In the 33 years since its establishment, China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU) has become an important component in China's higher education system, with a schooling system covering all of urban and rural areas in China. This "university without walls" has contributed 9.5 million graduates to the nation's economic growth and social development. On June 21, 2012, the Ministry of Education issued an official

document approving the establishment of the Open University of China (OUC) on the basis of CCRTVU. Starting a new, glorious chapter in its history, the Open University of China will scientifically build upon its outstanding traditions and proud history to construct a new type of university supported by modern information technology. The university will promote degree and non-degree continuing education, implement open and distance education, and contribute to the construction of a society in which every citizen is committed to lifelong learning.According to the document issued by the Ministry of Education, the Open University of China is a new type of higher education institution offering open and distance education using modern information technology. It will promote both degree and non-degree continuing education, and fall directly under the administration of the Ministry of Education. This is a key milestone in the phased implementation of the National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020) and in the promotion of education innovation, and also a strategic initiative of profound significance in the construction of a society of universal learning and lifelong learning.

Caring Leadership

The Open University of China is founded upon CCRTVU, which was established by Comrade Deng Xiaoping himself. Since its establishment, CCRTVU has received the care and attention of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. 

In October 1976, the 10-year “Cultural Revolution” officially came to an end, but its devastating effects would remain for many years. At that time, the national economy was on the verge of collapse. Education, technology and culture had been dashed to pieces. China's education spending in proportion to gross national product was second to last worldwide. Only 11.6 out of 10,000 persons received higher education, which ranked the ninth worst in the world. Less than 3% of workers had associate degree or above schooling. More than 80% of workers had junior high school education or below. An entire generation missed the opportunity to receive higher education. There was a shortage of qualified human resources in all sectors of society. At that point in history, in order to recover the national economy and advance as a modernized socialist state, the most urgent issue to overcome was that of human resources. 

In 1977, Deng Xiaoping returned to power and volunteered to be in charge of science and education. In order to address the shortage of qualified human resources, he suggested restoring the university entrance exam system immediately. Thus, after a 10-year suspension, the policy of university admission through entrance exam was reinstated. In that year, 5.7 million students took the university entrance exam. However, due to the limited number of universities and shortage of resources, admission was greatly limited—only 270,000 students were admitted. The other 5.4 million examinees, as well as millions more who sought higher education but were unable to register for the exam, were left out in the cold. The situation was paradoxical, but there was no alternative given the conditions at the time. Nonetheless, resolving this paradoxical situation was the only way to fundamentally resolve the issues of human resources, economic construction, scientific development and social construction. 

At the end of 1977, former UK Prime Minister Edward Heath visited China and met with Deng Xiaoping. Deng felt that China could learn from the UK's use of modern technology to establish open universities and give more people a college education. Afterwards, under Deng's guidance, relevant departments immediately established a leadership team to prepare for the establishment of China Central Radio and TV University. Vice Premier Fang Yi, at the National Science Conference and first working conference for the establishment of CCRTVU, called for the active establishment of a TV university and noted that the TV university was the modern means by which China could raise the scientific and cultural level of its people. In April 1978, Deng stated at the National Education Working Conference, “We should not only see our short term needs, but also foresee our long term needs. We should not only meet demands of production and construction, but also sufficiently anticipate development trends of modern science and technology.” “We must conduct research on what type of higher education institution to develop.” “We should accelerate the development of modern education channels such as television and radio, which are better, faster and more economical. We should attach great importance to it.”

Owing to the vigorous support and promotion by Deng Xiaoping, preparation for the establishment of a radio and TV university proceeded rapidly. In January 1979, the State Council issued an official document stating, “The establishment of a radio and TV university is a new development in higher education in China. It will play an important role in extending the scale of higher education, raising the scientific and cultural level of the masses, and accelerating the development of socialist-minded and highly skilled professionals.” The document further declared that all provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities and related central departments should fully support the establishment of the university. On February 6, 1979, after more than one year of intense preparation, the establishment of China Central Radio and TV University and 28 provincial Radio and TV Universities was declared and a grand opening ceremony was held. That day marked the birth of CCRTVU, the start of a new era of educational innovation and a breakdown of conventional barriers. 

