As location is not an easy factor to be neglected in pursuing higher education, colleges and universities in the same city tend to be taken as of equal status by a great many people making hasty decisions. Some reasons are easy to perceive. Universities in the same city breathe the same air and drink the same water so they are likely to assume many common local features when compared with cluster of universities in another city. Certain regional traits are hard to deny. A high percentage of students and teaching staff may be natives to the city and its vicinity, so there could be a shared accent for all the universities in the same city when you consider the fact that modern Chinese is not spoken exactly after the same fashion across mainland China. Styles of architecture can also be a misleading guide in some cases because of cognate local building material, common environmental considerations such as being regulated by the same municipal governments and the branded style of closely related – if not exactly the same – construction teams versed in regional operations.
However, the reputation of an institute in higher education has to be built up through generations of people working for it and is not obvious just by looking at it. It would not be exaggerating when one says that every local person caring for higher education at all knows that universities in the same city hold a world of differences in key disciplines, expertise of teaching staff, funding resources and teaching principles, let alone history, which gives every university a root cause of its present status.
No Chinese university is over 150 years old and all of them have been carved and shaped in the modern histories of the country, in accordance with strategies and priorities of the country’s development. Accordingly, universities in the same city form an epitome of a historical hierarchy scooped out of a national matrix encoded with graded significance and predilections in economy, culture, administration and development.
Understandably, taking any one particular university out of the group of universities in the same city, there is usually a batch of siblings of equally devised status throughout the country in some other cities. Some key words in the titles can be highly suggestive of their strengths and purposes. Think of normal university, polytechnic university, university of economy and finance, university of science and technology, marine university and university of foreign languages and studies, etc.
Viewed in the same city, the fuller the set is, the more strategic the city is in the national development of economy and education. In mainland China, cities like Běijīng, Shànghǎi, Nánjīng, Guǎngzhōu, Xī’ān and Lánzhōu have largest clusters of universities in the country. When geographic considerations preponderate in choosing an ideal university, one can pinpoint the location and choose the one from the set of universities in a given city. One needs only to determine a field of study or specialty and the choice is almost done. For an applicant and high school graduate, the scores of his or her national matriculation tests results will finally help decide which university is his or hers.
Paradoxically, the leading one of the universities in the same city does not necessarily bear a label in its title since it is meant to be the most comprehensive and the power of support from all sectors of economy in generations of local and central administrations tend to push it to the top of the hierarchy in universities of the same city. In some cases there is more than one comprehensive university in the same city, distinctions in histories and the different departments and layers of government and administration in charge of the universities tell them apart. Universities affiliated to the central government tend to occur in national projects 211 and 985. Universities sponsored by local governments serve and feature more regional purposes even if it may be weighed less in national educational gauge.
Though not everybody knows the precise reasons behind the distinctions, historical cause interweaves with economic needs contribute to the differentiated status of a city’s universities. The same is true for universities across the country. For a while in China, the development in economy will remain to be the main cause of varying status of higher education institutes.