Canadian Universities: Too Asian?

Photography by Andrew Tolson/Simon Hayter
Images courtesy of Maclean's by ANDREW TOLSON/ SIMON HAYTER

Like many graduating high-schoolers, I will be applying for post-secondary education this year. In fact, compared to some of my colleagues, I am already one of the late ones to apply. This rush to grab available spots in universities is perhaps why one of the newest articles in Maclean’s magazine has caught my eye. The title is exactly that: Too Asian?

Let us look at the academic world around us as objectively as possible for a moment, especially in high schools. Living in Canada, you probably know people in your school that are of Chinese, Korean or Japanese descent. And out of those people, you probably know quite a few who are deemed to be academically superior than most, receiving marks that are of the upper echelon in your school.

Such notions are not rare in most high schools in Canada, yet in the past 25 years we have seen more and more Asian students taking spots in premier universities and some people are starting to feel that this might not be the best thing.

Frankie Mao, a 22-year old student at the University of British Columbia remembers his graduation clearly. It was the day when he would shed his high-school like and enter a life that was never before familiar to him. It was also the day when a Caucasian mother of another student confronted him and told him that her son didn’t receive a spot in the university because of immigrants like him taking them up. “I knew it was wrong, being generalized in this category,” he says, “But f–k, I worked hard for it.”

Of course Frankie worked hard for entrance into the university. In fact, statistics show that in general, Asian students do work harder than most other people in academics. The assumption is that they lack in extracurricular activities and are all book nerds, but that is a myth that has long been demonstrated to be false.

Universities in North America are meritocratic, meaning if you’ve got what it takes, you will be considered equally to others for a chance. Unfortunately this means that Canadian universities are now seeing a large proportion of their student body composed of Asians, particularly at the University of British Columbia, Toronto, and Queens. Of course I don’t mean that this is a bad thing academically. We should give higher education to those who earn it. Yet there are certain social repercussions that could follow this phenomena, which has been a growing concern in Ivy League schools in America for quite some time and the issue has just recently attracted attention from Canadians.

Universities should be meritocratic, especially in a free country like Canada. Unlike some American schools, we haven’t raised admission requirements significantly for Asian students in comparison to other ethnic groups. But can you imagine a Canada, claiming to be multicultural, to have its educated population be comprised solely of people of Asian descent? It could have a huge impact on racial relationship, immigration policies, and affect what it means to be truly Canadian. But what’s clear from this issue is that we don’t have the perfect multi-racial society we would like to think we have. We are, like the title to sociologist Thomas Espenshade book, “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal.” And it’s probably unlikely that we will ever reach that utopic vision of a world. So the ball is in our court; as the next generation, how will we deal with issues such as this one? And being of Chinese descent myself, how different would the future be for my children in this country?

Information source: Maclean’s

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  • Not really. According to figures given by Statistics Canada, only about 11% of Canada's total population is of East Asian descent. To say that it is normal would mean that about 11% of our university demographic is Asian. But when we take a look at say, British Columbia, where about 21.5% of its people identify themselves to be of Chinese, Korean, or Japanese descent (very high for Canada); over 43% of its undergraduate population is of that same descent in a recent census. This shows that really, it is not to be expected. But it is happening.

  • Wow. We just became a statistics. =) But race does not affect one's performance I would hope. Schools in China are very rigorious and the general sterotype push many people of Asian descent to work very hard. I agree with you that is very difficult to predict the growth of our mulitcultural identity through the overhwhelming statstics of that favour Asians over other cultures.

  • Well those are facts. They involve a slight distortion of statistics. Due to the baby boom, a large percentage of every province's population is significantly over the age for university. Therefore, taking that into account, there is only about a 10% discrepancy in population percentages.

    Now, I honestly don't think it is a viable problem. Of course, this is personal opinion. I think arbitrary attempts to equalize will only limit freedom. Why do more Asians go to UBC or U of T? Because more Asians apply to those universities and they work hard to be admitted. Because they are interested in the majors offered there. Trying to adjust racially only limits the potential of those Asians just because they are Asian.

    For example, the Asian concentration in arts schools is below the expected average. Is that a problem as well? Would it be reasonable to limit the chances of hardworking white citizens in order to accommodate less qualified Asians?

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