The Open University of China (OUC) has released Several Opinions on Improving the Quality of Education and Teaching of the OUC (hereinafter referred to as the Opinions). This represents top-level design for deepening the reform and improving the quality of the OUC’s degree education. It forms an important basis for formulating specific policies, systems, methods, and standards for degree education at the OUC.

The Opinions was issued on 16 January 2020, signifying that the OUC has formally embarked on the implementation of the strategy of “creating excellence and improving quality” across its entire school system. It is part of the strategic task of “building an education system that serves national lifelong learning” proposed by the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee.

A few days ago, Lin Yu, vice president of the OUC gave an exclusive interview to E-Learning. He emphasised that if we are to realise the modernisation of the university’s governance, it is important to change our routine concepts and prioritise the system. The quality of open education badly needs to be addressed. The Opinions represents top-level design, and Lin Yu believed that as long as everyone works together to promote its implementation, then the OUC will be able to achieve the goal of “creating excellence and improving quality.”

University governance should prioritise system establishment

E-Learning: The Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee further clarified the important strategic tasks of adhering to and improving the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, as well as promoting the modernisation of the national governance system and governance capabilities. In your opinion, how can we modernise university governance?

Lin Yu: "Governance" is a new concept and a new form of presentation for management. Although the words “management” and “governance” have certain similarities, they vary greatly in terms of connotations and scope. Compared with “management,” “governance” focuses on structure and regularity, relying more on systems and collective wisdom, and emphasising equal participation.

In order to realise the modernisation of university governance, we first need to establish a stable system. The system should be sound and complete, complementary and powerful. With such a system in place, we can build a sound and complete governance system. Secondly, the human resource factor is very important. Human resources not only refer to leaders, but also all faculty members. In other words, everyone in the school must take the initiative to participate in governance, take ownership of their actions, and voluntarily work together with concerted efforts.

The transition from “management” to “governance” will not happen overnight. It must be carried out in steps and stages. In order to realise the modernisation of the university's governance, managers must change their mindset and make decisions based on the rules and systems, rather than on the demands of their immediate superior. Since I took office at the OUC, I have adhered to the principle of “systems first,” insisting that there should be rules to follow when doing everything. The inspections should be against the systems and norms. Even punishments should be enacted in accordance with relevant rules. We must always put the interests of the OUC first, and since we have rules set before us, we must strictly follow the regulations and rules, and not violate or change them for the sake of personal interest during the implementation process.

Culture is also an important part of the modernisation of governance. The culture of an organisation or institution is related to its history and positioning. If a university’s goals and positioning are unclear and unstable, then it is difficult to create a stable culture that can influence people. Culture permeates every corner of the school and the soul of every faculty member, and has a profound influence on school governance.

E-Learning: What is the relationship between high-quality development and the modernisation of the university’s governance?

Lin Yu: Achieving high-quality development is a fundamental goal of university governance. University governance is the guarantee needed to achieve high-quality development. If a school is well-organised, teacher-student satisfaction is high, and the happiness index is also high, then the quality of the school will not be a big problem. Therefore, in a sense, the two have a mutually reinforcing relationship.

Quality issues are imperative

E-Learning: In November 2019, the first session of the CPC Party congress of the OUC put forward the strategy of “creating excellence and improving quality” for degree education. The series of meetings held subsequently all emphasised this point. What was the original intention behind putting forward this strategy at this time?

Lin Yu: The proposal of this strategy is in keeping with the times and is a response to problems that have existed for a long time. The requirements of the external environment for quality improvement and the existing internal quality problems demand that they be solved urgently and on a large scale.

It is necessary to consider the overall external environment. Firstly, on 20 May 2020, the Ministry of Education issued the 2019 National Statistical Bulletin on Education Development, which showed that the total number of people in all kinds of higher education in China has reached 40.02 million, and the gross enrolment rate for higher education is 51.6%. This indicates that higher education in China has entered the stage of popularisation and that there will never again be a shortage of higher education resources. We know that since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, there are still many things that need be done, and in order to cultivate talented professionals, a number of universities have been established for all walks of life, which have then been adjusted over time. Since reform and opening-up, we have restored the college entrance examination, established China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU), and expanded college enrolment, all of which have compensated for the shortage of higher education resources and talented professionals. Higher education has entered a new stage, with the focus shifting from large-scale development to quality development. The focus on education quality has been unprecedentedly improved.

