The Opening Ceremony of the 4th China International Senior Services Expo & the 4th Forum of the Development of Chinese Senior Service Industry has just wrapped up. At the Expo, the exhibition on education for older adults attracted a lot of attention from seniors and the media, becoming a hot spot of the Expo. The senior service column at Xinhuanet held an exclusive interview with President of the Open University of China (OUC) Yang Zhijian to get to know the  current status of the education industry for older adults.

Xinhuanet: Why did the OUC build the Open University for Older Adults?

Yang Zhijian: With China’s looming aging society, the aging population has imposed great pressure and challenges on our country and our society.

On the one hand, as an institutional organization directly under the Ministry of Education, the OUC is an important system supporting lifelong learning in our country. With the advantages of our own organization system, information platform, and digital learning resources, we adhere to our tenet and should actively undertake our social responsibility to promote education for older adults and prepare for the construction of the Open University for Older Adults.

On the other hand, to effectively deal with the social crisis brought by the aging population, the State Council, the Chinese government, and related ministries have been issuing direction to the OUC for some time, asking us to build the Open University for Older Adults by leveraging our own advantages and making our due contribution to education for the seniors of our country. Therefore, we set up the Open University for Older Adults for these two reasons.

Xinhuanet: What is the positioning of the Open University for Older Adults?

Yang Zhijian: The Open University for Older Adults is set up by integrating social forces and cooperating with related units and institutions, with modern information technology as its support. The University is mainly targeted towards older adults and practitioners in the senior service industry and carries out degree and non-degree education for them.

First, the positioning for older adults is to offer them cultural services, such as providing classes and entertainment to meet their spiritual needs. The University mainly opens relevant courses for them to meet their demand for cultural services.

Second, the positioning for the practitioners in the senior service industry is to cultivate some social workers and nursing personnel for serving older adults. Through the training, they can expect to have their professional skills and professional spirit achieve the national standards.

Xinhuanet: With the onset of an aging society, many institutions like the Open University for Older Adults have also appeared. Comparing these institutions, what are the advantages and characteristics of the Open University for Older Adults?

Yang Zhijian: As far as I know, there are nearly 50,000 such institutions and they are comprised of various forms. For example, some such institutions are run by a social group or a certain community organization. Often, these institutions are just gathering places for older adults, with less education and learning opportunities. Different from other education institutions for older adults, the Open University for Older Adults is an agency set up within the OUC, with education and training as the purpose. The University is well planned and organized with a standard structure and contents. Besides, it has a special focus on the characteristics of its education group, ensuring the education quality of their online study and entertainment at school.

Xinhuanet: Do you have some specific measures to strengthen the construction of the Open University for Older Adults?

Yang Zhijian: Under the leadership of the Ministry of Education, the OUC closely focuses on accelerating the education for older adults and actively planning the construction of the Open University for Older Adults to make full implementation of the related tasks:

First, promulgating opinions. The exclusive personnel of the OUC were designated to Shandong, Guangdong, Hebei, Hainan, Sichuan, Beijing and other places to conduct a field investigation and demand analysis on the current status of the universities for older adults, welfare institutes, nursing home, and apartments for the aged. Such information was collected for research on the basic theory and practice of education for older adults. Then, based on this research, the OUC formed and issued Guidance Opinions on the OUC’s Strengthening Education for older adults to guide the OUC and the whole education system in carrying out the related work on education for seniors;

Second, setting up a leadership group. The OUC has selected some specialized personnel from related departments to set up a leadership group for education of older adults and preparation working group of the Open University for Older Adults. These working groups guarantee the education for the elderly and the construction of the Open University for Older Adults in terms of organization;

Third, opening relevant majors. Two higher vocational majors, namely, Senior Services and Management, and Senior Social Work, were opened, and these two majors started their nationwide enrollment from the spring of 2015;

Fourth, website introduction. Giving full play to the advantages of the OUC’s platform, technology, and resources in the areas of educational informatization. The first stage of the informatization platform construction of the Open University for Older Adults has been completed, with its website portal (the acronym for LaoNianDaXue) being officially launched into operation. For stage I, 204 classes with 1,700 videos and a total of 66,000 minutes of high quality video courses were available, all of which are open to older adults and practitioners in the senior service industry for free. During the 3-month trial run, the total number of visits to the website has amounted to over 1.07 million persons. At the same time, mobile client-based new media, "Happy Learning Class" public WeChat account "Open University for Older Adults" and its service account have been put into full operation. In particular, the total number of visits to its WeChat subscription account has reached 680,000;

Fifth, conducting training. The OUC focuses on developing training programmes oriented for older adults, for example, calligraphy, painting, dancing, choir, tai chi, bridge, and smart phones; as well as developing “academic tour” projects with the theme of "traveling around" for older adults. Through our cooperation with Retired Veteran Cadres Bureau of Shijingshan District in Beijing, Fengtai Aging Office, Wanshoulu Community, Beixiaguan Community, Huilongguan Community, 12 universities for older adults, community colleges, and 8 apartments for the aged, we have achieved great initial results through online learning and offline interaction. For practitioners in the senior service industry, we operate in cooperation with China Association of Social Welfare, Peking University Health Science Centre, and Huaxia Zhongqing Housekeeping Service Company to develop training programmes, such as senior care, senior dietitian, and senior health management. Over 3,000 senior care practitioners from Beijing Homemaking Service Association have received the training;

Sixth, completing the planning and design of the Healthy and Artistic Pension Service Experiential National Demonstration Centre (hereinafter referred to as the National Demonstration Centre). Relying on the self-owned land of the conference centre of the OUC at Weishanzhuang town, Daxing District of Beijing, the OUC made preparations for the construction of National Demonstration Centre. The total construction area for the planning and design of the National Demonstration Centre covers more than 100,000 square meters. It is hoped that the National Demonstration Centre can be built into a demonstrative and standard one being equipped with advanced facilities and excellent management that can be displayed and replicated.

                                                                          by Xinhuanet-Xinhua Senior Service Column