On the bookshelf of Li Ying, a researcher from the Education Research Institute of the Open University of China (OUC), one set of books is always out of stock. “Many visitors like the series of Chinese Distance Higher Education Development Research Report (CDHED Research Report). They always take one or the full set of books when they leave,” said Li Ying.

In July 2013, the OUC released its first research report about the development of distance higher education in China, the 2012 CDHED Research Report. “With the aim of summarising the experience of distance higher education in China over the past 30 years, particularly the past 10 years, the report has recorded, summarised, and discovered the current situation of distance education with Chinese characteristics, in the form of an annual report, and predicted the future development direction of distance education in China,” according to Yang Zhijian, president of the OUC and editor-in-chief of the report. So far, the OUC has continued to compile and publish five volumes of the annual CDHED Research Report.

Recording the Development History of Distance Higher Education

The work to publish the first volume of the CDHED Research Report began at around the same time as the unveiling of the OUC. The report is a product of the deepening of education reform and the vigorous development of distance higher education in China.

By that time, China’s distance higher education had accumulated a decade-long history. In the late 1970s, Comrade Deng Xiaoping advocated for the establishment of the Radio and Television University (RTVU) and distance higher education in China entered a new historical period. In 1998, the Ministry of Education (MOE) launched the Modern Distance Education Programme and started the Learner Development Model Reform and the Open Education Pilot Programme of China Central Radio and Television University (CCRTVU) in 1999. A new pattern featuring the common development of 68 online education institutes of general colleges and universities, and the RTVU system was formed. In 2012, in order to implement the Outline for the Medium- and Long-Term National Educational Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020), the CCRTVU was transformed and upgraded to the OUC, with five other local open universities being launched in succession. Chinese distance higher education has experienced three important development stages, the establishment of the RTVU system, the implementation of modern distance education programs, and the transformation from the RTVU system to the OUC system. As a major part of the Chinese higher education and continuing education system, distance higher education has an increasingly important role in the construction of lifelong education system and a learning society.

However, for more than 30 years, there has not been an annual series of books that systematically summarises the history of distance higher education in China, especially its development since 2012.

In 2011, President Yang Zhijian initiated the compiling work.“As a significant institute of Chinese distance higher education and an important support mechanism for the construction of a lifelong learning system and a learning society in China, the OUC was obliged to undertake this mission.” He believes that the OUC’s rich experience in distance higher education should be recorded, the problems arising in the process be analysed, and important events and the latest progress happening in the field be archived in a form of an annual research report. President Yang Zhijian presided over the compilation of the report, while the OUC’s Education Research Institute assumed responsibility for the framework design, monographic study, compilation, and organisation and coordination.

The 2012 CDHED Research Report was published in July 2013 on the first anniversary of the founding of the OUC. Over the next four years, the OUC published another four volumes of the series of research reports.

Focusing on the interpretation of hot issues and analysis, and prediction of the future

The CDHED Research Report is in three parts, including an overview of the development of Chinese distance higher education, special columns about the development of Chinese distance higher education, and trend in the research and development of distance higher education at home and abroad. The first part, an overview of the development of Chinese distance higher education, comprehensively summarises China’s annual distance higher education development from aspects such as degree education, non-degree education, the Credit Bank, quality enhancement, and educational informatisation. The second part, special columns about the development of Chinese distance higher education, focuses on the development of several main fields in the distance education industry, for example, the open university, online education in general colleges and universities, the public service system, correspondence education. It also focuses on difficult and hot issues, as well as the features of education in the field of distance higher education, such as quality guarantee, information-based education, teacher development, open education resources, MOOCs, mobile learning, the One-College-Student Per Village Programme, and distance education for the disabled. It describes and analyses the current development in the field in terms of the problems, progress, and prospects. The third part, trends in the research and development of distance higher education at home and abroad, systematically analyses the development and changes in distance higher education in China and around the world from the aspects of hot issues, research topics, and methods, and on the above basis, looks forward to the future of distance education. The report writing team adjusts the content according to the new developments every year. For example, the 2015 report included a column about higher education for the elderly.