The Central Committee and State Council took great interest in the reform and development of the RTVU system. Jiang Zemin, Li Peng and other party and state leaders issued many important directives and decisions regarding radio and TV education. In 1996, Jiang Zemin and other central leaders penned words of encouragement for CCRTVU, committing it to “effectively implement radio and TV education and enhance the nation’s quality”. They also noted, “The TV university is an important pathway for the development of higher education in China.” In the third National Education Working Conference in 1999, Comrade Jiang Zemin stated, “We should utilize the modern distance education network to form an open education system which covers all urban and rural areas in China and provides multi-level, diverse education services to all members of society.” 

In the new era, Vice Premier Li Lanqing, NPC Standing Committee Vice Chairman Chen Zhili and other leaders made visiting inspections of CCRTVU's schooling many times, and gave important instructions on how radio and TV universities should be run. In 2007, President Hu Jintao directed in the 17th Communist Party Congress Report, “Develop distance education and continuing education, and build a learning society in which every citizen is committed to learning and pursues lifelong learning.”

The attention, care and support from the party and the nation provided clear direction and impetus for the development of the RTVU system, and continue to push forward its advancement today. 

Development in the Face of Challenges

In 33 years, CCRTVU has arisen from nonexistence and made the difficult journey to becoming a large, strong educational institution, alongside China's historic growth and reformation. Looking back over the past 33 years of trials and hardships, we can identify three distinct phases in the development of CCRTVU: 

First, the establishment and development period (1979-1989). In this period, the primary mission of CCRTVU was to help the millions of young people who were not able to go to college due to the 10-year Cultural Revolution and address the shortage of talented professionals. This involved exploring new pathways of development, creating new methods for cultivating professionals, constructing a system of disciplines, programmes and curricula, vigorously developing higher degree education for working adults, and expanding the scale of higher education enrollment. In 1979, CCRTVU recruited more than 417,000 students, among which 115,000 were general subject students and 302,000 were single subject students. In addition, approximately 100,000 trial students were enrolled. Including students at remote campuses listening to radio and TV courses, more than 600,000 students across China took courses with CCRTVU. In the 10 years from 1979 to 1989, CCRTVU recruited 1.61 million degree students with 1.04 million graduating, and 2 million non-degree students. The annual average number of students graduating with degrees comprised 17.1% of the total number of graduates in China, which greatly helped alleviate the shortage of professionals. 

Second, the multi-dimensional exploration period (1990-1998). In this period, the primary mission of CCRTVU was to conduct a multi-level and multi-channel exploration of open education. The emphasis was on transformation: from half-open schooling to open schooling, from associate degree education only to multi-purpose education. An audio-visual self-study system was implemented. Undergraduate degree education for associate degree students and associate-level basic course education were instituted as pilot programmes. High quality educational resources were integrated into TV programmes and courses for technical personnel in rural areas, educated village youths, small town employees and farmers. Knowledge of agricultural technology and business management spread to rural areas, and the cultural and technical level of the agricultural labor force was improved. Keeping pace with the evolution of information technology, CCRTVU continued to promote education modernization through establishment of the RTVU Computer Network Association, CAI Courseware Development Association, live TV broadcasting classrooms, multimedia network classrooms, and a multimedia research and development center. 

Third, the “open education” phase (1999-2012). By the end of 20th century, China's economy, society, and higher education all reached historic new levels of development. In order to adapt to domestic and international developments, the Central Committee and the State Council convened the third National Education Working Conference and issued the “Action Scheme for Invigorating Education Towards the 21st Century” which called for “the implementation of modern distance education”. In April 1999, the Ministry of Education issued “Several Opinions on the CCRTVU Professional Cultivation Reform and Open Education Pilot Research Project”, requiring that CCRTVU “explore and construct the basic framework and teaching modes, management modes and operating mechanisms for associate degree education and undergraduate education (for associate degree holders) in a modern distance education environment” and “produce a great number of high quality professionals capable of meeting the grass-roots, regional needs of economic construction and social development in China.” The university pilot programme includes enrollment without entrance examinations and merit-based registration. Recruitment targets are working adults and community youths with regular high school, vocational high school or equivalent education. Academic credits are valid for 8 years, during which students can study independently using textbooks, radio (audio), TV (video), CAI courseware and websites according to their needs. Instructors provide necessary face-to-face tutorials and learner support services for the entire course of study. CCRTVU is responsible for unified student management and issue of graduation certificates for the entire RTVU system. This exploration of open education has accelerated the mass higher education in China, promoted the sharing and joint construction of high quality teaching resources, formed a basic framework for cultivating professionals using open methods suited to China, and provided a new mechanism to guarantee the quality of such open and distance education. 

