21 June 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Open University of China (OUC). Over the past forty years, the Chinese open university system has started from scratch and gained maturity in its process of explorative development and carrying forward pilot programmes, and the current OUC has gradually taken shape. It has taken a road to development that is rooted in China, in line with China's national conditions, and enriched with Chinese characteristics.

On the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Radio and TV Universities (RTVUs), a journalist with E-learning journal interviewed Yang Zhijian, secretary of the Party Committee and president of the OUC, who reviewed the journey that RTVUs have taken, summarised their experiences in school running, and looked towards to the future of the OUC. He stressed that "The RTVUs represent the application of Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening-up concept in the field of education and the crystallisation of his thoughts on education. In the new era, as long as we keep our original intentions in mind, remember our mission, and treat people's yearning for a better life as our unremitting pursuit, then RTVUs will surely be able to meet a better future.”

Yang Zhijian, secretary of the Party committee and president of the OUC

RTVUs are practitioners of and witness to the reform and opening up of China

Journalist: China Central Radio & TV University together with a number of local RTVUs are a system of higher education universities initiated by Comrade Deng Xiaoping. Looking back on the 40-year history of the RTVUs, how do you feel about Comrade Xiaoping's decision?

Yang Zhijian: Looking back on the 40-year history of the RTVUs, we have a deeper understanding of why people say that Comrade Xiaoping is a great person in history. The RTVUs were created with Comrade Xiaoping's personal advocacy and his approval, support, and concern throughout the process of establishment. They represent the practice of Comrade Xiaoping's reform and opening-up concepts in the field of education and the crystallisation of his thoughts on education.

The founding of RTVUs embodies Comrade Xiaoping's educational concept of "Walking on Two Legs", which is a pioneering task in the history of higher education in China. In 1977, after the Cultural Revolution, China was faced with a state of complete chaos. Everything needed to be reconstructed. Higher education was one of the worst hit areas, suffering unprecedented damage during the years of Cultural Revolution. A whole generation lost the opportunity to receive higher education and the country was facing a temporary shortage of many kinds of talented professionals. At the time, only 11.6 out of every 10,000 people received higher education, ranking ninth from bottom in the world; less than 3% of employees had education at or above junior college degree level and more than 80% had education at or lower than junior middle school level. Clearly, it was impossible to meet the needs of national economic and social development by relying solely on regular full-time colleges and universities. As a result, how to quickly produce more talented professionals was one of Comrade Xiaoping’s biggest concerns. On 8 August 1977, Comrade Xiaoping pointed out at a symposium on scientific and educational work that "Education still needs to walk on two legs. As far as higher education is concerned, regular colleges and universities are one leg, while part-time universities which support on-the-job learning are another. Education should walk on two legs." The founding of the RTVUs is a reflection of this educational concept.

The establishment of RTVUs also embodies Comrade Xiaoping's thoughts on the modernisation of education. Comrade Xiaoping had always been concerned about the development of science and technology and attached great importance to the role of science and technology in promoting the development of education. In October 1977, during a meeting with former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Comrade Xiaoping said that he was in charge of science, technology, and educational work in China and that he wanted to solve the problem of the shortage of talented professionals. Heath introduced Britain's experience in running open universities using modern means such as television. Comrade Xiaoping then indicated that we should use televisions to speed up the development of education in China. At the National Conference on Education Work in April 1978, Comrade Xiaoping said that "We shall not only see immediate needs, but also anticipate long-term needs. We shall not only meet the requirements of the development of production and construction, but also predict development trends of modern science and technology." He also pointed out that "we shall study what kind of colleges and universities should be developed,” and emphasised that "measures to accelerate the development of modern educational means, including using televisions and radios as media, should be formulated, which is a good way to develop educational undertakings as quickly as possible, and full attention must be paid to that." It is precisely because of Comrade Xiaoping's foresight that the RTVUs supported by information technology came into being, which then opened up a road for the development of China’s education cause, where the modernisation of education is comprehensively promoted by educational informatisation.

Under the guidance of Comrade Xiaoping's educational concept, China’s RTVUs have undergone astonishing development over the past forty years and there is no doubt that they are the practitioners of and witnesses to China’s reform and opening up.

RTVUs have Made Important Contributions to Promoting Educational Equality

Journalist: The RTVUs are one of Comrade Xiaoping's earnest concerns. What contribution have RTVUs made to China's economic and social development in the past forty years?

