Teaching reform is both the core and end result of school reform. What achievements have been made in teaching reform at the Open University of China (OUC) over the past five years? In his interview with our journalist, director of the OUC Academic Affairs Department Ye Zhihong said that the OUC’s teaching reform has been carried out in two aspects: management mechanism, and discipline construction and teaching reform. The reform in both aspects demonstrates the OUC’s overall strategic intent i.e. two-level coordination. It is up to the headquarters to coordinate with the regional branches, with the management focus gradually moving from top to bottom. The starting point of the Academic Affairs Department’s teaching reform is to “optimise the flow, implement the process, standardise the management, and improve the teaching quality and satisfaction.” As of today, progress has been made in all areas.

Decentralisation and further delegation of power

In terms of management mechanism, the OUC has taken great steps towards the launch of a series of measures. The goal is to strengthen the responsibility and the overall regional subject consciousness of the branches, as well as delegating power in order to enhance the cohesiveness of the OUC system. “All the measures we have taken are designed to alleviate existing problems in the operation of the former radio and TV universities and are based on a comprehensive consideration of the OUC’s overall strategic goals,” Ye Zhihong said.

The greatest amount of delegation has taken place in the field of admissions. In the past, the establishment of study centres, the launch of new majors, and the adjustment of admission plans had to be approved by the headquarters. Now, the power of approval has been delegated to the branches.

The OUC specifies the standards for study centres. It is then up to the branches to make the decision once the conditions are met. This system is currently being trialled throughout the country. As long as each branch does not open more than ten study centres per year, they only need to put the project on record before getting started.

The previous system of approval for additional majors has also been streamlined. The branches can make their own decisions for the first ten new majors; majors exceeding this limit have to be approved by the headquarters.

Furthermore, the OUC has also delegated its control over admissions planning. Only the total size of admission is controlled. If admission is within the controlled size, the branches can make independent adjustments by balancing admission between majors.

Ye Zhihong said, “With the change from “approval” to “recording”, the headquarters can strengthen interim and subsequent supervision and services, and the branches can have autonomy and initiative. We will continue to reform the management mechanism in the future.”

Create an open system of majors and courses

The OUC has taken an even greater step in terms of discipline construction and begun the construction of ten key majors. This is a major part of the OUC’s Thirteenth Five-Year Plan and related documents have also reflected the OUC’s ambition: to promote the construction and development of majors, to gradually build a system of disciplines and majors with OUC characteristics, and to improve the OUC’s capacity to serve national economic construction and social development. Specific tasks include optimising the specialised talent cultivation programme, establishing online core courses covering all the majors, and the construction of online teaching teams around the “six-network integration learner development model”.

At present, the OUC offers 139 majors. The top 10 majors — administration, law, Chinese language and literature, business administration, accounting, computer science and technology, civil engineering, primary education, pre-school education, and nursing — account for over 80% of total admissions and are a key part of the OUC’s construction plan.

Ye Zhihong indicated that it was necessary to engage in cost accounting in order to consider the ratio of input and output. In the past, the fund was averaged out across all the majors, which was unfair to students of majors with a large admission size, and had a direct impact on the level of service and training quality. “Focusing on the construction of the 10 top majors will help us to create richer courses and better services, and improve the students’ overall level of satisfaction so as to drive the construction of other majors and improve the overall brand image of the university.”

The OUC will provide all-round support for the construction of the 10 top majors, including offering special funding, optimising the management procedure, developing teaching staff, and strengthening academic research. In terms of crucial funding, the university will make fund adjustments in order to improve the quality and efficiency of course construction in line with actual construction on the basis of the existing construction fund. The possibility of special funding support for the construction of majors will be studied and explored in order to encourage innovation in the spheres of professional talent formation model, practice, and teaching resource construction.

The OUC has begun to deal with the 139 majors by creating modular designs for the course system and contents. These courses will be open to the public via multiple entry and exit points. To this end, an open course system, absent in regular universities, will be created, which will be very convenient for ordinary people. Ye Zhihong gave an example. If a citizen wants to know how to go to court, how to write a petition or how to inherit property, he can just look for the relevant modules instead of learning all of the courses from beginning to the end. Furthermore, anyone with a senior middle school, junior college or other educational background, can enter the lifelong learning education system. They only need to meet the requirements and they can get a completion certificate for a single subject. If they want to further their learning, they can study other modules and get a formal degree education certificate. Degree education and non-degree education are thus integrated. In the future, non-degree certificates can also be entered into the credit bank, be authenticated and grafted onto other schools, and enter the wider circulation system.

Exploring the “ six-network integration” learner development model

In order to explore the “six-network integration” learner development model, the OUC is losing no time in developing online core courses for autonomous learning online. More than 100 courses have now been completed. 83 online teaching teams have already been organised and one of their tasks is to construct resources. The second task is to put the teaching process in place. To date, the OUC has been given the right to confer bachelor degrees for 26 majors. Another of the online teaching team’s major tasks is to work on scientific research to lay a foundation for graduate education. The OUC is making preparations to build five post graduate majors during the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan period.

To improve student satisfaction and solve the problem of late issuance of degree certificates, the university has adjusted its major training programme and increased the time period for graduation review services. Students can now get OUC degree and graduation certificates at the same time within three months of their graduation. In addition, “six-network integration” online academic affairs management is being extended to four branches in Jiangsu, Nanjing, Henan, and Chengdu based on the pilot programme in the OUC’s Zhejiang Branch, the School for the Disabled, and the industrial schools. The students can inquire about their learning progress and follow up on the issuance of their graduation and degree certificates.

Ye Zhihong indicated that all these reforms were the result of joint effort by the headquarters and the branches. He firmly believes that further reforms will help a brand new university to appear before us by 2020.

By Liu Zenghui, E-Learning