On 5th July, 2017, the Conference on the Founding of the School Administration Committee & 1st General Assembly of the Open University of China (OUC) was held in Beijing. Since its founding in 2012, this conference has been one of the most important events and achievements in the OUC’s exploration into a "construction model with Chinese characteristics."

Recently, an E-Learning reporter had an exclusive interview with OUC president Yang Zhijian on the past five years' construction of the OUC. Yang Zhijian stressed, "Since the OUC's construction,we have never forgotten our original intent, and move forward with confidence. Throughout the process, we have always had an optimistic attitude, no matter what difficulties and problems we meet. Now, the hard times have gone, and our future is bright.”

The construction of the OUC is a difficult process.

Reporter: This year is the 5th anniversary of the OUC's founding. Looking back on the past five years, what do you feel about the changes?

Yang Zhijian: It's difficult and complicated. From 2012 to 2017, we've striven to build the OUC, yet encountered many difficulties that few outsiders detected. For example, constraints brought about by the system, mechanisms, patterns, and related operations made the construction process difficult.

What were the difficulties? First, difficulties with renovating old buildings; second, difficulties with constructing new buildings; and third, the most difficult thing was building "a new town” (university) from "an old town" (university).

The OUC is not a brand new university. It was created out of the former China Central Radio & TV University (CCRTVU). Therefore, the founding of the OUC is actually the transformation of the entire radio and TV university system. Its strategic transformation must cater to economic and social developments, modern IT development, and national lifelong learning demands. Besides, it has two missions: both steadily developing degree continuing education, and strongly boosting the development of non-degree continuing education. This is rare when compared with the development framework of other open universities around the world. Therefore, reform, renovations, adaptations, and innovation are inevitable for this university.

Over the past five years, the OUC has adhered to elevating thought, keeping up with the times, reforming and innovating, as well as promoting the construction of the OUC according to new concepts and mechanisms. Nowadays, a Chinese open university model has been more or less established, and the achievements made have been highly recognised.

Reporter: Could you please talk about the OUC's achievements?

Yang Zhijian: Since the OUC's founding five years ago, phased achievements have been made with the "1314 Project." The blueprint specified in the OUC Construction Plan called for establish school operation objectives and a mission statement, creating degree and non-degree continuing education programmes, education informatisation, constructing a credit bank, researching distance open education theory, and promoting Chinese language culture around the globe.

In terms of school operation objectives and mission task, the OUC aims to further promote national lifelong learning and build a learning society, emphasising school operating principles of openness, quality, responsibility, diversity, and internationalisation. The OUC not only carries out degree continuing education, but also promotes non-degree continuing education, constantly meeting public demands for diversified and personalised education. The OUC's motto is "Respect for learning, and let learning benefit people from all walks of life." The OUC strives to become a new type of university in the higher education system, a high-level, open university with Chinese characteristics that is part of the global open university system, and an important factor in the construction of a learning society.

To develop continuing degree education, and make progress toward the goal of cultivating applied talents and highly skilled citizens, the OUC created the OUC Quality Standard 1.0, which promotes the Internet-based "Six-Network Integration" learner development model. The model encourages a reform of various teaching tasks that incorporates teaching content, course system, and methodology at its core. The OUC shows special concern for the education of disadvantaged persons, such as those in remote areas or minority groups, by giving significant attention to their demands for high-quality educational resource sharing.

In terms of non-degree continuing education, the OUC established the Open University for Older Adults; developed and established an educational website for older adults; and, set up the Healthy and Artistic Pension Service Experiential National Demonstration Centre. Through assistance from the Ministry of Education Research & Training Centre for Community Education, the OUC has set up 14 community education experiment centres, 50 experimental bases, and 28 "i-Labs" across the nation. In addition, the OUC created the China Community Education Network (http://www.shequ.edu.cn/) to promote innovation in community education models and mechanisms. To promote the "Realising Dreams of Further Education," "Brilliant Life: Lifelong Learning Plan for Women," "Training Plan for Primary and Secondary School Teachers," and relevant education training work, the OUC explores and forms new models for non-academic continuing education that still possess OUC characteristics.

In terms of education informatisation, the OUC created a remote distance education technology support model integrating "cloud, network, and terminal"; explored a one-stop and integrated distance education cloud platform that integrates teaching, learning, management, research, and services into one; created 314 cloud classrooms; and, deployed colleges and study centres in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and other mid-western areas. The OUC developed the "O Learning Pad" mobile learning terminal, and which 19,000 rural students in Hunan utilise. It also developed "five-minute micro-lectures" for 30,000 subjects, and other types of digital learning resources.

In building the credit bank, the OUC created a learning outcomes framework that became the overall framework for leading the national credit bank system; explored "framework+standard" technology path; and, completed a top-level system design and pilot implementation for the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of continuing education learning outcomes. The OUC has created 70 learning outcome accreditation centres. The credit bank informatisation management platform developed by the OUC can be connected to the MPS's "Citizen Network ID Recognition System," MHRSS's "National Qualification Certificate Query System (utilised via the Internet)," and MOE's "China Higher Education Student Information and Career Center (CHESICC)."

Among the achievements made in the exploration and construction of the OUC, the most fundamental is the exploration and formation of an "OUC Community" with Chinese characteristics.
Create the "5th model" of operating an open university.

Reporter: The "OUC Community" is an important innovation. What's the definition of "community" here?