Unlike traditional universities which operate independently from one another, CCRTVU has taken advantage of its central vs. regional structure throughout its development. It adheres to a “coordinated planning, hierarchical schooling, hierarchical management, division of labor” strategy and has gradually built up a vast schooling system which covers all urban and rural areas nationwide. In addition to CCRTVU, there are 44 provincial RTVUs, 1125 prefecture-level RTVUs, 1827 county-level RTVUs, 3000 teaching stations, 60,000 classes and 120,000 staff. 

Over the past 33 years, especially since the open education pilot project, CCRTVU has made rapid progress in implementing a comprehensive schooling system under the guidance and support of the Ministry of Education, party committees, governments and relevant departments. For 33 years, CCRTVU has utilized its systematic schooling methods to prepare 9.5 million undergraduate and associate degree graduates for society, and actively carried out all kinds of non-degree continuing education for 60 million persons, including vocational education, community education, senior citizen education, online training for party member cadres, specialized skills training, and cultural entertainment activities. CCRTVU has produced a great number of professionals for China's economic construction and social development, provided many learners with higher education opportunities, and contributed greatly to the personal enhancement and increased capabilities of the labor force. Furthermore, as a special type of education, CCRTVU expanded the definition of higher education, accelerated the mass higher education and education equality, and laid an important foundation for the advancement of a learning society where learning is universal and lifelong. 

Beneficial for People’s Livelihood

Since its establishment, CCRTVU has closely tied its own value with the mission given to it by the nation and the people. The university has maintained the operational philosophy of “serving the society from the grass-roots level” and has provided education oriented to the lowest levels of society, to industries, to rural areas, to remote and minority regions. It has spared no effort in helping the common people and those with special needs narrow the education gap and achieve education equality. Currently, the school boasts 3,590,000 undergraduate and associate degree students, among which 55% come from the central and western regions and more than 70% come from grassroots backgrounds. 

In order to help cultivate professionals in rural areas, CCRTVU launched the “One Village, One University Graduate Plan” in 2004 under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. This plan extends higher education to the rural areas through open and distance education, and trains technical and management personnel who are willing to stay in rural areas to become local leaders in economic development, agricultural production, agricultural technology and cultural enhancement. This has helped to increase farmers' income, promote local social and economic development, and expedite the construction of new socialist rural communities. As of 2011, CCRTVU has set up 18 major programmes for the “One Village, One University Graduate Plan” and enrolled a cumulative total of 328,500 students. 172,200 students have graduated and 156,300 students are currently studying at the university. 

In order to maintain stability in border areas and promote education in ethnic minority areas, CCRTVU and Tibet University jointly established the OUC School of Tibet in 2002. This school relies on CCRTVU's teaching network, infrastructure and faculty, and uses modern distance education technology to provide learners in the Tibetan region with greater access to higher education and lifelong education. As of 2011, the School of Tibet offers 11 major programmes including law and Chinese language and literature. Cumulative enrollment is 5750, with 2953 graduates and 2797 active students. In addition, based on practical consideration of circumstances in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, CCRTVU established a series of “bilingual” courses, launched training for Chinese language teaching, and contributed significantly to the education and cultural development of ethnic minority areas. Currently, there are 181,900 ethnic minority students enrolled at CCRTVU. 

In order to strengthen the military and improve the overall education of noncommissioned officers, the Ministry of Education and the General Staff Department (GSD) of the People’s Liberation Army authorized CCRTVU to establish Bayi College in 2000, GSD College in 2001 and Air Force College in 2009. These colleges rely on teaching centers and study centers set up by military institutions, and use distance education technology and multimedia teaching models to provide open degree education for noncommissioned officers. The schooling prepares officers for both military and civilian services with a focus on military application. It has been called the “university without walls” and allows officers to realize their dream of “going to college without leaving camp”. As of 2011, the military has set up 488 teaching centers, cumulative enrollment is 179,700, and 103,800 have graduated. Currently, there are 75,900 active students. 

