'Apprentice'-Style Scholarship

University in Scotland uses reality television to admit and provide a scholarship to a student from Ghana.


November 29, 2012

As the host on an "Apprentice"-style knockout show in Ghana, what words do you use to tell the winning contestants, live on television, that they have just won an expenses-paid scholarship to study at Robert Gordon University?

Last year, Andrew Martin, director of the Scottish Center of Tourism at the university's Aberdeen Business School, perhaps unoriginally elected for: "You're hired."

The two words were followed by tears of joy from the winner and the presentation of a giant novelty check in front of a cheering studio audience.

In the glare of the studio lights, the phrase "seemed right at the time," Martin said, but now, as another live final approaches in December, he is planning a catchphrase of his own creation: "You've got a scholarship," or possibly, "You're going to Scotland."

This is the second year Robert Gordon has offered a scholarship as the top prize on "The Challenge," a show organized by the British Council in Ghana that whittles down contestants via a series of business-related tasks in a manner similar to the BBC One hit "The Apprentice."

If contestants can overcome challenges that include designing a new logo for a school, creating a strategy for an electronics firm and even producing a pop video, they have a shot at the fully funded graduate degree at Robert Gordon. The show follows similarly themed programs in other countries, such as "Scholar Hunt: Destination UK," in India.

In the early rounds, contestants on "The Challenge" are weeded out by a panel of business experts and the phone votes of viewers (who can number up to 4.5 million).

When only four contestants remain, Martin is flown in to be part of the final judging panel. He will walk up a red carpet to take his place alongside local businesspeople and sponsors of the program, who will then decide who has performed best (while also being careful to take into account who the voting public wants to win).

That a public vote helps determine the winner is not a problem, Martin said, because the British Council and the Ghanaian production company carefully screen the contestants. "They do a cracking job in making sure that the best are on stage," he said.

Applicants do not need an undergraduate degree to apply as they can qualify through previous business experience, although last year's winner, Naa Komey, is an economics and French graduate from the University of Ghana.

One of "The Challenge's" tasks is to produce a written report, Martin argues, so the program is "far more academically rigorous than 'The Apprentice.' "

Robert Gordon agreed to participate in the show to put across to Ghana the message that "higher education is good, it's fun, it's exciting," Martin said. However, as a side benefit, applications from Ghana to the university have soared, he added.



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