Yang Zhijian: "Community" is a way to address the complicated environment, and a concept of open development that focuses on mutually beneficial cooperation. General Secretary Xi Jinping has mentioned the "community" concept several times when judging the complex situation of today's global politics, economy, and military defense issues, and talking about development issues across the world and within China. He stressed that we should find out the "greatest common denominator," then build "a community of shared future for mankind" and "a cooperative community." The definition and thoughts of "community" put forward by General Secretary Xi Jinping, and the measures taken to cope with related issues, have shed some light on the construction and innovation of the OUC's organisational structure.

I think the basic value orientation and starting point of the "community" lie in cooperative development, shared destiny, and advancing and retreating together. The OUC is a new type of university; its foundation, strengths, and capabilities are not yet mature. During its strategic transformation development, the OUC must adhere to a spirit of openness and mutually beneficial cooperation with school operating agencies and social institutions, establish an "OUC community," jointly deal with challenges, and constantly explore and move forward. This is an important choice while building "a university for society" and adhering to a development path with Chinese characteristics. It is also a rational choice between history and reality.

Reporter: What's the basic feature of an "OUC Community"?

Yang Zhijian: The basic concepts of the "OUC Community" are volunteering, equality, and mutually beneficial cooperation. The OUC community is based on a volunteer mentality. Key factors in its success are equality, cooperation, and intent to achieve mutually beneficial results. Its basic operating principle encompasses five joint efforts: discussion, construction, management, possession, and mutual benefit. The basic process is to implement "five unifications" of brand, standards, platform, management, and evaluations. The basic aim is for participants to exercise their own role, fulfill their own responsibilities, showcase their own assets, and attain their desires. The OUC community is not a fixed school operational body, but an open school community; you can join and withdraw voluntarily.

From the viewpoint of systems and mechanisms, two important features of this OUC community are a dual system and double identification. Each school's operating body has its own personnel, but is also collaborates with the OUC system. Therefore, they should be subject to the OUC's school operational objectives, concepts, and basic value orientation, receiving leadership, guidance, and management from the OUC in all OUC-related work.

At the legal level, the OUC enjoys equal legal status with provincial RTVUs. They are independent school entities with of legal status, and no affiliate relations exist between them.

At the management level, inside the OUC community, a superior-subordinate relationship exists between the OUC and its branches, substantiated via contractual relationships.

To a certain extent, the founding of the "OUC Community" has addressed schools' organisational frameworks, carrying a global impact on the OUC construction process. Once this issue is resolved, other problems are also easily resolved. The OUC community is a school organisational system where diversified agencies serve as bodies within the system, while the system remains an educational group operating schools with openness, rationality, and inclusiveness in an environment of cooperative building, management, and sharing.

In comparing school operating patterns among worldwide open universities across any aspect, from objective, mission, or task, to systems, mechanisms, or patterns, we find that the "OUC Community" reflects Chinese characteristics, and can be called a Chinese pattern of open universities, or the "5th pattern."

The OUC practices are of great value in education reform.

Reporter: Could you make an overall assessment of the OUC's construction from 2012 to 2017.

Yang Zhijian: During this period, our policies were implemented gradually. Before 2012, we formulated an OUC Construction Plan, in which we set forth objectives, concepts, policies, principles, and tasks for the OUC's construction. After 2012, we further clarified the implementation of the "1314 project" based on the Construction Plan. Over the past five years, we have achieved expected phased achievements through our efforts. These are our first steps on a long journey. Now, we begin to forge ahead.

Reporter: What do you think marks the OUC's success during this period?

Yang Zhijian: This period was about ensuring that the "OUC Community" can operate to a high quality degree; orderly and efficiently, gaining in reputation, forming its own brand and core competitiveness. Of course, that success lies in education informatisation, a credit bank, as well as the mutual support and integration between degree and non-degree education. We should include them in a consideration of the whole.

Reporter: As for current development of the OUC community, what strategies should we adopt for its development?

Yang Zhijian: The most important to adopt is strategic global thinking; we should put the development of this university in the context of the development of the economy and society, national lifelong learning, science and technology, and the field of distance education. With this way of thinking, we can work out how to address challenges, how to grow the university, and how to build our own reputation and brand.

Reporter: How do you evaluate the OUC's impact on China's education reform?

Yang Zhijian: In my opinion, the core issues of education in China lie with its system, mechanisms, and patterns. These are also core value orientations specified in the Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020).

As a new type of university, the OUC is not only different from ordinary universities in its objective, mission, and task, but also different from previous RTVUs. The OUC adheres to an open school operation across different regions and industries. It emphasises cooperative development and advocates joint building, management, and mutually beneficial achievements. It is based on the Internet to promote educational teaching reform and innovation, and an "Internet Plus" university. The practice and exploration process of the OUC is based on past and existing systems, mechanisms, and patterns. It is also a process of reform, renovation, and ceaseless innovative development. If we succeed, we will make great contributions to education reform and development in China.

Five years of exploration contains numerous valuable experiences and lessons. Since the OUC is on a journey, we should not forget our original intentions, and insist on finding out a development path toward an open university with Chinese characteristics, despite all challenges. We should be a pioneer in the reform of China's education system, mechanisms, and patterns. This is my personal expectation as president of the OUC.

By Li Guiyun and Liu Zenghui, E-Learning