Editor’s Note: The 2017 Open University of China (OUC) Essay Competition, themed “The OUC Implementing the Spirit of the 19th CPC National Congress,” ended a few days ago. A total of 174 articles were submitted by 23 departments, and 62 of those were awarded. Consideration is given to the development of the OUC in these articles by integrating the implementation of the spirit of the 19th CPC around the OUC’s central work. The OUC’s development draws inspiration from different perspectives on talent development reform, educational informatisation, credit bank construction, discipline and specialty research and construction, teacher training, targeted poverty alleviation, and international cooperation and exchanges. Some of the excellent, award-winning articles were selected for subsequent publicity on this website.

I. International cooperation and exchanges in China’s Open University system

By following the development steps of The Open University (OU), the China Central Radio and TV University and its branches were built at the end of the 1970s. After nearly 40 years of development, the open university education system in China today has grown into one of several open universities across the world with demonstrable historical progress, while at the same time remaining an open university system with Chinese characteristics. International cooperation and exchanges since its inception have influenced it in several ways, summarised below.

1) Scholar Exchanges

“Going global” and “bringing in” remain important channels for international cooperation and exchanges. “Going global” refers to professors going abroad to another open university for short term academic exchanges, or for academic research in a department at another university for a period of time. “Brining in” means employing and inviting influential foreign experts to Chinese open universities for joint direct development of disciplines and teaching materials, or for profound discussions on theory and practices of distance education with both teachers and students (Li Yawan, 2011).

Open universities in China have always embraced a policy of “going abroad and bringing in” to foster international exchange and cooperation. The OUC and its branches sent leading teachers to foreign open and traditional universities for short term academic exchanges and visits in the hopes of improving their professional competence. The teachers fundraised to learn about open education practices abroad, then return to their universities. The OUC, as the leader of the system, carried out joint projects with departments to create opportunities for teaching staff to study further abroad. One example is the Sino-British Fellowship project jointly implemented by the Sino-British Fellowship Trust, China Scholarship Council, and the Open University of China to support teachers inside the OUC system to study further abroad. By 2016, over 80 visiting scholars have been sent to study abroad. Two-fifths of them are from the OUC, and the remaining three-fifths are from the OUC branches throughout China, especially from radio and TV universities in Western China (OUC, 2016). In addition, a scholar exchange project offered by the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU) provided OUC teachers with opportunities for exchanges and visits abroad.

In contrast to sending people abroad for short term visits, some branches of China’s open university system have strengthened their international exchanges and cooperation by way of inviting foreign experts of distance education to their universities for concentrated lectures. It takes less time and money to make exchanges of this kind, which benefit a lot of people. As such, some universities are able to make such regular exchanges and cooperation. For example, three experts from Open University UK were invited to Tianjin Radio and TV University for one week of training in 2009, and experts from the Open University UK have been invited to Shanxi for special training several times.

2) Cooperation on Course Resources

Cooperation on course resources is another example of international cooperation and exchange involving China’s open university system. The OUC headquarters and its local open universities, as well as radio and TV universities, have been making active trials and explorations in this respect. In May 2006, the OUC worked with Michigan State University and established the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University, the world’s first Confucius Institute, and the only existing Confucius Institute for Internet-based distance Chinese learning, with support from the Confucius Institute’s headquarters in Hanban. The universities worked together to develop and design a Chinese course for senior high school students in the US. After years of development, not only has this Confucius Institute been honoured with various kinds of awards, but it has also been selected as one of the most dynamic Confucius Institutes in the world. In 2008, the OUC worked with OU for the first time, to explore course resources. After many consultations and investigations, both parties worked together to develop a set of online training courses that met the needs of distance education practitioners in China, entitled Tutoring Online, Student Support and Course Design. By 2017, the training had covered a number of institutions, including the OUC education system, traditional universities’ online schools, the public service sector, and enterprises.

Besides the OUC, some local open universities, as well as radio and TV universities (RTVUs), also cooperate with foreign open universities on course resources by making use of their geographical advantages, distinctive specialties, and national features. For example, Yunnan Open University offered the specialized courses of “Applied Thai” and “Tourist Thai” with the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University of Thailand, a course on Chinese language teaching and professional teaching in Laos, and training for professional education certificates with Australia, and so on. Yanbian Radio and TV University in Jilin worked with South Korean institutions to offer Korean language training to meet the needs of Korean fans by leveraging online resources and teaching, and a Korean-language learning website was opened at the same time. (Li Yawan, 2011).

3) Academic research

In China, the government pays far less attention to the research function of open universities than to that of traditional universities. In most of the world’s open universities, research and teaching are given equal priority (Hou Songyan, 2017). Thankfully, Chinese open universities have overcome many difficulties and actively carried out research on international cooperation and exchanges. Early in 2011, Shanghai Open University established the Institute of International Education, which specialises in the research of international exchanges and cooperation (Shanghai Open University, 2016). In addition, many national open universities actively attend international conferences to participate in cutting-edge research and discussions on open education, because international distance education organizations and regional associations are the major forces driving academic exchange and research. For instance, the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), founded in 1938, had convened 27 annual meetings by 2017, and four open universities and RTVUs became its members (ICDE, 2017). The Asian Association of Open Universities(AAOU), founded in 1987, holds a regional meeting almost every year, and almost 10 open universities and RTVUs in China are AAOU members (AAOU, 2016). Moreover, the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA), Brazilian Association for Distance Education (ABED),and others are all international platforms where Chinese open universities discuss and research topics with international counterparts.