Celebrity tutors

Hong Kong’s got (teaching) talent.

Following a recent post on Oprah in the classroom, the New York Times has a great piece on Celebrity Tutors in Hong Kong:

Advertisements for star tutors in Hong Kong can be seen all over here: on billboards that loom over highways and on the exteriors of shopping malls. Invariably, the local teaching celebrities are young, attractive and dressed in designer outfits befitting pop stars. But beyond the polished shine, the advertisements also claim that their celebrity tutors can help students ace Hong Kong’s university entrance exam.

“From a marketing perspective, every company wants to present their products with good packaging,” said Antonia Cheng, a celebrity English teacher at Modern Education, one of the city’s largest tutorial chains. “I believe, very simply, that this is a business principle.”

Although Ms. Cheng’s Web site features photos of her in various poses, including in a red cocktail dress with a flash of leg, she maintains that “the quality of lessons is most important.”

According to the piece many of the city’s celebrity tutors have their own music videos, Facebook fan pages and products including stationery. It has also been reported that some tutors can earn more than 10 million Hong Kong dollars, or around £800k each year. That’s a pretty good rate. Will it attract others to set up shop there? We’ll see.

Brian Cox

Not going to Hong Kong

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Oprah in the classroom

I’m a Celebrity – get me in there

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting article on the appointment of celebrities as visiting academics at US universities. Celebrity adjunct culture as it is described brings many challenges, not least of which is the resentment of existing staff at the pay and perks afforded the star academic. But it can be positive too:

Celebrity hires can work out well, says Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, but institutions must be more open about their motives. “Universities have tried to find pedagogical cover for their publicity ventures,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to attain publicity for your school, but there needs to be more truth in advertising what these positions are all about.”

Celebrity professors, says Stephen M. Walt, a Harvard professor of international affairs, can be particularly helpful for lower-profile institutions that want to improve their name recognition. When the University of North Florida hired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African social-rights activist, as a visiting scholar in 2003, for example, the institution was not shy to publicize its professorial catch.

As the article notes, there were positives and negatives with a number of celebrity hires, including:Oprah Winfrey

David Petraeus

Eliot Spitzer

Michael Dukakis

Arnold Schwarzenegger

and, most strikingly

Oprah!

Meanwhile, back in North Florida:

Earle Traynham, the university’s interim provost, says he recalls university officials asking Archbishop Tutu to participate in a handful of fund-raising events while he was on campus. During his single semester at North Florida, Mr. Tutu led several noncredit mini-courses, as well as one semester-long course titled “Truth and Reconciliation,” focusing on his time heading South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a post-apartheid restorative justice body.

It is not uncommon, some administrators say, for institutions to pay more than they would ideally like to hire a high-profile adjunct professor if they perceive a potential payoff. That payoff, says Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, may come through things like positive publicity or fund-raising opportunities.

So, pluses and minuses. But you are unlikely to get much in the way of a REF return out of them.