Yang Zhijian: Firstly, the RTVUs have realised the urgent need of the majority of young people to receive higher education during a specific historical period and assumed the responsibility of making up for those people the losses of higher education during that historical period. In the initial stage of the founding of RTVUs, their most important task was to solve the problem of the tens of millions of young people who had not been able to go to universities due to the 10-year Cultural Revolution, as well as the lack of talented professionals. In 1979, 417,000 students were admitted to all kinds of RTVUs. During the ten years from 1979 to 1989, RTVUs enrolled 1.61 million students in higher degree education, of whom 1.04 million graduated, and 2 million completed non-degree education. The average annual number of graduates with a higher degree education accounted for 17.1% of the total number of graduates in China. The establishment of RTVUs quickly and efficiently alleviated the shortage of talents.

Secondly, RTVUs have trained all kinds of talented professionals for national economic and social development, and have made outstanding contributions to popularising higher education in China. Over the past forty years, RTVUs have trained more than 14.4 million undergraduates and graduates with junior college degrees. By 2018, of the 38.33 million students in higher education in China, 3.87 million are students of the OUC. RTVUs have also provided various kinds of non-degree training for tens of millions of members of society. They have become an indispensable part of higher education, continuing education, and modern distance education in China.

Thirdly, they have played an important role in narrowing the educational gap and promoting educational equality. Over the past forty years, RTVUs have always targeted grass-roots, industries, rural areas, and remote and ethnic minority areas (also known as the “Four Orientations”), providing educational opportunities for learners who are unable to receive higher education. More than 70% of the enrolled students come from the grass-roots and 55% are distributed in central and western regions of China. In addition, special education for the disabled and other disadvantaged groups has been launched, which represents the exploration of a new model to adapt education to different learning needs and providing diverse education services.

Journalist: RTVUs have opened up another important path for the development of higher education in China. Over the past forty years, what experiences are worth summarising?

Yang Zhijian: Firstly, education should be guided by the needs of national economic and social development. RTVUs came into being and thrived because of China’s reform and opening up. Over the past forty years, RTVUs have responded to the call of the country, moved in the same direction as China’s development and national rejuvenation, and contributed to economic and social development. The 40-year history of RTVUs demonstrates a law of the development of higher education: national development is the fundamental requirement for the development of universities, while the latter is an important foundation of the former.

Secondly, education should take root in the grassroots and demonstrate China’s characteristics. Since the birth of RTVUs, they have displayed the characteristic of "staying close to the people,” embodying the "Four Orientations". Over the past forty years, RTVUs have always relied on China's national conditions, made great efforts to reflect Chinese characteristics, and rooted their education in the lands of China. Because of this, China’s RTVUs have developed many unique features.

Thirdly, we should keep pace with reform and innovation. Since RTVUs were brand new in China, there was no successful precedent to follow. The pioneers of RTVUs were not afraid to face difficulties, making explorations and improvements while summarising their work. The past 40 years has been a constant process of reform and innovation that has provided a strong driving force for the development of RTVUs, and helped them grow better and stronger.

Fourthly , modern education should make comprehensive use of modern technological means. From founding to development, RTVUs have constantly pushed forward the reform of teaching content, means, and methods with the support of modern information technology, realised the transformation of educational technology from radio and TV methods to network technology methods, explored effective ways to closely integrate modern information technology with educational resources, and formed a distance education system with Chinese characteristics.

The OUC Has Contributed a Chinese Model of Higher Education to the World

Journalist: The OUC was established seven years ago in July 2012. What wisdom has the OUC contributed during its seven years of pioneering exploration of the development of China’s higher education and international distance education?

Yang Zhijian: Under the guidance of Xi Jinping's socialist thoughts with Chinese characteristics in the new era and the spirit of the 18th and 19th National Congresses of the Communist Party of China, the OUC has explored a way to develop Open Universities in line with China's national conditions and formed a Chinese model for open universities.

First is the "OUC Community Organisational Model.” According to the spirit of "A Community of Mankind with a Shared Future" put forward by General Secretary Xi, and in accordance with the basic concepts of "mutual discussion, construction, management, sharing, and benefit" and the principles of "unified brands, standards, platforms, management, and evaluation,” an OUC Community Organisational Model integrating "intensive group education, diverse subjects, openness, and inclusiveness" has been constructed.