In order to reflect a spirit of caring and to help the disabled become more independent, CCRTVU and China Disabled Persons' Federation jointly established the School for the Disabled in 2002. This school relies on teaching centers jointly established by local RTVUs and local disabled persons' federations, and offers a new, effective pathway to equality and social integration to disabled persons who are able to study. It provides open degree education and non-degree education including job training, practical technical training and rehabilitation training. As of 2011, cumulative enrollment is 7925, with 2881 graduates and 5044 active students. 

Moreover, CCRTVU also uses its unique characteristics and advantages to offer all kinds of non-degree continuing education. During the 11th five-year period, non-degree continuing education developed rapidly. On average, approximately 3 million students are enrolled in non-degree continuing education each year, which is more than 1/3 of the total size of non-degree higher education students in China. 

Concerning community education, CCRTVU formulated and implemented a “community education promotion plan”, established a “community education research center”, and set up 44 community education experimental centers nationwide. The university has produced approximately 100,000 minutes of audio-visual resources that can be used in community education. It has named 16 provincial RTVUs as community colleges, built community colleges at 6 local RTVUs, and established community education guidance centers or lifelong education committees at some provincial RTVUs. Grassroots governmental agencies also rely on the RTVU network to promote community education. 

In order to strengthen the party's commitment to learning, the RTVU system handles training resource construction for the Central Organization Department's “party cadres online learning” project and the “modern distance education for party cadres in rural areas” project. The RTVU system has produced more than 700 hours of diverse study resources and improved the overall education of party members through the “cadre online” network training platform. Currently, hundreds of thousands of cadres have been trained through programmes in Yunnan, Xi’an, Harbin, Guizhou, Tianjin, Anhui, Hunan and Shanxi, which has contributed greatly to the construction of a party committed to learning.  

The facts show that the establishment of RTVU system was a great fulfillment of Deng Xiaoping’s educational ideals and a groundbreaking undertaking in the history of China's higher education. The RTVU system probed the successful path to better, faster and more economical education under relatively poor socio-economic conditions. It explored practical ways to construct a society of universal learning and lifelong learning despite imbalance in regional development. It developed effective methods for integrating modern information technology and education, and formed a distance education schooling system with Chinese characteristics. The RTVU system has become an important part of China's higher education, the backbone of modern distance education in China, an important support for promoting a society of universal learning and lifelong learning, and a solid foundation for building open universities in China. 


Reform and Innovation Accelerates Transition

Since the 16th CPC National Congress, the Central Committee led by General Secretary Hu Jintao has clearly seen from its strategic vantage point the need to construct a lifelong education system, strengthen vocational education and training, develop distance education and continuing education, build a society of universal and lifelong learning, promote the overall development of citizens, and turn China with its massive population into a human resources world power.

In 2010, the Central Committee and State Council convened the first National Education Working Conference of the 21st century and issued the "National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020)". The outline clearly states that by 2020, education modernization should be basically complete, a society committed to learning should take shape, and China should become a human resources world power. The outline also includes requirements to “vigorously develop modern distance education”, “innovate network teaching models, and provide high quality and high level distance degree education”, and “effectively operate open universities”. These goals and assignments pointed a clear direction forward for the construction, reform, and development of the Open University of China. 

It is clear that current forms of education are undergoing profound changes. Development trends indicate that a new era of education is dawning. In terms of the concept of education, the traditional concept of limiting education to a certain age group is shifting to the modern concept of lifelong education and lifelong learning. In terms of value orientation, the traditional focus on educating a small number of elites is changing to the modern mindset of concern for education of the masses. In terms of study methods, the traditional emphasis on “teaching” is changing into the modern emphasis on “learning”. In terms of application of education technologies, the traditional practice of quickly digitizing teaching content is moving towards the modern practice of closely integrating technology and education.

In general, education is changing from a more traditional and closed state into a more modern and open state. History has led to open education as a new alternative, and open universities are the embodiment of this alternative. 

