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. Historical Background of the Construction of a Learning Society

1. Historical Background

The construction of a lifelong education system and a learning society is the inevitable result of human development. The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China explicitly proposed the “vigorous promotion of the construction of a learning society and the improvement national quality”. Many countries focus on the construction of credit bank system to promote national lifelong learning. In essence, the credit bank system is a system for the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes. The Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development clearly states that "'bridges' shall be built for lifelong learning. Horizontal and vertical connections between different types of education at all levels should be promoted in order to make multiple choices available and meet people's diverse learning and development needs. Both the Education Law of the People's Republic of China (Amendment) and the 13th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People's Republic of China also propose the “promotion of mutual accreditation and connection of different kinds of learning outcomes” in order “smooth the way to continuing education and lifelong learning.” The construction of a credit bank system and smooth learning channels is an important measure in improving the “bridges” to the growth of talented professionals and is also an important part of the reforms set by the Party Central Committee, the State Council, and the Ministry of Education.

2. Significance of the Construction

The credit bank system is of great significance to accelerating the modernisation of education, speeding up the formation of a learning society, and making China into a country with powerful human resources. Currently, all forms of education at all levels have closely guarded barriers between higher and lower levels, and there is a degree of status prejudice between institutions, creating a huge amount of replicated resources due to different fields issuing the same certificates. The fact that quality education resources cannot be shared has seriously hindered the construction of a learning society.

The construction of a credit bank system can break down the barriers between higher education, vocational education, adult colleges, and continuing education; smooth lifelong learning channels; realise a connection between multiple learning channels, methods, and processes; build a “flyover” for students’ diversified choices and talent growth pathways; and promote the national lifelong learning. In addition, the credit bank system can facilitate the sharing of quality education resources, lower the cost of human resources development, and build an effective education and employment mechanism for learners, education institutions, employers, and the government. The credit bank system can drive the education revolution in an all-round way, which is of great significance in realising the construction of a powerful country with modernisation of education, boosting educational fairness, and running well in education that meets people’s satisfaction.

II. The OUC Credit Bank in Action

In view of the current construction status of the lifelong education system and a lifelong learning society, the Open University of China (OUC) set up the Credit Bank Management Office (Learning Outcomes Accreditation Centre) in 2012 to in order to explore the credit bank, providing effective support and a feasible pathway for the construction of a learning society in China. Over the past five years, based on the programme and pilot work set up and delegated to them by the MOE, as well as hundreds of scientific research tasks, the OUC credit bank has set up an expert team lead by Zhou Yuanqing to focus on issues such as the construction, operating mechanism, and application model of a national credit bank system. It considers how to put theoretical research into practice and make innovations to enrich theoretical achievements to carry out the top-level design and practical innovation for the national lifelong education credit bank system. Looking back upon the past five years, there have been several major achievements:

(1) Draw from international experience and put forward a credit bank system model and technical path that caters to China’s national conditions

The credit bank system is a learning and education management system that simulates the mechanisms, functions, and features of a bank, making “credits” the unit through which to realise the storage, accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes at all levels and of various types. Based on our study and analysis of research and practice in 15 countries and regions worldwide, we identified three international models: a model based on the national qualification framework, a model based on protocol, and a model based on national legislation.

Based on the situation in China, we put forward a system model lead by a “qualification framework” and with a “framework and standards” technical path. It has the following advantages: Firstly, the qualification framework realises the unified value comparison of different learning outcomes and addresses the issue of systematic barriers between the education market and the labor market. Secondly, different systems (markets) can develop resources by referring to the unified standard, which breaks through the limits of all kinds of education (training) and realise the vertical connection and horizontal communication between these different kinds of education. Thirdly, it builds a credible standard that can regulate the training market, improve educational training quality, and promote education teaching reform. Fourthly, based on independent and authoritative baseline standards, it can effectively promote the sharing of quality resources and boost educational equality. Lastly, this path guarantees the effective operation and sustainable development of the credit bank system.

(2) Develop the first national learning outcomes grading and classification framework

Just like the internationally practiced “qualification framework”, the learning outcomes framework includes grading, grading descriptions, credits, academic title, field, and type. The learning outcomes framework offers a common reference for all levels and types of learning outcomes through the grading description of learning outcomes and corresponding standards, enabling the mutual accreditation and transfer of learning outcomes of all levels and types.