Secondly, China Education Modernisation 2035 is a programmatic document designed to advance education modernisation and build an education power in the new era. The modernisation of education entails more than just the modernisation of hardware and methodology. It requires that attention be paid to the improvement of the quality of education. In a sense, it can be regarded as paying back what we've lost. The scale, quality, and benefits should been planned and coordinated for synchronous development, however, the focus of work is different at different stages. Therefore, in the process of advancing the modernisation of education, we must pay more attention to the quality of education.

Thirdly, the structural adjustment of continuing education for higher education in China provides a very good opportunity for open education to adjust its structure and improve its quality. The crowding-out effect of the implementation of the Administrative Measures on the Establishment of Continuing Education Majors in Higher Education issued by the Ministry of Education has helped open education to survive the crisis. As a new type of higher education provider directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, the OUC must of course provide support for structural adjustment and work hard to improve quality.

As far as we are concerned, just because education quality has long been a problem does not mean that we have never attached importance to the quality of education. When the CCRTVU was founded, it was part of elite education. However, as higher education moved from an elite option to becoming more popularised, we did not adapt and adjust education and teaching in time, which created quality problems under the new situation.

We must admit that the quality problems caused by both subjective and objective factors have been serious, and it is time for us to rectify, reform, and improve. Therefore, in November 2019, the first CPC party congress of the OUC proposed the strategy of “creating excellence and improving quality,” which is not only in keeping with the times, but also addresses current outstanding problems. This is both timely and necessary.

E-Learning: What is the significance of the strategy of “creating excellence and improving quality” for the long-term development of the OUC?

Lin Yu: The strategy of “creating excellence and improving quality” is of great significance to the long-term development of the OUC. Firstly, the implementation of the strategy will lay a solid foundation for our development. Without this strong foundation, we cannot develop by leaps and bounds. Without quality assurance, we will certainly not get far along our chosen road. Secondly, we will accumulate the power of development, further enrich resources, increase our faculty members, seek a more favourable position, and have a greater impact in the field of open education. Thirdly, it is possible for us to get rid of the shortcomings that hinder development, break through bottlenecks, and achieve new highs. Fourth, we can further invigorate our spirit and prepare to set off on a journey of advancing the development of the OUC to a higher level.

E-Learning: The economic and social situation that open education now faces is very different from the past. With this in mind, what concept of quality should open education establish?

Lin Yu: From the macro level of education, we accept that there are many different views on what quality is, but at the same time, we must have our own views and standards. In my opinion, the OUC’s specific definition of quality should include at least the following three aspects:

First, we must adhere to and follow the school motto of “respecting learning and making it universally beneficial; providing education for all people with no distinctions.” The OUC should commit to serving learners to help improving their degree qualifications and ability, and provide learners with convenient, high-quality, appropriate, and flexible higher continuing education and non-degree continuing education that is recognised by the industry. This is the distinct difference between the OUC and other universities.

Secondly, it is necessary to develop, implement, and continuously update the OUC’s quality standards. As far as professional standards are concerned, majors in national higher education continuing education have long sued full-time education majors as a reference. As a result, the management of the subject setup lacks targeted normative documents. As a “national brand” of open education, the OUC should attempt to make ourselves the industry standard. In this regard, the leadership of the Department of Vocational and Adult Education of the MOE is very supportive of our ideas. This year, the OUC will formulate professional standards for key majors that are in construction.

Thirdly, the graduates of the OUC’s higher education degree must be able to meet the country’s basic requirements for higher education graduates. Students receiving non-degree education should learn skills and be recognised by the industry, and have the opportunity to obtain the relevant non-degree education certification required.