IB scholarships reward circumstance

Critics of the university’s plan to award exclusive entrance scholarships to International Baccalaureate graduates say the plan will turn the U of C into an elitist institution. They are wrong. It doesn’t take an IB student to realize that bribing individuals whose academic decisions are so easily swayed by financial considerations is not the best strategy for developing or maintaining any kind of institution with longevity.

Eliminating scholarships for 69 intelligent students and creating 20 new ones for well-educated but not necessarily learned individuals who have a particular sheet of paper simply admits to the university’s inability or unwillingness to recognize on its own who is or is not a student worthy of our financial support. Using the IB program as a benchmark for that purpose not only unfairly discriminates against potential students based on geography–as not all Canadian students have access to IB schools–but doing so also blinds the university to the many desirable non-IB students not highlighted by letters on some parchment.

Such a focus on attracting high-school students bearing the label of being the best and the brightest in certain subjects opposes directly the university’s current goals. Deliberately recruiting students strong in one or two areas does nothing to increase interdisciplinary activities, nor does it enhance the U of C’s reputation for graduating well-rounded individuals. More knowledgeable students in the classroom can cover up poor instruction quality and the bias towards perceived excellence forces non-IB students to discover the joys of unskilled employment as their $3,500 IB scholarship friends research the mating habits of snails.

Many IB students have already received a more equal share of public education funding for additional teachers and equipment while in high school. Why then, should the university preferentially subsidize them again in this time of fiscal hardship? We should focus our resources on teaching those who don’t know instead of reiterating to IB graduates material they have already spent two years learning. Monetarily rewarding an IB diploma when doing so does not relieve stress on the rest of the system does not make financial sense.

Finally, as was pointed out by a few enlightened faculty members at the Nov. 21 General Faculties Council meeting, high-quality students do not refrain from the U of C because of funding alone. They stay away because the U of C is just “good.” We’re “good” at engineering, art, biology, history, computers, law and many other things, but until we become great, IB students seeking a great education will continue to reject the U of C, scholarship or not.