Media reports that Beijing Second Foreign Languages Institute may be changing its name to Tourism University have stirred debate recently. Whether or not the reports are true, the recent obsession of universities in China with name changes has attracted much attention and discussion. A rough estimated once indicated that according to official school website announcements, in the eight years since 2004, more than 300 schools have changed their names. So universities are “the places of deepest research and study” in name only, and have no inherent connection to high levels of knowledge and learning. Anyway, especially for schools with long histories, a name carries a tradition, and represents its core and internal culture and spirit. If a school changes its name all the time, not only does it lose its history, it makes a break with its cultural traditions.
So why do some schools seriously want to change their names?
Some schools change their names because of the times and because of the image they identify with, which is quite reasonable. For example, Haidian Commuter University changed its name to Beijing City College because the idea of “commuter students” is no longer common. Similarly, after several institutes of higher education merge, they will necessarily chose an acceptable name that represents all the schools. And with the development of the higher education system in China, some schools will set up institutes and colleges based on existing departments, which requires them to change their own name from “college” or “institute” to “university”.
However, if profit is the motive for a school’s name change, this contradicts the spirit of higher education. There are many examples: a college may rename itself a university simply to attract some under-informed university entrance exam test takers, a school may “upgrade” its name just to attract more funds for scientific research and program approval opportunities, or an individual school head may hope to bolster his status from “College Dean” to “University Dean”. These name changes hurt people, and are quite lamentable.
We hope that all schools in China are high quality and distinguished centers full of new and interesting ideas instead of countless clones. But the more schools change their names, the more indistinct their specialties become. Many schools that originally had words like “steel”, “agricultural, ” and “industrial” in their names, schools that actually had strength in these areas, have removed these words from their names. They seem to be becoming more comprehensive, bit they are losing their specialties.
Taking another look at the famous schools of the world, there are “universities” like Stanford and Harvard, but there are also “institutes” like California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and even “branch schools” like University of California Berkeley. It doesn’t matter if it’s a university, a college, an institute, or a branch school, a name will not stop a school from gaining a place among the world’s first-rate schools.
Schools want to light a fire under their development, but changing a name isn’t the way to do it. We still have to rely on serious scholarship and research. After all, real achievements are needed to gain recognition.