Pirating the Ivy League

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China’s recent economic boom has resulted in the rise of several universities that seek to recreate the experience of prestigious western universities.

I hope potential students approach these schools cautiously.

Sticking with the country’s trend of making their megaprojects comparatively more insane than their western equivalents, designers are trying to create some of the most elaborate campuses ever conceived.

A fine arts academy in Hubei, for example, resembles a jacked-up, Hogwarts-esque Gothic cathedral, and plans to feature a modern art gallery equipped with four helipads.

Holistically, it’s a pretty shallow approach to educational development. But before we disregard these projects, we need to keep in mind that the type of post-secondary education these schools are attempting to emulate is the one many of us hold dear — perhaps sans helipads.

Recessed in millions of minds is an image of educational nobility, elite brands we carry as part of our identity.

As this traditionally western view continues to grow globally, our attachment to these established archetypes is destroying our ability to think beyond them.

Since an undergraduate education started becoming the standard rather than the exception, it’s become increasingly more difficult for degrees to stand out. But instead of pushing ourselves to break conventions and to differentiate ourselves, we’re spending our energy chasing institutional idols to gain status over others.

As a result, we’re helping to encourage elitism, rather than propel innovation.

Queen’s isn’t doing too well on this front. “Harvard of the North” and “Canadian Ivy” are terms mostly thrown about in jest, though beneath the sarcasm lies a twisted self-proclamation that our school should be held with high regard. We take pride and tradition very seriously, but it’s not apparent what exactly we’re celebrating.

The majority of the traditional academic experience is the consumption of information followed by the occasional assessment of your retention skills. The sad part of it is you can barrel through your degree without developing much as a person.

Simply acquiring information makes you a machine, but being able to create something great out of that information is supposed to be the goal of learning.

Many students miss this point entirely because most universities don’t do a very good job encouraging unconventional thinking. If you’re going to try to quantify what makes a school great, look at how students handle free expression — not just academically, but also socially.

It’s hard to say how China’s new schools will turn out, but what they have is a real opportunity to start fresh and change the way people think about success. I sincerely hope that their students will reconsider what an education means, and prioritize their desires accordingly.

Arwin is one of the Journal’s Photo Editors. He’s a third-year Cognitive Science major.

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