Richard Eng, featured in 2013's Hong Kong Tiger Tutors, is as far from the conventional image of a teacher as you can imagine.

He dresses in Louis Vuitton suits and drives a yellow Lamborghini Murcielago which costs half a million US dollars.

Richard made his fortune cramming Hong Kong students to pass the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, the set of fearsome public exams that decide who wins a place at university.

He shaped the phenomenon of the tutor king by merging two apparently contradictory worlds: academia and celebrity.

It was an idea he came up with in the 1990s, inspired by the success of his pop star sister. Richard decided to bring some glamour to the traditionally fusty world of tutoring. He made himself the face of the school he'd founded - Beacon College - and put pictures of himself on buses to promote his high-volume, low-cost approach to teaching.

Today, all of Hong Kong's leading tutorial schools offer a similar combination: part Mr Chips, part Justin Bieber.

Richard is a double beneficiary of Hong Kong's difficult exams. He grew up on a public housing estate on Hong Kong island, but was able to go to university to study Business Administration after getting good marks in the exam. Then, after an abortive attempt to break into the hotel industry, he founded his first cram school in 1989.

Richard had a hunch that education was a good business to be in and his success seems to have proved him right. Almost three quarters of final year students in Hong Kong have tuition to pass the HKDSE. Tutoring is so widespread that if you don't have it, you're at a disadvantage. For some students, too poor to pay for any kind of tuition, that's a significant obstacle to their social mobility.

What is most surprising about Richard is that he's an outspoken critic of Hong Kong's education system. A shortage of university places means that of the roughly 80,000 students who sat the HKDSE in 2013 only about 17,000 will get a place.

"It's a system for the elite," Richard told me. "For every student who gets to university, four others are outside the gate sighing. It's a loser-making factory."

The UK is currently in the process of reshaping its A-level exams. The UK Secretary for Education, Michael Gove, has praised Hong Kong's education system. His proposed changes to the British system will make it more similar to Hong Kong's: several years of work will be assessed in a set of high-stakes exams which have the power to shape the student's future lives profoundly.

Weblinks

Beacon College's website: www.beacon.com.hk/2009/introeng.php

South China Morning Post - Hong Kong's newspaper of record: www.scmp.com

The Asian Development Bank's report on the negative effects of tutoring: www.adb.org/news/adb-study-highlights-dark-side-shadow-education