On 10th October 2017, the leaders of 5+1 open universities in China, including the Open University of China, Beijing Open University, Jiangsu Open University, Guangdong Open University, Yunnan Open University, and Shanghai Open University gathered in Shanghai to discuss “the progress and achievements of open university construction.”

The conference concluded that the major open universities have made important progress in several different aspects over in the past five years, including establishing an organisational structure for new types of universities; establishing a wide range of collaborations and forming a multi-level and multi-centre educational model; deepening the integration of technology and curriculum, and strengthening the cultivation of applied professionals; improving the scientific research system and promoting the development of scientific research; strengthening quality assurance and promoting sustainable development; building and improving the credit certification and conversion systems; and reforming and exploring a new governance mechanism. The conference also explored the problems that have arisen during the process of open university construction, including the incomplete orientation of the new type of universities, the lack of supporting policy, and the lack of coordination between open universities at the national and provincial level. The conference suggested that the open universities should clarify the orientation of the new type of universities, support the initial trial of the open universities, accelerate the renaming of 39 provincial radio and TV universities, promote the design and formulation of lifelong education legislation, and increase publicity to expand the social impact of the open universities. Finally, the conference concluded that the pilot project of the open university has achieved some first-stage results. Although the process is challenging, the prospects are bright. With the development of new technology, open universities also face the challenge of finding new ways of providing personalised learning, strengthening the business layout of one body with two wings and ensuring high-quality open education.

Key words: open university; transformation; innovation; Chinese model; construction model; lifelong education; learning society

On 10th October 2017, the leaders of 5+1 open universities in China, including the Open University of China (OUC), Beijing Open University, Jiangsu Open University, Guangdong Open University, Yunnan Open University, and Shanghai Open University gathered in Shanghai to summarise the progress of open university construction, as well as the existing problems and suggestions for reform. About 60 representatives attended the seminar, including Professor Hao Keming, member of the National Education Consultation Committee and head of the Lifelong Education Mechanism Construction Group; director-general Peng Binbai of the Ministry of Education Department of Comprehensive Reform; former researcher at the National Education Development Research Centre Wang Yibing; vice director Lu Haihong from the Special Issue Research Department of the National Education Development Research Centre; chief Gao Yang from the Continuing Education Section of the Department of Vocational and Adult Education of the Ministry of Education; and vice director Ni Hongjing from Shanghai Municipality Education Commission. OUC president Yang Zhijian, Bejing OU president Huang Xiankai, Jiangsu OU president Cui Xinyou, Guangdong OU president Liu Wenqing, Yunnan OU vice president Luo Ji , and Shanghai OU president Yuan Xuefeng gave speeches and the experts present at the seminar gave comments on the progress of the open university construction.

I. Progress and Achievements

To begin with, the presidents of the open universities gave reports and then held exchanges on the focal points, major measures, achievements, existing problems, and suggested improvements from their own universities.

(I) Establishing an organisational structure for the new type of universities and strengthening open university system construction

Since the renaming of the open universities, promoting the transformation of radio and TV universities into open universities in order “to build a new type of open university and strive to build open universities into a new type of higher educational institution serving lifelong learning of all” in line with the MOE’s Opinions on Operating Open Universities Well has been a major strategy. Under the guidance of such a strategy, open universities have explored methods for the construction of such universities. For example, president Cui Xinyou of Jiangsu OU indicated that the primary concept was to run universities just as they are. When the open university is first of all regarded as a university, it can be built into a shared platform for public service and an important support mechanism for lifelong education. On this basis, open university operation is explored from three aspects. The first is the meaning and standardised construction of open universities as an educational main body and entity; the second is the establishment of an organisational structure and management system based on the form of school system. For example, Shanghai OU has founded four secondary school entities to explore a teaching and management guarantee and operation mechanism. The third is to strengthen the construction of the educational system. For example, the OUC has put forward the innovative concept of an “open university community” and promulgated Several Opinions on Advancing Educational Organisation System Construction. Thirty-nine provincial radio and TV universities and five local OUs have signed agreements on the joint construction of regional branches with the OUC. The overall transformation of the entire provincial radio and TV educational system towards a new type of educational system promoted by Jiangsu OU has enhanced the service orientation of open universities in cities and counties.