The open university is a new type of university. Open learning is its basic characteristic, and it emphasizes the openness of educational concepts, schooling methods, study targets and learning resources. It offers the opportunity for higher education to every member of society who is willing and able to study. Since the establishment of the Open University in the UK in the early 1970's, open universities have attracted widespread interest due to their unique schooling concepts, methods, value orientation, and practical benefits. They are currently supported by governments of various countries and have become an important global trend in higher education reform. 

Worldwide, many developed countries and developing countries have implemented this new type of university and accumulated a great deal of experience, realizing “large scale, high quality, low cost” to varying degrees. Their successful experiences are worth researching, referencing, and adopting. Meanwhile, we should further sort out and summarize our own good experiences and methods, and move forward with exploration on how to develop an outstanding open university in China and make the strategic transition from RTVU to open university.  

From a historical perspective, although RTVUs have characteristics of open universities, they are not open enough and cannot fully meet the practical needs of the developing economy and society. The establishment of the Open University of China is not simply a name change for CCRTVU, but a new historic starting point and strategic transition aimed to fulfill national development needs, adapt to changing technology and accomplish national strategic goals.  

The Open University of China is fundamentally different from regular universities. It emphasizes provision to all members of society and attaches equal importance to degree continuing education and non-degree continuing education. It focuses on the gathering, integration and sharing of high quality learning resources, and as a university without walls, it transcends limitations of space and time. This new type of university must be rooted in modern information technology. It must construct an open, flexible and powerful network platform, develop digital learning resources, explore education digitization and modernization, and continue to upgrade its operation and services. It must use satellite, television, the Internet and mobile terminals to deliver various degree and non-degree continuing education activities with diverse form and rich content. It must continue to drive reform and continuously advance the education industry while resolving various current and historical issues. It must adapt to new trends, rise to new challenges, become a new leap forward, satisfy the lifelong learning needs of each citizen, and help realize the ideal of making learning accessible to any person, any time, any place. 

We should clearly realize that this strategic transition is a difficult process full of challenges. Much still remains to be done. As a pilot unit for the “exploration of a open university construction model” in the national education system reform project, the Open University of China will follow the requirements for establishing a new type of university and vigorously advance research on four fronts: First, based on the requirement to construct a society where every citizen is committed to learning and pursues lifelong learning, research construction of a new university oriented to all members of society and which adheres to the operating principles of “openness, responsibility, quality, diversity and internationalization”. The schooling system will cover all urban and rural areas, and will implement enrollment by registration and flexible learning with lenient entry, stringent exit. It will be a new type of university without walls that cares for special regions and groups, and provides the society with flexible, diverse, and individualized learning opportunities and services. Second, based on modern trends in information technology, research construction of a new university guided by demand, focus on application, and promote collaborative innovation. It will continually strive for higher quality, larger scale, and lower cost while it integrates modern information technology into education. It will focus on core construction on the Internet, including its core courses, study space, teaching teams, study evaluation, and Confucius institute. Third, based on the development trends of the economy, society and education reform, research construction of a new university that equally promotes degree education and non-degree education, and focuses on cultivating practical professionals and improving the quality of its graduates. It will offer a new study model of internet-based self study with distance learner support combined with face-to-face tutorial. It will vigorously develop vocational training, community education, education for seniors, and general citizen education. Fourth, based on the requirement to build a "flyover" for lifelong learning, research construction of a new university that offers a credit bank and enables the bridging and communication between all types of education. It will ensure the recognition, accumulation and transfer of different learning accomplishments, and accelerate the construction of lifelong learning system.

In summary, the Open University of China has emerged at a promising time with a noble historic mission. The establishment of the Open University of China is a new direction in education reform and also a complicated social system project. This is merely the first step in a long journey. We firmly believe that under the direct leadership of the Ministry of Education and with strong support from all levels of government and all sectors of society, we will certainly succeed in building the Open University of China, and we will make a great new contribution to China's socio-economic development, to the pursuit of socialist modernization, and to the overall development of Chinese people.  

CCRTVU provides distance degree education to military personnel for both military and civilian services. Army officers can “go to college without leaving the camp.”

Classroom during the early days of CCRTVU

CCRTVU provides distance degree education to the physically disabled, helping them become equal and productive members of society.

 Source: China Education Daily