Learning Outcomes Framework

(3) Design a sound credit bank system framework with the learning outcomes framework as the core

To guarantee that the credit bank system can be carried out and that regulation can be implemented in an orderly way, it was necessary to build a sound system framework that focuses on the core factors, technical tools, and organisational framework of the credit bank. With rules for criteria, operation, and support in place, the credit bank system can realise the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes.

1.System Core

The system core consists of the learning outcomes framework and the standards system. The standards system is an organic entity formed by a series of standards for the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes based on internal relationships. The standards system includes basic standards and working standards. Basic standards includes credit standards, unit standards, and academic ranking standards, while the working standards includes business specifications and processes.

2. System Operation

The credit bank system operates normally thanks to the establishment of an operational organisation, an operational mechanism, and an operational platform.

(1) Operational Organisation

The operational organisation is the body of the operation, including the decision-making level, the management level, and the execution level.

(2) Operation Mechanism

The credit bank covers three business areas: the construction of the alliance for the mutual accreditation of learning outcomes, standards formulation, and business handling. Its business is guided and supervised by the management, quality, and standards committee. The three businesses are supported by the information platform and aim to realise the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes.

(3) Operational Platform

The operational platform includes one website (website portal) and three platforms (work platform, service platform, and exchange platform). They are characterised by features such as the cloud framework, cloud computing, cloud services, big data, intelligence security, and multi-terminal integration. The operational platform allows people to query policy, news, consultation, and information. Furthermore, it provides the public and the institutions with information management and business handling services; provides management personnel, business personnel, and experts with data import, review, release, and approval services; and provides leaders and supervisory institutions with monitoring and risk assessment services.

3. System Guarantees

System guarantees include policies and regulations, expenses, as well as quality control. The quality assurance system is the lifeline for carrying out the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes. In order to ensure the credibility of the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes, we have built a complete internal-external quality assurance system.

(4) Develop a series of tools and methods for carrying out the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes

1.  Credit bank information service platform

A credit bank information service platform has been developed, aiming to provide members of society with learning outcomes accreditation, accumulation, and transfer services. In order to ensure the authenticity of user identity and learning outcomes, the platform also connects with the MPS's citizen network ID identification system, the MOE's CHSI (http://www.chsi.com.cn/en/), and the national online query system of the MOHRSS's national vocational qualification credentials.

2.  Online Credit Bank

The online credit bank serves national lifelong learning and is capable of providing a credible, high quality "online credit bank" platform with a one-stop online learning and online exam services.

3.  Series System Documents

Based on the credit bank system framework, a number of different system documents involving the charter, working rules, management methods, specification system, and guidance manual have been formulated, providing guidance and regulations for the development of the credit bank business.

(5) Develop several application models and expansion services for the credit bank system in promoting education teaching reform

As types of education in China have become more complex and diversified, we have gradually formed several application models for promoting education teaching reform. Over several years of constant exploration, we have comprehensively explored the horizontal communication and vertical connection of lifelong learning "bridges", including a course transfer model and dual-certificate accreditation models for academic and non-academic education; a single-sided accreditation and mutual accreditation model for academic education courses of the same level; a vertical connection model for academic education at different levels; an accreditation model for learning outcomes without a defined form; an MOOC course credit accreditation model; and an accreditation model for courses of the equivalent education level.

Furthermore, under the credit bank system framework, we can also provide the government, industries, and enterprises with expanded services such as informatisation customisation, big data analysis, archive management, and ability testing. We can also integrate social resources and share learning resources and learning outcomes accreditation at a large scale through the resource label and the concept of "a shop in front and a factory behind", provide reliable education services, provide personalised learning path guidance, inspire learners to change their learning style, and make lifelong learning a possibility.

III. The Innovation of the OUC Credit Bank and its Features

At present, over 150 countries and regions worldwide have built or are building a credit bank through a qualifications framework, which has provided abundant reference and experience for the construction of the credit bank in China. However, in view of the national situation and status quo in China, the main focus of the OUC credit bank is how to leverage this situation to meet the needs of society, achieve sustainable development, and formulate an effective implementation plan. Therefore, based on strict verification, negotiation, and consultation from various parties, the OUC credit bank has carried out a series of innovations.

