I. Choice of enrollment method of open universities in the era of “Internet Plus”
1. Analysis of current enrollment method of open universities
At present, the Open University of China’s (OUC) enrollment management method of open universities consists of a system of headquarters, branches (the former provincial radio and TV universities, abbreviated as RTVU), colleges, and study centres or tutorial centres. After more than 30 years of radio and TV university development, the system has become a school network covering both urban and rural areas throughout China. An infrastructure for distance teaching, learner support for distance learning, a quality guarantee system, and other functions have been built to a high level through a uniquely coordinated division of labour and interdependent, orderly operation. During the annual enrollment season, this giant university advertises, offers consultation, organizes enrollment, examines entrance qualifications, and admits students through its study centres or tutorial centres in townships in each city or county across the country. Data related to students and enrollment is submitted to each branch or provincial RTVU. The branches gather students’ data in their respective regions and review students’ entrance qualifications. The materials of those qualified for entrance are passed on to OUC headquarters to their respective branch or provincial RTVU. Headquarters gathers the student list and makes final reviews through random sampling, and the approved data is finally submitted to the Ministry of Education. The cycle then repeats itself, with each year’s enrollment season going according to this basic process. Each biennial enrollment season, nearly one million students are admitted. The enrollment system has made great contributions to developing RTVUs and open universities over decades of practical operation. With the rapid development of today’s information technology and internet education, the system’s role and advantages have not been fully utilized due to limitations of the former enrollment system. Modern distance continuing education is far from fully utilizing modern information technology, and enrollment operations and management also need further reform.
2. Choosing an open university enrollment method in the era of “Internet Plus”
Today, the concept of “Internet Plus” is embedding itself deep into people’s minds. On July 4, 2015 the State Council released its Guiding Opinions on Actively Promoting the "Internet Plus" Action Plan (Guo Fa  No. 40). The Guiding Opinions explicitly call for taking “advantage of China's scale and applications of the Internet, and to adhere to market-oriented reform and innovation to energetically drive deep and comprehensive integration between the Internet and all socioeconomic fields.” Thus, a possible approach has been provided for us to study a way for the development of “internet plus enrollment” in open universities and to explore a solution for open universities to enroll using the Internet.
With the support of modern information technology, distance education universities form a network covering urban and rural areas across the country. Integrating Internet and enrollment management to optimize the popularity and competence of universities and their related specialties on the Internet is a major breakthrough for our future enrollment reform. Internet–based enrollment management expands enrollment, as well as improves efficiency and overall quality of enrollment management, cementing its role in the future of open universities.
II. Preliminary exploration into “Internet plus enrollment”
“Internet plus enrollment,” based on traditional enrollment policies, methods, and systems, utilizes and integrates modern network technology and new medium platforms to create an all-around, new, comprehensive Internet-based enrollment method in an online to offline (O2O) enrollment system.
1. Building a real network of online enrollment and registration
The nature and mission of open universities is to build an open, flexible, and powerful network platform to explore the development path for educational digitalization, and to constantly upgrade the capacity and service for school operations with the support of modern information technology. To achieve the goal of learning for all, anytime, anywhere, a real enrollment and registration network must be built. The current “OUC enrollment management system” places more emphasis on managing specialties, plans, and data of enrollment at its branches or provincial RTVUs, as well as at study or tutorial centres. The enrollment system is actually a management system. Consultation and registration through manual operations at local study or tutorial centres, or place of employment, continue to dominate enrollment. Only when the enrollment and registration network is built and goes live can each person with a genuine wish to learn get registered online, free from restrictions of both time and place. Such will be the beginning of real digitalized enrollment.
2. Integrating the enrollment team inside the open university system
The birth of the “Internet plus enrollment” method, which facilitates the enrollment of students at any time and in any place, extends the time period for enrollment, enriches enrollment content, and makes enrollment more complex. The new method and network tools necessitate both a restructuring of the enrollment team in the former system and systematic training on Internet enrollment so as to make seamless connections between enrollment policy, information, content, and channels. Such restructuring and training represent not only a process for enrollment staff to get to know and familiarize themselves with the new enrollment website, as well as Internet-based publicity means, but also a significant guarantee to achieve O2O coordination. With regard to the integration of resources within the system, OUC headquarters and branches must make constant assessments with the aim of developing a unique “Internet plus enrollment” method for open universities that achieves optimized enrollment results.