(II) Establishing a range of collaborations and forming a multi-level, multi-centre education model based on the needs of society

For five years, and in collaboration with “governments, enterprises and universities,” the 5+1 OUs have gradually taken a new educational path similar to “sending education to the doorsteps,” thus formulating a new model of running the university in society and achieving obvious results. Beijing OU has adjusted and optimised the design of majors and schools in line with the needs of the general public in order to improve the service competences targeted at the city’s learning municipality development objective. For example, the Urban Management School has been created to meet the need for security education in metro and public transportation for 80,000 safety officers, the need for housekeeping and property management, and even the need for quality improvement among the population of 2.2 million migrants. The Creative School has been built to serve the learning needs arising from Beijing’s function as a national cultural centre. The Charity Volunteers School has been built to meet the training needs of 200,000 social volunteers. Guangdong OU has explored an Internet + home senior citizen health care platform and developed Internet + 3D printing in order to develop a high-tech, modern service industry, and formulated systems such as Provisions on Degree Education Cooperation in Running the School in the Open University of Guangdong (for trial implementation).

Shanghai OU advocates running the school in collaboration with all of society. It has cooperated with 95 enterprises and built special schools with Shanghai Working Committee on Ageing, Shanghai Disabled Persons’ Federation, Shanghai Women’s Federation, Shanghai Municipal Administration of Prisons, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of Shanghai Municipal People’s Government, Shanghai Federation of Trade Unions, and Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Civil Affairs. Its learner groups include all residents in communities throughout the municipality and it provides special services to migrant labourers, disabled people, old people, prisoners, and other special groups. Shanghai OU has established the Craftsman School and Social Work School. The former has already provided training for the first batch of 72 craftsmen and the latter has offered education support to employers in social work and citizens interested in social work in Shanghai. A major in elderly care has also been set up.

Jiangsu OU has shaped its three branches in South Jiangsu, North Jiangsu, and Central Jiangsu. In North Jiangsu, the Jingdong Electric Business School of Suqian Open University has been built by Jiangsu OU in cooperation with Suqian People’s Government and Jingdong Mall. In South Jiangsu, the Intelligent Manufacturing School has been built in Suzhou Industrial Park in cooperation with Zhibo Robot Co., Ltd, Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee, and Soochow University (which accommodates a key laboratory for intelligent robot research). In central Suzhou, a Community Education Management School has been established with the aim of training community education administrators. So far, it has completed community education trainings entrusted by the provincial education departments of Fujian, Shaanxi, and Gansu Provinces, and the Rural Education Professional Committee of China Adult Education Association.

(III) Deepening the integration of information technology in the cultivation of applied professionals, and distance education and teaching management

One of the educational characteristics of an open university is to follow the development of information technology and to advance the integrated application of information technology in teaching and learning. The Open University of China has built a distance education cloud platform and achieved the integration of “teaching, learning, managing, research, and support” with the development of 314 cloud classrooms and 30,000 five-minute lectures. Beijing OU has established a teaching centre for distance virtual practice and an innovative teaching centre for open education. Learners can log onto the practical teaching centre and share practical teaching resources in the centre. This is a centre for both resource sharing and practical teaching. It is also a coordinated creation platform. The innovative teaching centre for open education is building and developing a management system that will simulate the university’s 50 teaching centres and all their management and send them to the headquarters. Thus, the management of the 50 teaching centres can be monitored by the headquarters and the learning behaviours of all the students can be displayed in a real-time dynamic form, such as the number of students learning online at each centre, the learning category, and timely responses to the students’ questions. The open universities of Guangdong and Jiangsu have realised the integration of the online and offline, and virtual and reality by setting up practical training bases within enterprises. Yunnan OU has also initiated big data platform construction and cloud classrooms oriented towards community-level schools are under construction.

