Taking Notes: Eye On Education – New Program At Queen’s University

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org

New Program At Queen’s University

A program at Queen’s university is receiving mixed reviews. It allows aboriginal students with high school grade point averages that are lower than required to apply through an alternative admissions program. This application process does not just look at marks, but also looks at the applicant’s ancestry, personal background and motivation, and must include a reference letter from a prominent aboriginal organization. Up to 10 reserved spaces are available in the bachelor of arts program for these students.

The associate dean of Queen’s, Christine Overland, calls the policy a means to an end. Native Canadians often do not apply because they feel they will not get in, so this move is intended to encourage more aboriginal students (currently less than one percent of students at Queen’s).

Some object to changing the rules to accommodate one racial group, stating that even with “noble goals” the program represents “racism in its purest form.” The National Post argues that the policy flies in the face of the merit principle. Others point out that such an affirmative action program may stigmatize those who take advantage of it. Dr. Overland responds that similar policies exist at other faculties at Queen’s, adding that “many law and education faculties across Canada have alternative admission programs for First Nation students.” University of British Columbia, for example, does not require aboriginal students to meet the specific GPA for the faculty they apply for, but admits them as long as they meet the university-wide minimum GPA.

While the underlying philosophy of these programs is to encourage post secondary access to aboriginal students, one has to wonder about the long term consequences. If these students do not meet minimum grade averages for entrance, what happens during the study period itself? Are they also marked on a more generous scale? Does this mean aboriginal graduates that are less qualified? What about other disadvantaged groups? Women are traditionally underrepresented in the faculties of science – would allowing women to enter with lower marks address this problem? It is a complex issue with no easy answers, but many have suggested that, rather than lowering admission standards, there may be better ways to encourage aboriginal students to go to university.

Queen’s program targets aboriginals. University Affairs, April 2004. http://www.universityaffairs.ca

Lowering the bar: Queen’s lowers admissions standards to boost aboriginal attendance:
http://www.diversitywatch.ryerson.ca/media/cache/queens_post_feb11.htm

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