An Unhealthy Asian Obsession: Ivy League and Oxbridge

An Unhealthy Asian Obsession: Ivy League and Oxbridge

I currently have three children at university: Lancaster, Warwick and National Normal Univ of Taiwan (and yes, its expensive!).

Expensive or not, the important point is that all three are doing well: happy and enjoying their (very different) undergraduate degree programmes (English Lit/Philosophy; History; Mandarin). They are motivated, enthused, engaged and being taught by excellent and experienced tutors.

But, alas, for too many high-earning middle class Asian parents, having their kids go to any university other than Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge, is deemed a failure. A failure of their children and waste of the hard-earned money spent on putting them through private (e.g. international school) education.

In truth, the failure is with the parents. Not with the kids.

I despair when I hear of international schools in Asia being placed under increasing pressure by Asian parents to get their kids into a tiny handful of Western universities. Too often, these are parents more concerned with social image/prestige than they are with the actual educational attainment and intellectual progress of their children.

The reality is, the vast majority of these students won’t make it to the top few World Universities. Too many kids, too few university places. But is this failure? Not at all. Asian parents need educating to the realities of Higher Education. For example, my daughter, Eleanor, is studying History at Warwick. The Warwick History Department is ranked 16th in the world, higher than the History Departments at Durham Univ. and St. Andrews Univ (QS Rankings, 2015).

Harvard itself is now not even in the Top 5 Universities in the World. (It is ranked No 6 by the THES 2015 World University Rankings).

Now as an educationalist I am very wary of these rankings anyway, not least because every now and again the vacuousness of such listings is exposed. And a few days ago this happened with Harvard. Resulting in whatever ego Harvard University possesses being knocked sideways.

‘Harvard University debate team loses to New York Prison Inmates’

Yes, three African-American prison inmates bested three of the top students at Harvard in a public debate.

Brilliant. But sad.

Brilliant because it shows that brain power is not confined to the hallowed halls of a few Ivy League Universities.

Sad because it indicates how much brain power and human potential is locked and wasting away in American jails.

I advise all International Schools in Asia to flag up to their parents the clear message that comes from this: which is that educational failure is not when a child fails to get to Harvard, but when a child is denied the chance to achieve their potential, whatever that might be.


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