In September, thousands of students returned to school to pursue their learning dreams. They stepped into the Open University of China (OUC), a university without walls, and began a new journey of study.

With its new approach to learning, the OUC has tailor-made a gift for students, an exam exemption system. The OUC has worked tirelessly to familiarise students with the objectives in their manifesto, All for Students and for Students’All-Around Development, and have them fall in love with learning and the “cloud” university.

Get to know the exemption system: a humanised learning outcomes management system

The Exam Exemption System is not new. Students can use the learning outcomes management system to apply for exemption from exams, while still obtaining course credits, certificates, diplomas, and practical experiences. The Exam Exemption System serves all; the self-taught, formerly formally enrolled students, newly graduated high school students, fifty-year young students, those from metropoles, as well as minority students from frontier settlements, find a human and flexible policy able to fulfil their diverse needs. The exam exemption policy will enhance the attraction and influence of open education, and promote communication between open education and other higher or non-degree education institutions.

Exam exemption counseling assists senior student with smooth enrolment

The year of 2007 saw the first day of Ms. Pei Haiyan’s career in the OUC’s Academic Affairs Department. She recalled her first call handling students’ issues, when she a little weak voice from a Guangxi student spoke across the line. She later learned that the student was over 50 years old. The senior student inquired in non-standard Mandarin, “Hello, I want to sign up to study law. I was happy to hear from teachers at the tutorial centre where I studied that there is an exam exemption policy for students my age. Is that true?” Pei Haiyan felt both nervous and excited; on one hand, green in handling such issues, she was afraid of giving an incorrect answer and misleading the student. On the other hand, she admired this student’s enthusiasm for learning. Pei Haiyan immediately looked up the relevant school policy, and she was very delighted when she found out the terms applicable to the student. Pei Haiyan confidently replied, “Yes, if you have reached the age of 40 when you enroll in the university, and the major you want to sign up for is not English, or if your household registration is within a minority settlement, and, again, the major you want to sign up for is not English, you can directly apply for the exemption from the national college-level English exam.” As a result, the OUC, with its open concept and more humane entrance policy, successfully enrolled this senior student, and helped her register smoothly. Age is no longer a barrier to enrol at the OUC.

Opening a network green channel: timely graduation within valid student enrolment periods

In 2009, Xiao Jin, cherishing his “college dream,” signed up for the OUC’s logistics management major. After nearly eight years of hard study, Xiao Jin finally completed the required undergraduate courses, and graduated in 2017. He thought he would successfully obtain his long-anticipated graduation certificate. However, when the graduation time drew near, he discovered his major scores didn’t meet the credit requirements of the graduation review. It turned out that he had failed to apply for exam exemption for one course. As his eight-year period of validity as a student was soon to expire, if he missed this graduation approval, his years of effort would be wasted. To resolve Xiao Jin’s immediate concerns, the OUC adopted an emergency solution of exam exemption management, quickly initiated the green network approval channel to increase approval times, and adjusted the original approval cycle of once per semester to approval at any time, as needed by applicants. It made full use of the convenience and speed of the network, greatly improved the efficiency of approval, and helped Xiao Jin graduate on time. The emergency exam exemption management plan completely eliminated students’ worries about the approval cycle, and helped students graduate on time.

Respond to state policies, and expand identification in a more open manner

In September 2016, the Ministry of Education issued its Opinion about Promoting Credit Accreditation and Transfer in Higher Education, which stated that, “By 2020, the credit accreditation and transfer system in higher education will be more perfect. The state-level public service platform will be built, the learner development “bridge” will be improved, continuing education and lifelong learning resources will be more abundant, and the means of these two education forms will be more flexible and their channels smoother. All of these will provide strong support for the basic formation of a learning society in which all people are able to pursue lifelong learning.” To meet this goal, the OUC revised its exam exemption management practices, further simplified courses’ accreditation procedures, expanded the scope of course accreditation, made possible the assessment and cataloguing of “ non-degree learning outcomes embodying one’s qualifications, competence and abilities, professional experience, vocational training, qualifications and certificates, online learning, internship and field studies, voluntary service, innovation and entrepreneurship, scientific researches, and so on,” and carried out research work and discussions. It complied with public needs, met students’ diverse requirements in a larger scope, welcomed thousands of new students through a more open attitude, and helped accredit more learning content.

Continue to open up and innovate: enhance exam exemption

To sum up the past ten years’ exploration, the Exam Exemption System has served millions of students with more humane policies and convenient services. Although gratifying achievements have been obtained, the OUC is also well aware that there are still disparities and insufficiencies in the learning outcomes within the whole network, when compared against economic and social changes, students’ diverse needs, and the objective of building a “cloud” university. At present, many issues, whether common problems, like certification standards, learning archives and the management platform, or core problems, like implementation, mechanism systems, and quality guarantee, must be explored, and solutions found. Reform remains the main theme of 2017. The exam exemption model of today is the result of painstaking efforts on behalf of all OUC staff. In the future, to provide better and more innovative services, the OUC people will work with more wisdom and strength. At the fifth anniversary of the founding of the OUC, the OUC staff will continue to blaze new trails, and promote the realisation of everyone being able to learn anytime and anywhere. There is no limit to the exam exemption service, and we will keep working hard on this ambition.

By Pei Haiyan and Wu Yaqi from