Second is a model of informatisation that integrates technology and education. A three-in-one technical support model of "cloud, network, and terminal" has been built and an OUC online platform integrating teaching, learning, management, research, and service has been formed. Three hundred and fourteen multi-functional "cloud classrooms" have been developed. Many mobile learning terminals have been launched and 33,000 "five-minute micro lectures" have been created.

Third is the service model of "developing both degree and non-degree education". The OUC has steadily developed degree education, offered 142 majors at undergraduate and junior college degree level, and obtained the right to confer Bachelor's degrees. It has vigorously developed non-degree education, explored and improved a social education model with the integrated design of degree and non-degree qualifications, combined online and offline planning and deployment, unified standards and the standardised implementation of projects, carried out community and elderly education, and job skills training, and launched the OUC “Long March Belt” Educational Project Targeted at Alleviating Poverty.

Fourth is a learner development model based on "Six-Network Integration.” The OUC has adapted to the nature and characteristics of running new type universities and the development trend of "Internet +” by establishing a learner development model of "Six-Network Integration", which integrates a network-based learning space, learning courses, teaching teams, learner support, learning assessment, and teaching management.

Fifth is the "credit bank" model. A system with learning achievement framework as the core has been formed on the basis of research, a technical path of "framework + standard" has been put forward, and a series of certification tools have been developed. In practice, the OUC has developed an online learning and learning achievement certification platform, established learning achievement mutual recognition alliances with universities and industry associations, and formed a mutual credit recognition mechanism.

Sixth is a model for international development. The OUC has vigorously promoted international exchanges, worked together with countries along the route of the Belt and Road Initiative to set up overseas study centres, set up the MyEChinese International Chinese Teaching Platform, established online Confucius Institutes, and compiled China’s first series of books featuring panoramic research on open universities around the world.

The above achievements have been recognised by experts, scholars, and relevant institutions at home and abroad. In 2017, the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) awarded the world's only "ICDE Prize of Excellence" to the OUC. The OUC’s "Credit Bank" construction project won first prize at the National Teaching Achievement Awards. The "Six-Network Integration" learner development model and disabled education project both won first prizes at the Teaching Achievement Awards in Beijing.

Connect the Past with the Future and Create Brilliance Again

Journalist: From RTVUs to open universities, what are the ideas and spirit that need to be inherited and carried forward?

Yang Zhijian: The original intention of RTVUs was to satisfy the aspirations of young people in pursuit of higher education and to achieve fair, high-quality education. Over the past forty years, the OUC has not forgotten its initial intention and adhered to the orientation of running schools for grass-roots units, industries, rural areas, and remote and ethnic minority areas. Through the integration of education and modern information technology, the OUC has provided educational opportunities for people from all walks of life. In forty years of school practice, RTVUs have not only made outstanding achievements, but also nurtured a unique spirit, that is, perseverance and courage in making innovations. As we move towards the modernisation of education, the OUC must bear this in mind and carry it forward.

Journalist: How will RTVUs present themselves to the world in the future?

Yang Zhijian: The transformation from RTVUs to the OUC is an important leap forward. Looking forward to the future, the OUC regards serving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as one of education's most important missions. The OUC will focus on improving the quality of education, promote educational equality, and emphasise morality, paying more attention to all-round social development, life-long learning, teaching according to students’ aptitude, the combination of knowledge and practice, integration and development, and co-construction and sharing. We will make the OUC a new type of university within China's higher education system, an open university with Chinese characteristics in the world's open university system, and an important pillar of China's learning society.

Journalist: I have met many RTVU faculty and staff, who have deep feelings about RTVUs. As secretary of the Party Committee and president of the OUC, what do you have to say to them?

Yang Zhijian: The 40-year glory of RTVUs has been created by the faculty and staff. Looking back on history, we will always remember those who have contributed to the development of RTVUs. I would like to express my respect for the faculty members who have worked and are still working hard for RTVUs. In the old days, in the wilderness of distance education, they endured many hardships during the pioneer work. Without them, there would be no foundation for the development of RTVUs, not to mention today’s prosperity or its future. We should not forget those people who have fought for the development of RTVUs.

The new era ushers in new tasks and a new chapter. Under the guidance of Xi Jinping's socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics in the new era, we will continue to advance along the road opened up by generations of RTVU people. We should never forget how and where we have started and keep in mind our mission. I firmly believe that our cause will be more brilliant and RTVUs will see a better future.

By E-Learning