(1) Design a credit bank system model and technical pathway with Chinese characteristics at the national level

At present, there is some research and practice in the field of the credit bank. Many universities, provinces, and cities have carried out research, for example, Xueyuan Road Community, Haidian District, Beijing; the Mid-West University Alliance; and provincial credit bank construction represented in Shanghai, Yunnan, Guangdong, and other regions. However, on the whole, the various types of credit bank system model and technical pathway that exist currently all belong to the scattered practice carried out in the regional and local field, and lack overall design and coordinated arrangement.

Therefore, from the start, it should be realised that the construction of the OUC credit bank must be a nationwide project and needs an overall layout. In terms of system model and technical pathway, it should unswervingly adhere to the design at the national level and fill the gap in China. The considerations and design of the OUC credit bank at the national level have been recognised by MOE, the industries, the enterprises, and the experts, which has laid a foundation for the future construction of the national credit bank, providing a reference for model exploration and pathway seeking.

(2) Take learning outcomes as the guide, adhere to substantial equivalence, and develop the learning outcomes framework

The core of the credit bank is learning outcomes, unlimited by form or time. The qualifications framework is the cornerstone for the efficient operation of the credit bank system, and it is baseline and reference for comparing various types of learning outcomes at various levels. Since the qualifications framework involves several fields, industries, and diverse qualifications management bodies, in order to unify them we must break the system bottleneck and the obstacles at the national level and it is impossible for the OUC credit bank to overcome it by itself. In order to effectively promote the practice, the OUC credit bank avoided the "qualifications framework" and adopted the "learning outcomes framework,” the connotations of which are consistent with the "qualifications framework.” Through this innovation in concept, this method of handling learning outcomes has effectively avoided the system obstacles created by qualifications framework management. It is a feasible and effective way of implementing the credit bank system at China’s current stage of development.

(3) Innovate the credit bank system and operational mechanism

In order to make the credit bank run efficiently, we need a complete credit bank system to support it. To this end, the OUC credit bank created a system framework centred on learning outcomes with "framework + standard" as its core, integrating the criteria, operation, support, and expansion rules into one single unit. It has designed the relationships between the elements of each system effectively and reasonably, and has thus innovated the learning outcome management system and operational mechanism.

(4) Innovate the development method for the learning outcomes accreditation unit

Large variations may exist in the volume, level, and form of different learning outcomes. In order to compare different types of learning outcomes, we need to find a common element i.e. the accreditation unit. This is the smallest unit used for the accreditation of learning outcomes. Considering the length and applicability of accreditation unit development, in formulating said units the OUC credit bank has explored development methods with pragmatic value and practical significance, and gradually formed hybrid, sliced, iterative, and other various innovative development methods. Through the application of these innovative methods, multi-field and multi-industry accreditation units have been effectively implemented.

(5) Accumulate a range of credit system application models

Different stakeholders such as individuals, universities, educational institutions, enterprises, and learning organisations have different requirements for the credit bank. In the face of these requirements, the OUC credit bank has explored the feasibility of application model of the credit bank system in a range of fields. In order to serve the construction of a learning society more efficiently, the OUC credit bank has proposed the "a shop in front and a factory behind” concept so that it can provide individuals with learning opportunities through various different channels and forms. The new education management system supported by the credit bank system has created a more flexible education and employment mechanism. The exploration of these application models supports the establishment and promotion of the credit bank.

IV. The Application and Promotion of the OUC Credit Bank

Over the past five years, the OUC credit bank has gone through a difficult process from research to implementation. However, we continue to be inspired by the recognition of the government and and our peers, enterprises, and users. They have actively joined the OUC credit bank, working together with us to jointly promote the implementation of the credit bank.

(1) Several ministries show great concern for the OUC credit bank and some of its achievements have been adopted by government agencies

Since the OUC credit bank was founded in 2012, it has undertaken multiple projects and pilot schemes established and commissioned by MOE, and has been recognised by the leaders of several ministries, such as the MOE, HRSS, and MPS. Some of the achievements have been adopted by the MOE's Opinions on Promoting the Accreditation and Transfer of Higher Education Credits. Some leaders of the MOE Planning Department, Comprehensive Reform Department, and Vocational and Adult Education Department have listened to reports on the subject. In practice, the construction of the OUC credit bank has driven the construction of a raft of credit banks in other regions. They have directly adopted the OUC credit bank's technical pathway and achievements, which has become a model in the domestic credit bank field.

