When it was established in 2012, the Open University of China (OUC) proposed writing and publishing a Quality White Paper. In 2013, the first annual quality report of the OUC was compiled. Since then, the working mechanism of writing an annual quality report had come into being and has been constantly improved in later work.

In 2017, the annual quality report system was officially established in all the OUC organisations. The annual quality report has become a major constituent part of the quality assurance system within the OUC. Vice president Li Linshu conducted a special interview with the magazine on the report on the development of continuing education initiated by the Ministry of Education in colleges and universities and the OUC’s response to it.

Using positive self-assessment as a pace-setter in the annual quality report

Reporter: How has the annual report impacted the development of continuing education in universities initiated by the Ministry of Education from the perspective of open universities?

Li Linshu: My understanding is as follows. Firstly, the conditions of “improving online education” and “improving continuing education and stepping up efforts to build a learning society” proposed in the report of the 19th CPC National Congress highlight the significance of online education and continuing education in the course of building a learning society. As a major part of national learner development, continuing education in universities supports the construction of a learning society and the improvement of the nation’s quality. The annual report on the development of continuing education in universities helps raise the concerns of educational managers and operators and learners for the quality of continuing education to the national level.

Secondly, so far, the state hasn’t set a quality standard for continuing education when it comes to content. The annual report deals with degree and non-degree education, the education orientation of the universities, the management mechanism, rules and regulations, training schemes for professionals, teachers, support services, information technology, learning results, regular management, a quality assurance mechanism, and more. The reports have, to some degree, indicated the state’s quality identification and requirements for continuing education and have established a potential quality standard for continuing education and management. In this sense, they offer leadership and direction for universities engaged in continuing education.

Thirdly, the publishing of an annual report on the development of continuing education is a powerful measure for the nation to comprehensively enhance the quality of continuing education. The OUC will seize the opportunity to work on the report and take the initiative to publicise the OUC’s quality work to the nation and to society, to respond to the concerns of society, and to be socially accountable.

Reporter: The OUC has established the annual quality report before. What was the original intention for the annual quality report? What specific results have been achieved over the years?

Li Linshu: The OUC proposed writing and publishing the Quality White Paper when it was established in 2012, and it immediately investigated and prepared the work. The opportunity for genuine implementation came in 2013 when the Ministry of Education gave the relevant work requirements for the annual report in 2013. At that time, the OUC compiled and submitted the first annual quality report. Ever since then, the working mechanism for writing the annual quality report has been established and continuous improvements have been made.

Over the past four years, the annual quality report has mainly been compiled by the quality control department of the OUC headquarters based on the relevant work reports of the previous year in the OUC system. In 2017, the OUC handed out the work on the 2016 Quality Report to its branches and experimental schools, requiring them to “establish an annual quality report work mechanism”. The annual quality report system was thus officially established throughout the OUC system.

After years of implementation, the work on the annual quality report has given great impetus to the optimisation of quality in the universities. The first aspect of this is the consistent enhancement of quality awareness. The OUC is a systematic university composed of universities, branches, schools, and study centres across China. By publishing the annual quality report inside the system, educational operators at all levels have strengthened their quality awareness and shaped a culture of the pursuit of excellence.

The second aspect is the formation of a specialised quality workforce. The quality control and evaluation centre has been set up at the OUC headquarters to be responsible for the planning, design, and organisation of quality control and evaluation events, and a special division has been set up for quality work. With the implementation and intensification of comprehensive teaching inspection, online teaching inspection, the collection and publication of teaching quality factors, special supervision, the annual quality report, and other tasks, the quality management and professional competence of the team members has continuously improved.

The third aspect is to form a linking mechanism for the headquarters, expert teams, and routine work teams, which has promoted the improvement of quality in the entire educational system of the OUC covering 31 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions. While working on the quality reports, educational operators at all levels of the system continue to build and improve their own quality assurance systems to formulate a work mechanism. Regular inspections, evaluations, and supervision promote the improvement of the overall teaching quality of the OUC.

Highlighting characteristics for effective connection to the annual development report

Reporter: After the implementation of the annual development report on continuing education in institutions of higher education, will the OUC annual quality report be sustained? What is the difference between this annual development report and the previous OUC annual quality reports?