3. Strengthening expansion of online enrollment
At present, publicity of OUC enrollment is still in the form of enrollment posters, leaflets summarizing study majors, and press releases at the onset of each enrollment season. Since 2015, the OUC’s recruitment brochure was published in the People’s Daily and China Youth Daily with the aim of expanding its influence. However, the future Internet era dictates greater use of information technology. Today, a new medium increasingly used for enrollment is an official WeChat account, which has produced positive results. The use of an official WeChat account in enrollment assistance, if properly developed and operated, will not only build an effective Internet enrollment platform for the university, but also explore new means of improving the university’s recognition and reputation, creating a quality online teacher-student community, and becoming a major platform in the field of online education. Other approaches to increasing page views and queries sent to the university’s enrollment website include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), news sources, and new media marketing. These will become effective means generally adopted in future Internet enrollment strategies.
4. Building “network integration” of enrollment and teaching management
Open universities’ “Internet plus enrollment” platforms are beginning to take shape in the form of an enrollment team network and utilization of the enrollment network for publicity. However, it’s also necessary to integrate online learning with teaching in order to achieve optimized results of enrollment, the ultimate goal. After achieving online enrollment, the next objective will be for students to learn online through online courses, teaching teams, teaching spaces, learning assessments, credit banks, and the online Confucius Institute. A prototype and trial of “network integration” shall take place before online enrollment. Part of some online courses and learning spaces should be open for potential learners to trial, so as to attract interested learners and give them a full understanding of both degree and non-degree studies at open universities, and to engage them in related studies.
III. Opportunities and challenges facing “Internet plus enrollment”
Today’s society is gradually evolving into a world closely linked by the Internet. The birth of “Internet plus” has greatly changed not only people’s ideas, but also their way of life and behaviour. As far as enrollment is concerned, the appearance of “Internet plus enrollment” will not only greatly change our future enrollment means, but also bring new opportunities and challenges to enrollment work.
1. Opportunities faced by “Internet plus enrollment”
“Internet plus,” the evolution of the Internet, and its new type of economic and social development in knowledge society, is creating change in the world today. “Internet plus” has not only influenced a number of industries in today’s world but also reformed related industries. At present, e-commerce, internet finance (ITFIN), online travel, online film and television, online real estate, and other such industries, which are all familiar to the public, are masters of “Internet plus.” Increasingly more universities and educational institutions across the world are exploring the integration of the Internet and education. In March 2015, Premier Li Keqiang raised an “Internet Plus” action plan in a government work report for the first time to drive the integration of mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data, and Internet of Things with modern manufacturing industry, with the aim of promoting sound e-commerce, an industrial Internet, and ITFIN development, as well as guiding Internet enterprises to expand international markets. Furthermore, with the fast growth of netizens in recent years in China and people’s increasing enthusiasm for working and studying using the Internet, the crisis in routine enrollment of students in the open university system is constantly urging us to free our minds and explore reform ideas. To this end, OUC education and enrollment will make use of “Internet plus enrollment” to adapt to changes and development around the world and China, and seize a rare opportunity for strategic transformation of OUC enrollment.
2. Challenges generated by “Internet plus enrollment”
The use of the “Internet plus” in OUC enrollment is an opportunity, but it also means more challenges as well. As far as the open university system is concerned, there are numerous challenges to meet before realizing Internet plus enrollment. Some challenges include how to deal with the division of labour and sharing of power, as well as material and financial resources among OUC headquarters, branches, and study centres during the enrollment process. In addition, much thought must be put into how to balance the former enrollment system with the new one under the “Internet plus” mechanism, how to build an enrollment website and its corresponding online courses, online learning spaces, and online teaching teams. Moreover, various conflicts hidden within the system of open universities will continue to emerge. Outside the open university system, more and more distance education institutions are getting involved with the emergence of the Internet, MOOCs, and Internet plus in recent years. These institutions are always more flexible and move faster in reform. In particular, network operators of IT companies, including Tencent, Baidu, 360, YY, and various other large companies, have successively made progress toward online education. The benefits to the OUC are great, though there are also challenges the OUC must face in the future.
With the arrival of the “Internet plus” era, and given the new opportunities and challenges, the OUC urgently needs to keep enrollment in line with new Internet era trends. The new OUC enrollment management method will be developed through analysis of the online platform, team, publicity, and integration of enrollment. As “Internet plus enrollment” is new, it is sure to generate all kinds of difficulties and challenges in the future. However, as long as the OUC continues exploring the development path of educational digitalization supported by modern information technology, as well as remains enterprising in its outlook and practical in its work style, “Internet plus enrollment” will become the enrollment management tool of open universities in the future. As such, the OUC must make solid preparations to achieve open universities’ goal of making learning available anytime and anywhere.
By Li Jie, OUC