(IV) Energetically advancing scientific research to serve teaching and the development of majors

President Huang Xiankai of Beijing OU said that it was very difficult for a new type of university to establish its position without the accumulation of scientific research and that it was also very difficult to gain the recognition of society. Teachers are required to think academically and their competences can only be improved by analysing, inducing, and summarising problems. Based on an understanding of the operational orientation and function of a university, open universities promote the development of scientific research through the founding of research bases. Beijing OU has founded the Capital Engineering Education Research Base, the Intelligent Education Institute, and the Distance Virtual Practice Teaching Centre. Yunnan OU founded the Institute of Special Materials, the Institute of Open Education, as well as several provincial studios and engineering centres for numerical control technology, mould technology, and e-commerce. Shanghai OU has set itself a goal to “conduct strong scientific research with the characteristics of a first class open university.” The scientific research principle of involving all with indomitable spirit to integrate teaching and scientific research and enhancing the construction of scientific research bases, engineering centres for distance and open education, innovative bases for information security and social management, and bases for humanities and social sciences.

(V) Strengthening quality assurance and promoting the sustainable development of universities

Improving education quality is related to not only the reputation but also the sustainable development of open universities. All open universities have taken measures to strengthen teaching quality assurance. Guangdong OU requires that majors be set up in cooperation with famous enterprises in Guangdong or around China. Furthermore, the university must deepen integration with enterprises to achieve a high degree of integration between industries and teaching and to realise the cultivation of applied professionals. The university has cooperated with three major robot manufacturing enterprises and established the School of Intelligent Robotics. For example, it offers majors in unmanned aerial vehicles, robotics, and numerical control in cooperation with SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd., Giant Interactive Group Inc., and Guangzhou CNC Equipment Co., Ltd, respectively. In the meantime, the university has introduced teachers and leaders in cutting-edge disciplines. The teaching teams integrate the leaders from industry, enterprises, and universities, as well as teachers with rich professional experience. The number of people graduating with a degree certificates has reached nearly 29%. The students have performed well and the school and its four majors have gained a high degree of recognition, with some experts going as far as to say that the quality of teaching is even better than Southern University of Science and Technology.

In addition to strengthening the construction of majors, Jiangsu OU and Yunnan OU have also invited MyCOS (My China Occupational Skills) to provide third-party analyses in order to strengthen the construction of its quality assurance system. Shanghai OU has formulated an internal guarantee system for teaching quality and 120 observation points.

Apart from teaching quality, Jiangsu OU has also strived to pursue service quality by “getting support with service and seeking development with support. Good service has shown local governments that the open universities can achieve something, thus obtaining their support in return.”

(VI) Promoting the construction of a credit bank to strengthen the functionality of the lifelong learning platform

Driven by the strategy of “building a lifelong learning ‘bridge’” put forward in the Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-Term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020), the construction of the credit bank is getting more attention from open universities and local governments. The OUC has founded 70 certification sub-centres in 31 provinces and municipalities, and 21 industries throughout the country. Guangdong Province has invested 48 million CNY in the credit bank and a high-level leadership and coordination institution has been founded at the Open University with the provincial governor serving as head and executive vice governor and the vice governor in charge of education as deputy heads of the leading group. The integration of examination and qualification certificates is promoted in to achieve the horizontal and vertical integration of credit recognition, accumulation, and transfer. The grading standards in the qualification framework have been put on file by the Standardisation Administration of the People’s Republic of China. Yunnan OU has conducted successful pilot schemes for the storage, certification, and transfer of learning results, formulating the following principles and pathways for credit transfer: 1) credit transfer of specialised courses between secondary and tertiary vocational education; 2) credit transfer between vocational qualification certificates and courses; 3) credit transfer between various skill competition results and courses; 4) credit transfer between various training results and courses; 5) credit transfer between other forms of learning results and courses; 6) exploration of the selection and recognition of quality course resources and the unified credit recognition and transfer of unified setup courses chosen in eight union schools; 7) connection to Yunnan university MOOC platform and credit transfer.