Li Linshu: The annual quality report is an import part of the OUC quality assurance system, and it will not come to an end because of the implementation of the annual development report. Seen from the perspective of stylistic rules and structures, there are still some differences between the annual development report and the annual quality report of the OUC. The annual development report has to take into consideration the needs of different kinds education operators, such as online schools, schools for adult higher education, and open universities, whereas the annual quality report of the OUC gives more consideration to the operational characteristics of a systematic university engaged in open and distance education.

In the future, we will continue the work of the OUC annual quality report. On the one hand, it has to be connected to the development report of continuing education in institutions of higher education, and on the other hand, it has to embody the OUC’s own educational characteristics.

Reporter: Compared to regular institutions of higher education, what differences are there when the OUC compiles its annual development report for continuing education?

Li Linshu: Since we are different in nature from continuing education schools in regular institutions of higher education, there are some differences in the understanding of the index system, the meaning of the contents, and the arrangement of the structures in the compilation of the annual development report. They are mainly demonstrated in the following three aspects.

Firstly, the Open University of China is a systematic university consisting of the headquarters, 45 branches, 11 industry and corporate colleges, and the OUC experimental school. In contrast, continuing education schools are internal organs in regular institutions of higher education.

Secondly, continuing education is oriented differently in universities. The OUC relies on the strength of the entire system to offer degree and non-degree education. In regular institutions of higher education, continuing education is mainly a supplement to the learner development model and it is an important part of their social function.

Lastly, they differ in scale and coverage, indicating their different strategic objectives. The OUC serves 31 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions throughout the country with 3.272 million registered students. Such scale and coverage reflect the OUC’s strategy and function of serving the education of society and improving the quality of life of all people in China.

These differences are where our characteristics lie.

Seeking common ground while preserving differences for the multi-scale measurement of the quality of talent formation

Reporter: What kind of quality concept do you think it is necessary for open universities or RTVUs to set up?

Li Linshu: Discussions on the concept of quality have been conducted and Selected Papers on the Quality Concept of Open Universities has been published, which details the following concepts. The OUC identifies the diversification of concepts of quality. In the World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action UNESCO clearly identifies that attention should be paid to the specific conditions of different universities, countries, and regions “for diversified considerations to avoid a unified measurement.” Pan Maoyuan, a renowned theorist of higher education in China also believes that, “It is unfair to measure various universities with the same quality standard against the background of higher education diversification.” Due to the great diversity of universities, the measurement standards of the quality of learner development should also be different. Quality standards in different universities should share common basic requirements and include differentiated, diverse content. Several different “yardsticks” should be used to measure the quality of learner development in universities. There are differences in educational orientation, task and mission, educational concept, and operational features among universities, and accordingly there should be different quality standards for talent formation.

Reporter: What is the significance and function of the work on the annual development report on continuing education in universities between open universities and RTVUs? What influences each one?

Li Linshu: The work on the annual development report initiated by the Ministry of Education offers a strong impetus for quality construction in open universities.

The satisfaction of graduates and employers should be the priority. In recent years, the OUC has focused on investigating the satisfaction of graduates and employers, which helps us to evaluate the education services and products provided by the university from the perspective of “education consumers.” Our investigations over the years have provided valuable data for the university to improve quality and advance teaching reform. The work on the annual development report has offered a strong impetus for our investigation work. By seizing this opportunity, the university is planning to make a review of graduate and employer satisfaction a standard and scientific work mechanism to better help the teaching reform and career development of the university.

Communication and comparisons of quality between similar colleges and universities will be strengthened. Since, in the past, there were no normal channels for mutual understanding, the OUC’s comparison of and attention to quality work was always concentrated on the development and improvement of its own system, and were devoid of comparison with similar colleges and universities. The development report on continuation education in institutions of higher education launched by the Ministry of Education has provided an exchange platform for all colleges and universities. It is beneficial for all colleges and universities to communicate and engage, to identify our position in the field of continuing education, and to have a more objective and comprehensive understanding of our own quality work. It is conducive to the continuous improvement of the quality of learner development.

By Sheng Xueyun , OUC