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Offering a Window on the World

As Bangladesh searches for more global opportunities to pursue its developmental dreams, British High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson confirms Britain’s readiness to provide support for expanding and scaling up skills in English language, as a key medium for connecting to the world today. Also, he maintains, the European country, which first hosted Bangabandhu after his release from captivity in a Pakistani prison in January 1972, is now looking for stronger ties with a vibrant Bangladesh after Brexit. British universities are especially interested in opening up their campuses in Bangladesh and offering quality education for Bangladeshis, the British diplomat tells Colors in an exclusive interview with Advisory Editor Ziaul Karim.

Robert Chatterton Dickson epitomizes British manners and etiquette.
Photo: Kazi Mukul.

The English language has created a strong bridge between two once physically distant countries and inspired generations with the best of Western thought and knowledge. Indeed, it still offers window of opportunities for enhancing cooperation between Britain and Bangladesh. The growth of Internet services in the past few decades has also resulted in proliferating English language use. English, in fact, is officially the second language in Bangladesh. It’s in this context High Commissioner Robert Dickson iterates Britain wants to support young Bangladeshis to attain better language skills, acquire world class education and access global opportunities. ‘I do think English is not just about language; it’s about access to technology and the world of science and culture; it’s a window,” says the British diplomat.

High Commissioner Dickson notes that the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education has forged a partnership with the British Council to train over 100 master school teachers at primary level under a contract to spread the English language in the school system. Apart from the British Council’s educational programmes in Bangladesh that introduce many Bangladeshi youths to the wider world, some British companies have been providing vocational educational training to Bangladeshis, he adds.

‘What Bangladesh has in abundance is human capital; in order to utilize this what is needed is skills and education….I appreciate Bangladesh’s intention to become a fully developed country by 2041, for which reason education is very important. I see there is a tremendous thirst for education. The UK can do more if the market is opened up a bit more,’ he says. The diplomat refers to the interest British universities have in opening campuses in Bangladesh in order to offer world class education in view of their top-level global ranking. He points out in this connection that the Bangladeshi parliament has passed an act relating to cross-border higher education which could facilitate entry of British universities into the Bangladesh market. The law is yet to be implemented. ‘It will be very good for young Bangladeshis to access world class education that would not be so expensive if the market is opened up that way. We’re very keen on that happening.’

The High Commission sees wider prospects of trade and investment cooperation if some of the pending issues are addressed by the Bangladesh government. ‘British companies are definitely interested in doing more business in the country –increasing trade and making more investment. They are sometimes put off by the difficulty of doing business’ he says, adding that Britain while an EU member it was discussing these issues in that capacity. Now that Brexit has happened the UK will continue to raise with Bangladesh authorities problems being faced and ways of resolving them for mutual benefit. ‘Now we are out of the EU, global Britain is looking for friends like Bangladesh which has the 38th largest economy in the world.’ One of his goals is to increase British exports to Bangladesh, especially of high quality services in areas like education, health and finance, through creation of investment and other opportunities.

As a British diplomat posted in Bangladesh, he is excited by the multi-dimensional aspects of bilateral relations such as the English language, cricket and the innumerable Bangladeshis in Britain. ‘It’s a deep and significant relationship on both sides,’ he says. He notes that it is significant that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman chose London in December 1971 en route to independent Bangladesh when released from captivity in Pakistan. ‘He was asked where he wants to go and he chose London and was warmly received by Prime Minister Heath. He was given a Royal Air Force aircraft to fly to Dhaka via Delhi,’ he points out. He was pleased to be present at a re-enactment of this historic event in January at the start of Mujib Borsho.

The British diplomat enjoys eating chicken curry, daal and biriyani.
Photo: Kazi Mukul.

The High Commissioner is appreciative of the way the large Bangladeshi-British community of around 600,000 people are contributing to its economy and culture. He also lauded the Bangladeshi love of cricket. ‘Everybody plays cricket here. It’s great that Bangladeshis are making their mark in world cricket. I see their immense enthusiasm and passion for the game,’ he adds. Asked how they looked at the fact that many of England’s 2019 World Cup cricket heroes are immigrants, the diplomat said that is the beauty of Global Britain which attracts and accommodates diverse people of different nationalities. ‘People come from all over the world and are now part of the UK…London has people from dozens of countries,’ he observes.

Robert Dickson is an avid traveller in Bangladesh and enjoys the wonderful local food and hospitality of Bangladeshis. ‘I try Bangladeshi food always when travelling around Bangladesh. I always enjoy eating chicken curry, daal, biriyani—to name only a few of my favorites,’ he says. He recognises that the Bangladeshi cuisine has contributed to a transformation in British food culture. ‘Indian restaurants in Britain are usually actually Bangladeshi restaurants.’ 

The British diplomat also lauds Bangladesh for hosting Rohingya refugees on its soil, despite the strain it has been for the country. He expresses his views that the crisis is likely to be a long one. ‘Also refugee camps are not any good place to live in. So, while they are in waiting period, they should be provided with adequate humanitarian support. Supporting the International Court of Justice’s recent ruling on Rohingya genocide, asking Myanmar to ensure safety of the people, he emphasizes their safe and dignified return. ‘The world has a huge debt to Bangladesh for its generosity to Rohingyas,’ he says and adds that the international community too ‘should do its part’.

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