Pilot Construction of Open University: Issues and Policies

WANG Yongfeng

(Open University of China, Beijing, 100039)

Abstract: This paper discusses the historical background, logic, and significance of the establishment of open universities in China. It explains that open universities are a new type of education group, civilian university, online university, workplace university, and mega university. The “tolerant entry and strict exit” quality assurance system has been improved, the construction mechanism of teaching resources has been modernized, and measures for enriching the construction of open universities have been taken by innovating cooperative education and learner development models, thus establishing and protecting the reputation of open universities. Relevant policies and suggestions are presented to improve the government’s support and management of open universities.

Key words:Open University; Construction Pilot; Issue; Policy

Since 2010, the Open University of China (OUC) has made continuous pilot reforms within the national education system in accordance with the relevant requirements of the State Council, leading to periodic achievements and key breakthroughs. However, we are still faced with many new problems when the reforms enter a deep-water zone. Back in early 2013, it was clearly indicated by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in its document Opinion on Deepening Comprehensive Reform in the Field of Education in 2013 (Jiao Gai [2013]  No. 1) “to make guiding proposals on strengthening the construction of open universities”. Lu Xin also said in an article in 2014, “The MOE will strengthen the system construction of open universities” [1]Nevertheless, the relevant policy documents on open universities have yet to be issued by the MOE. As seen from the pilot work over these years, more attention has been given to open universities by various social circles, but few significant agreements have been reached on how to construct open universities. In fact, new scientific pilot policies must be formulated to deepen the pilot construction of open universities, which is also the top focus of universities and experts. Problem-oriented policy-making will deepen comprehensive reform, thus leading to new proposals and new measures to deal with major issues of public perception and new problems in the pilot work, ultimately giving rise to timely solutions based on the successful experience of the pilot phase. To this end, this paper focuses on research related to the following four issues: the exploration and progress of open universities in China, further understanding of the meaning of open universities as new type of university, the establishment and protection of the reputation of open universities in China, and the improvement of the government’s support and management of open universities.

I. Exploration and Progress of Open Universities in China

1.Judgment of the “Two Periods”

From a historical perspective, the exploration path of open universities with Chinese characteristics can be traced back over 30 years, and can be mainly divided into two periods. First is the establishment and development of radio and TV universities (RTVUs), the second is the establishment and construction of pilot open universities. The first period was marked by the promulgation of the State Council’s formal document of 1979, which directly led to the establishment of 28 provincial RTVUS. The major causes were international experience, state will, advocacy of great men, and historical expectations. The second period was marked by the proposal “sound management of open universities” in the National Outline for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020) (hereinafter referred to as the “Outline” )s of the National Education Plan, July 2010. It was explained in the State Council’s document of October 2010 (Guo Ban Fa [2010] No. 48) that China Central Radio and Television University (CCRTVU) along with Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Yunnan, with their municipal or provincial RTVUs as the primary task undertakers, were to take on the responsibility of pilot reform “to explore the construction of open universities”. In 2012, six open universities were established with the approval of the MOE. The major drivers in this period were the national needs, popular demand, government direction, and expert promotion.

We are currently in the midst of a transition period marked by the overlapping and coexistence of both RTVUs and open universities, which is characterized by the interaction of the present and the past, the transformation of the system, the continuing advancement of pilot projects, and the upgrading of the structural organization. From a historical and realistic perspective, the RTVU system continues to be transformed and upgraded to the new open university system. One of the direct objectives of the current trials of the first six open universities is to accumulate experience for the overall transformation and upgrading of the entire RTVU system. This is the strategy instituted by the government, universities, and experts. From the perspective of development, it is the very mission dictated by our era to advance the pilot construction of open universities and the transformation and upgrading of RTVUs. However, the final system of open universities with Chinese characteristics has yet to take shape in terms of its structure, relationship, and formation. A number of factors have yet to be confirmed, such as policy choices of the central and local governments, the relative strength of various open universities, and the roles of local RTVUs in the transition.

2.Understanding the Reasons for the Establishment of Open Universities

The key issue is why we need to establish open universities. The establishment of open universities in China represents the state will, government action, the purpose of universities, as well a strategic response to development trends in international higher education. With the advancement of the modern world and the transition of the economy and society, conditions inside and outside the RTVUs have undergone profound changes, and open universities have emerged that are appropriate for this era in China. Hao Keming said in his article that the establishment of open universities was a major strategic measure to accelerate the construction of the national lifelong learning system, which would produce a great and far-reaching influence.The author’s understanding of the national rationale behind the establishment of open universities is as follows: Firstly, the goal is not limited to the establishment of one or even one batch of schools, or the enrollment of a few students, but to fundamentally solve the major problems of educational systems and mechanisms at the national level, especially those for adult education and continuing education in China; Secondly, it is not simply a way to address internal open university problems; Thirdly, the purpose is to find methods of offering the general public a more flexible and easy education programme, learning resources, learning opportunities, and support, with the united goal of promoting lifelong learning for all; Fourthly, it is a major measure to positively meet the requirements of national and social development against the broader background of the times and under existing economic and social conditions.

3.Understanding the Significance of the Establishment of Open Universities

To put it briefly, the establishment of open universities is of significance in the following four respects: Firstly, it fits in line with the need to cultivate thousands of high quality trained, technical, and innovative talents in line with the implementation of a series of social and economic development strategies across China, including the construction of a powerful country of human resources, the advancement of new type of urbanization, the acceleration of transformative economic development, and the promotion of industrial transformation and upgrading; Secondly, it is a major measure to improve the quality of the entire nation and the construction of a lifelong learning education system and a learning society; Thirdly, it is an important way to create opportunities for education in line with the advancement of educational equality in an effort to make quality resources and support accessible to all levels of society and in diverse regions, such as people in the old revolutionary areas, students in local communities, on-the-job staff, and servicemen, as well as rural, remote, poverty-stricken, and ethnic minority areas; Fourthly, it is a major measure to develop the modern vocational education system to provide students in vocational schools with an upgraded path to degree education, to promote the communication and connection of open universities and secondary and higher vocational schools, and to promote the strategic adjustment and coordinated development of the education infrastructure in China.