'You're hired'...no, wait...'You've got a scholarship'?

Ghana tunes in for British Council’s Apprentice-style reality TV show. David Matthews reports

November 29, 2012

Sweeter than Sugar director has a less aggressive style than the grumpy peer but his catchphrase is a work in progress

As the Lord Sugar figure on an Apprentice-style knockout show in Ghana, what words do you use to tell the winning contestant, 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 Centre 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 cheque in front of a cheering studio audience.

In the glare of the studio lights, the phrase “seemed right at the time”, Mr 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 organised by the British Council in Ghana that whittles down 12 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 postgraduate degree at Robert Gordon, with the runner-up having their fees covered. The show follows similarly themed programmes in other countries, such as Scholar Hunt: Destination UK, in India.

Process of elimination

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) in an elimination system similar to Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor.

When only four contestants remain, Mr 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 programme, 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, Mr 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, Mr Martin argues, so the programme 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”, Mr Martin said. However, as a side benefit, applications from Ghana to the university have soared, he added.

Mr Martin said that he has a more magnanimous style than The Apprentice’s rather gruff boss.

“I would like to think I’m not as harsh as Alan Sugar,” he said.

The final is scheduled for broadcast on 14 December.


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