(2) The OUC credit bank is recognised by its peers and the learning outcomes mutual accreditation alliance has grown stronger

Since the OUC credit bank was launched, it has drawn the attention of educational institutions and training institutions. The results achieved by the credit bank have also been highly recognised by its peers in the education field. The first batch of units joining the alliance includes Beijing Open University and five other open universities, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing (CFLP), the China Foundry Association, China Post Corporation training centres, and other large-scale industry associations and training institutions in China. In 2017, 18 vocational colleges and universities, industries, and corporate institutions joined the alliance as the second batch of units.


 The First Batch of Institutions that Joined the Alliance

(3) The OUC credit bank targets the whole of society and its accreditation service system has been gradually improved

The accreditation service system is rooted in society and is a window that directly faces towards society, industries, enterprises, communities, colleges, training institutions and other groups in order to carry out the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes. The OUC credit bank has established 70 learning outcomes accreditation sub-centres (accreditation sites) covering 31 provinces/municipalities and 20 industries.

In terms of the accreditation handling business, as of May 2017, the credit bank has opened 4,795,635 accounts for learners in the information service, of which 4,285,632 are student accounts for degree education and 510,003 are student accounts for non-degree education (including 30,000 kindergarten teacher accounts).

(4) The OUC credit bank has carried out multi-level, multi-dimensional pilot projects and has achieved remarkable results in teaching reform

The research results of the credit bank have received widespread recognition and have been widely promoted and applied. More than 70 industry associations, universities, and corporate training institutions have been involved in the pilot application of the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes in continuing education, higher vocational education, teacher education and other fields at various levels and types, realising a horizontal and vertical connection.

In terms of research into standards, as of May 2017, the OUC credit bank has developed accreditation units covering various fields such as postal services, automobile maintenance, foundries, coal, information security, logistics, social work, and pension services. A horizontal connection plan for more than 20 non-degree education certificates and 17 open education junior college majors has been made and a vertical connection plan for 19 vocational college majors and 13 open and online education undergraduate majors has been formulated. In addition, the accreditation, accumulation, and transfer of learning outcomes for learners has been carried out.

In addition, the credit bank has also actively promoted the construction of teaching resources for university disciplines and courses and the reform of the learner training model, achieving remarkable results in the reform of education and teaching. For example, the credit bank has played a key role in the reform and pilot schemes for 10 key construction and reform projects, including "Education and Ability Programme for Migrant Workers", “Realising Dreams of Further Education”", "Brilliant Life: A Lifelong Learning Plan for Women", the “Six Network Integration" learner development model, and pre-school education, effectively promoting project development in a pragmatic way.

(5) Reach new academic heights and expand publicity and influence

As a brand new field, the development of the credit bank cannot be separated from scientific research. In order to ensure that we are on a right road to practice, the OUC credit bank has arranged for 800 people in more than 140 organisations to participate in the research and practice of the construction of the credit bank, producing research reports amounting to more than 5 million words, field reports amounting to more than three million words, two published books, and more than 50 theses. One of the works has obtained copyright from the National Intellectual Property Protection Centre. The series of the achievements made by the OUC credit bank have received widespread attention and recognition from the academic field, demonstrating its influence in this field.
In addition, major media such as People's Daily, China Education News, China Teacher's Daily, and China Network (http://www.china.org.cn/) have paid attention to the construction and practice of credit banks and have published a number of articles, such as “Establishing a Mechanism for Implementing the Concept of Lifelong Learning” and “Building a Credit Bank System with Chinese Characteristics.” They also made special reports or printed relevant results, drawing responses from all areas of society.

V. Future Prospects

The report of the 19th NPC Congress put forward the strategic goal of building a well-off society in an all-round way and launched China on a new journey of building a modern socialist country in an all-round way. Under the requirements of the new era, the OUC credit bank never forgets its original intention, adheres to the position of lifelong education, overcomes its difficulties, and strives to build a "bridge" for talent growth. With the continuous improvement of theory and the in-depth advancement of practice, the OUC credit bank will continue to forge ahead bravely, reforming and innovating, and further improving the framework, the formulation of standards, the development of tools, and the enrichment of models. It will boost the construction of the OUC credit bank and write a new chapter in the promotion of the construction of a learning society.

By Wang Lina, OUC