, then Minister for Education of Singapore, currently the 7th President of Singapore, officially opened the new British Council at 30 Napier Road, at the invitation of the Director-General of the British Council, Sir Richard Francis.
In 1988, British Alumni Singapore was formally inaugurated with full support from British Council Singapore.
1988 to 2000: Home at Last
We hosted a visit by HM The Queen Elizabeth II in October 1989. In the same year, the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) named the British Council as its approved centre for International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
In 1992, we facilitated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the National Arts Council (NAC) of Singapore and the Scottish Arts Council (renamed Creative Scotland on 1 July 2010). This was signed in 1992 by Professor Tommy Koh, then Chairman of the NAC. The MOU was renewed in 2007.
Following the move to Napier Road, the Direct Teaching of English (DTE) operation developed a full range of English teaching services in 1993. Full-time courses for foreign students in Singapore (mainly from the People's Republic of China, Thailand and Indonesia) commenced.
We opened our Holland Village Centre in 1993 which caters largely to young learners, offering courses in language enrichment, speech and drama, etc. The centre was closed in 2003 to make way for the Holland Village MRT Station which opened on 8 October 2011.
A new centre was opened in Tampines in January 1996 by Mr Mah Bow Tan, then Minister for Communications of Singapore, to enable the British Council to reach out to Singapore's increasingly dispersed population in the townships.
British Council Singapore purchased its first country domain name 'britishcouncil.org.sg' on 7 April 1999. Our website is now at: www.britishcouncil.sg.
2000 to 2010: Entering the New Millennium
Business Communications Unit (BCU), located at our Napier Road Centre, was renamed the Professional Development Centre (PDC) after it moved to Cecil Street. His Royal Highness, the Prince Andrew, Duke of York opened our British Council PDC at Cecil Street on 22 May 2001. In October 2009, the PDC moved to our new Toa Payoh Centre at the HDB Hub.
Our Marsiling Centre was officially opened by Mr Goh Chok Tong, then Prime Minister of Singapore on Sunday 8 June 2003. Marsiling Centre is located at the Fuchun Community Club in the north of Singapore.
We joined with our other offices around the world to celebrate the 70th anniversary of British Council UK in 2004. In the same year, we re-launched our Napier Road Centre after undergoing a major refurbishment. We installed innovative interactive whiteboards to enrich the learning experience of our students. All of our centres are now equipped with these boards.
British Council Singapore has been a TrustSg, BusinessTrust and ConsumerTrust accredited organisation since 4 February 2005. We are compliant with the BusinessTrust code of practice. Find out more about our accreditation and awards.
In 2006, as part of the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM) campaign, the British Council ran English workshops together with local celebrities to encourage people to use language to express what they feel or think.
In 2009, the British Council UK celebrated 75 years of cultural relations with a range of events and activities. In the same year on 22 June, we created our British Council Singapore Facebook Page.
2010 until present: Breaking New Grounds
British Council was awarded the coveted 4-year EduTrust accreditation in April 2011. Awarded by the Committee for Private Education (CPE), the EduTrust mark is only awarded to Private Education Institutes who have distinguished themselves in having higher standards in management and provision of educational services.
The Singapore International Foundation-British Council Artist-in-Residence Exchange programme (SIF-BC AiRx) is organised in pursuant to the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) and the British Council Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2011 to bridge communities between the two countries through the exchange of ideas and perspectives, and collaboration in the arts and thought leadership.
In October 2013, our Tampines Centre moved to a new location, in-preparation for the launch of our new British Council Pre-school. The new British Council Pre-school was opened in Tampines on 7 March 2014. British Council (Singapore) Limited launches myClass on 19 March 2014.
On 15 September 2014, we launched Learning Time with Shaun & Timmy, for the first time in Asia exclusively for preschool kids. British Council and Aardman Animations partnership to encourage preschool children in Singapore to learn the English language. Our fifth centre, Learning Time with Shaun & Timmy, Katong was officially opened on 31 January 2015.
In 2015, as part of the GREAT British Week, the British Council showcased 110 design works ranging from product design to architecture by the studio of British designer, Thomas Heatherwick through an exhibition called New British Inventors: Inside Heatherwick Studio.