An Exploration of the Construction of the Open University of China Operating System Based on Self-Organization Theory

YAO Wenjian

Abstract: Self-organization theory explores the fundamental laws concerning natural changes and their formation based on the concepts of dissipative structure and synergetics. Deploying self-organization theory throughout research and design, will allow the RTVU system to adapt more easily to new situations and requirements. A grasp of features such as openness, cooperation, competitiveness, imbalance, variability and integrity will prompt the RTVU management to evolve from its current state of “hetero-organization” into the Open University of China (OUC) operating system based on “dynamic self-organization”. In this way, a complex adaptive system that can adjust itself according to its environment will be established. This will build up new functions and structures; innovate the management system and operation mechanism; strengthen the capacity for comprehensive coordination and support services; and upgrade the construction level and overall strength of the system. As a result, the OUC’s historic mission and development objective will be realized, and the OUC’s role in building a learning society will be given full play.

Key words: Self-organization theory, the OUC operating system, Complex adaptive system

The exploration of the open university construction model is a national education system reform pilot project led by the State Council. The construction of the OUC operating system is a major constituent part of the exploration of an OUC construction model[1]. The construction of the OUC operating system should rely on the RTVU system, since it both inherits and carries forward the advantages of the RTVU system. It aims to improve the urban and rural school network; overhaul current management systems and operation mechanisms; reform the school management model and learner formation model; and train high-quality teachers for open and distance education. It also shoulders the historic responsibility of increasing the overall strength of the OUC operating system and building a national education system for lifelong learning. As a result, the construction of the OUC operating system is a systematic project. The application of complex scientific methods in research and design will enable the above aims and responsibilities. As a primary tenet of complex science, self-organization theory aims to study the formation and development of complex self-organization systems such as life system and social system, based on the concepts of dissipative structure and synergetics, for example, how a system evolves spontaneously from disorder to order and from low-level order to high-level order under certain conditions[2]. An exploration of the various complex phenomena arising during the construction and development of the OUC operating system will help the RTVU’s management to evolve from “hetero-organization” to an OUC operating system based on “dynamic self-organization”.

I. The foundation and content of the construction of the OUC operating system

1. The achievements of the RTVU “bureaucratic management” system lays the foundation for the construction of the OUC operating system.

Bureaucracy, established on the basis of Max Weber’s organizational sociology, refers to an organization system and management style with function- and position-based hierarchical division of labour and rule as the managerial subject. According to Weber, from the perspective of pure technology, bureaucratic management rationalizes management to establish a “stable, rigorous, efficient and accurate” system[3]. As such, bureaucracy is both an organizational structure and a management style, which excels in terms of rigidity, rationality, stability and applicability, and is able to grant high efficiency to an organization. Over the course of more than 30 years of development, China’s RTVU system has undergone a number of phases: gradual formation (1979—1987), regular management (1988—1998), and reform and development (1999—2012). It has become the world’s largest open and distance education system, made up of the CCRTVU, 44 provincial RTVUs, 1,100 municipal RTVUs, nearly 2,000 county-level RTVUs, and more than 3,000 RTVU tutorial centres. The tree-like hierarchical system is usually referred to as the “RTVU system”. Its “bureaucratic management” mechanism of “overall planning, school operation at different levels, decentralized administration, and division of responsibility in combination with collaboration” ensures teaching quality and effective management. This has proved to be one of the outstanding strengths and primary features of China’s RTVUs (see Figure 1). Over the past 30 years, the RTVUs have constantly integrated and optimized various education resources geared to current economic and social conditions. The RTVUs’ distinctive achievements, such as “catch-up tutoring” and “compensatory education”, have made great contributions to the training of professionals for various industries, as well as to the development of the national and local economy as a whole. The RTVUs are also playing a more and more important role in the development of lifelong learning system and learning society.