Comparing Canadian universities to America’s Ivy League institutions is like comparing apples and oranges — it’s an invalid comparison as well as unnecessary.
When Justin Trudeau stopped in London, ON last week as part of his cross-country tour, he told a roomful of Western students that the school was the “Harvard of Canada”
And while he’s not the Prime Minister, Principal Daniel Woolf has been known to set Queen’s to the same standard. In a letter leaked in 2011 discussing the University’s reputation, Woolf wrote, “the distinctive small-town Ivy League experience of a Queen’s education … should be embraced.”
The tendency to compare seems natural — we’re always comparing what we have in Canada to its American counterpart, from political leaders to healthcare systems, and even universities.
In this case, though, American schools are on a completely different playing field than Canadian universities — and not necessarily a better one. Harvard and its Ivy League companions have a social elitism attached to them that stretches beyond the quality of education.
It’s not always the degree itself that gets Harvard graduates a job when they leave — it’s the name. And while our system isn’t without its own elitism, the significance placed on reputation in the United States creates a difficulty in accessing these prestigious schools. The result is a hierarchical and exclusive system — one that maintains the status quo.
Differences in funding also lessen the ability to make a valid comparison. U of T, the school with the highest endowment in Canada, hit 1.6 billion dollars in 2012 according to Maclean’s. Harvard, on the other hand, had 31 billion.
Not only is the comparison an invalid one to make, but it may not carry the best connotations. Like Queen’s, Harvard made recent headlines for their lack of diversity, as well as their prevalent rape culture. Ivy League universities are often founded on tradition and it seems this same value can hold them back with institutions like often male-only and highly exclusive final clubs. In what sense then should we be proud to be like Harvard?
Canadian universities that try to be like elite American schools may carry over more than just the good stuff — we’re associating ourselves with the negative aspects of these institutions as well.
When we compare Canadian universities with glorified Ivy League schools, we shouldn’t be blinded to what the name connotes, but think critically about the role model we’re following.