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Elite tutors can earn $180,000 and travel the world, but are risking a 'Faustian pact' with the superrich

Cameron Manley   

Elite tutors can earn $180,000 and travel the world, but are risking a 'Faustian pact' with the superrich
  • The private tutoring industry is valued at $62 billion.
  • Private tutors for ultrawealthy families can earn huge sums.

A wealthy family wants to hire a private tutor for their two young children. The position includes a minimum annual salary of $180,000, nine weeks of annual vacation, and accommodation and travel expenses. However, it comes with a demanding list of job responsibilities.

The successful candidate must be artistic, provide singing lessons, and play the piano. The tutor also needs to speak Italian, with good French and German, know how to ski, play soccer, do judo, and ride horses, and demonstrate a keen interest in motorsports.

The role includes extensive travel in Europe, the Middle East, and the US alongside bodyguards and executive assistants.

The UK-based tutoring agency Tutors International, searching for the highly lucrative tutoring role, has been described as the "Dom Perignon" of the industry.

Adam Caller started the company in 1999, but it wasn't until 2003 that he inked his first "gigantic" contract.

"In 2001, we thought charging a client £28,000 ($35,000) a year was a lot of money," Caller told Business Insider. "In 2003, I was personally offered a job by a client for £300,000 ($380,000)."

"I didn't appreciate how valuable our service was to families like that until they told me themselves."

Caller described his clients as "ultra-high-net-worth" families. He said 90% of potential clients say "money is no object" when selecting a tutor.

"They are very exacting," Caller said. "They need to know I'm listening and will deliver on my promises."

Jerome Barty-Taylor, the owner of another private tutoring business based in Hong Kong, previously told BI that "you're expected to be available whenever and wherever your clients want you to be."

"When I first started working in Hong Kong, a parent wanted to meet me at an airport lounge to talk about his child over Champagne because we both had flights that evening. For him, it was the most efficient use of time."

Tutoring has become a "status symbol"

Current estimates put the global private tuition market at $62.08 billion. It is expected to grow to $132.21 billion by 2032.

It is no surprise that hundreds of agencies are seeking a piece of the pie, from everyday sites like MyTutor or SuperProf to elite private agencies that often hire exclusively from pools of ex-private school pupils and Oxford and Cambridge University or Ivy League grads.

One instructor who worked for an elite international tutoring agency in various places across Europe told BI that they had stumbled across the agency during their time at Oxford, where, along with Cambridge, the company does the majority of its hiring.

"I was shocked that they could charge so much for classes," they said, adding that an hour of tuition would set a client back upwards of $150.

"What was most surprising was that I had no formal training or experience, and yet because I had been to Oxford and spoke with a good English accent, clients would willingly dish out that sort of cash," they said.

One tutor who works with some of Dubai's richest families told BI that sometimes, the parents would start a bidding war with one another to secure the service of a favorite tutor.

"If they knew I would be at one client's house at a time they wanted, they would offer to pay double, triple, or even more to convince me to come to them instead," he said.

For the elite, tutoring has become a "status symbol," says Mark Bray, UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong.

"There is also a herd effect," Bray told BI. "When everybody else seems to be investing in tutoring, it seems wise to go with the crowd, at least as an insurance policy.

"Schools may assume that children are receiving tutoring. In this case, parents need to invest in it to avoid being left behind," Bray said.

The elites don't just hope that tutors will teach their children. They also hope that a tutor will impart values.

"For the ultra-rich, education isn't just about books. It's about maintaining values," Barty-Taylor, the Hong Kong-based tutor, said.

"That's so their children don't fall prey to the curse of 'one generation to make it, and one generation to spend it.'"

Caller said he is "unforgiving" when it comes to selecting tutors for his demanding clients, and competition for the exclusive roles is intense.

For the position Caller is currently advertising, he has received over 200 applications. He said he will likely interview three or four of these and will put two forward to the client.

With the many perks that such tutoring positions come with, it's no surprise.

"There are such brilliant opportunities to travel! You get to a glimpse into a life of luxury that you wouldn't otherwise have access to. And having accommodation paid for as well meant I was able to save far more than my peers back in London," a tutor, who spent a year working in Russia and Monaco told BI.

She said she would regularly tutor children in enormous luxury mansions, was driven around by private drivers in blacked-out cars, and was pestered by the family's nannies, who would endlessly offer her drinks and food.

"These kids had personal massage therapists and private helicopters. It was insane," she said.

The Dubai-based tutor said he had received tips of over $20,000.

But Lee Elliot Major, a professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, warned that tutoring could be "education's dark side."

"Graduates from elite universities are often making a Faustian pact: serving the wealthy to pay their post‐graduation debts," he said. "Tutoring has become necessary to make ends meet for graduates trying to forge careers in sectors like the creative industries where it is hard to make a living."

But many graduates inadvertently remain tutors for far longer than they expect, he said. Glamorous destinations, private jets, inter-family bidding wars, and incomparable salaries make it increasingly appealing.

Lack of regulation is a growing concern

Tutors International has boomed in recent months.

"We've seen a 4-500% growth this year," Caller said.

Caller believes there is a clear reason for this: "Schools are not preparing children for the future of ultra-high-net-worth families."

These ultra-rich parents are worried that "if these kids are going to grow up and take over the family office, then they need to know how to run that company, not how to complete the square.

"If you've got the resources, you just take them out of the system and organize bespoke tuition for the child," Caller said.

But whatever the circumstances, the question remains about whether tutors are qualified.

To teach at a state school in Britain, for example, you need an undergraduate degree followed by a full year of training, a three-year teaching degree, or two years of on-the-job training with the Teach First program.

To tutor, you just need a client.

Major described it as the "Wild West of education."

"There is very little regulation or focus on protecting minimum standards," he said. "I always advise parents to think very carefully about the tutors they are paying."

Caller also cautioned that lack of regulation was an issue in the industry and that some companies had a tendency to over-promise and under-deliver. He added that he and other industry leaders were currently working to develop the world's first tutoring qualification.

The instructor working in Russia and Monaco told BI that one of her pupils had suffered with learning difficulties but that "the child's issues were completely brushed under the carpet, purely to ensure that the tutoring stayed in the hands of the company."

"I didn't have the training to teach an individual who was struggling like that," she said, "it was heartbreaking."

At the same time, "I liked that I was able to be there for certain kids in a way that they did not have at home," the tutor said.

"Many of the kids I taught were craving proper attention. You could see after a period of time the kids would almost soften with you and actually enjoy the time together."

This tutor also worked for another online agency that catered to more typical lower-middle-class families.

"These kids really needed the help and were keen to learn," she said.

"Although the pay was a lot less, seeing how excited the tutees would be when they made a breakthrough with a concept or problem made the job far more rewarding and enjoyable."

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