The data for the domestic part of the report mainly comes from important academic conferences, academic journals, and articles, while the international data comes from journals, high-level global distance higher education academic conferences, internationally-influential meetings held in China, important academic monographs, and interviews with internationally renowned experts from Chinese distance education publications.

A review of the previous reports shows that the special columns about Chinese higher education development occupy the main part of the report. According to the writing team, “One of the highlights of the series is its research nature. Instead of sticking to the collection and sorting of materials, we went further to analyse and interpret the data in an in-depth manner.” In each of the annual reports, the writing team selects hot topics and summarises their current development, analyses their features, points out existing problems, and puts forward basic countermeasures in the form of special columns.

A specialised team creates high-quality monographs

During the preparation for each report, the OUC’s Institute of Education has its team members collect and analyse materials, determine basic topics, and finalise topics after repeated argumentations. Before a report is published, the project team will invite “big names” in the field to review it. Ding Xin, professor and doctoral supervisor of South China Normal University and executive director of the China Education Association, and Zhang Zhupeng, associate researcher of the National Institute of Education Sciences, were invited to be academic advisers for the series of reports and put forward suggestions for the writing of the reports. Zhang Weiyuan, chief researcher of the School of Professional and Continuing Education of the University of Hong Kong, Yang Xiaotang, deputy Party Secretary of the OUC, and OUC professors Sun Fuwang and Yang Tingting attended professional seminars and debates, and decided the final topics from the list submitted by the team members. Experts including Ren Weimin, an OUC professor, took part in the final review of the report.

With the successive publication of the five research reports, the project writing team is also growing. The first research report was written by professionals in the related fields at the headquarters of the OUC. The main content was accumulated from the long-term research results of the members of the working group themselves and some of the other content was based on existing and published research findings about Chinese distance higher education. The content was sorted and processed by the editors according to the report framework, the academic points of view, the research methods and conclusions of the report have been checked, inspected and approved by readers in a first round, and especially they have been recognised by the experts and peers in the industry. The publication of this research report, as the first volume of the series of reports, has positively explored the advancement of the project and also laid a good foundation for the compilation of subsequent reports. Since then, the OUC has invited experts from inside and outside the system to participate in the compilation team. For example, Yan Mingjie from OUC’s Sichuan branch was invited to take part in the writing of the 2015 research report. Starting from 2013, related professionals from Beijing Normal University, the National Institute of Education Sciences, and the College of Network Education of Peking University were invited to join in the work. They were mainly responsible for the writing of prescient issues relating to correspondence education, self-taught examination, and online education institutes, as well as distance education.

A “name card” for the OUC’s international exchanges

The CDHED Research Report gained a lot of attention from the participants of the 2016 China International Distance Education Conference. “Previously, we didn’t know that much about the development of Chinese distance higher education. The CDHED Research Report presented a panoramic and dynamic introduction of the history and current development in the field and it has played an important role in popularising knowledge in the field. The OUC has created a foundation for Chinese distance higher education and higher education in general.” “The team that wrote the report not only includes members from the OUC but also related experts in the field, which is very important in presenting the developments in the field in a comprehensive, in-depth, and objective manner.”

The release of the CDHED Research Report has elicited a great response in the fields of distance education and higher education in China and it is also very popular with practitioners in the field of distance higher education. The series of reports has won the Twelfth Five-Year National Programme of Key Publishing Plans (Academic Books), second prize in the Award for the Best Academic Works by Fourth China university presses, and first prize in the Ninth national outstanding scientific and research results (works) for adult education.

The CDHED Research Report also serves as a "name card" for OUC’s international exchange and is often presented to groups visiting the OUC. The Chinese Adult Education Association, the Chinese Academy of Higher Education, the Chinese Academy of Educational Technology, the Open University of Hong Kong, and Taiwan Open University all received the reports when visiting the OUC. The research reports were well received and were regarded as “important works in the research field of Chinese distance higher education”.

Written by Li Ying, Jin Hongyu, Edited by Yan Jingzhen www.china.org.cn