A Tentative Analysis of Collaborative Governance of Community Education in Open Universities

Zhou Yanjun 

Abstract: Community education is a key constituent of both lifelong education and community governance. Phased achievements have been made in the collaborative governance of community education in open universities, but a number of problems still exist. Open universities have enthusiastically advanced community education, laying an ideological foundation for collaborative governance. They have focused on coordination in order to form clear guidance for collaborative governance; paid attention to system coordination to offer a system guarantee for collaborative governance; developed coordinated processed to promote the orderly operation of collaborative governance; and upheld coordination in purpose in order to ensure that collaborative governance has a real benefit to the people. Open universities should improve the school running system coordinated by the government; promote the coordination of several government departments and the improvement of the fund input mechanism; staff teaching and management teams by relying on social strength; use cooperation with diverse bodies to set up a resource sharing platform, enrich the contents and methodology, and meet peoples’ needs for lifelong learning.

Key words: open universities, community education, collaborative governance

Community education is a form of education that provides the residents of a community within a defined geographical area with diverse education services. Community education plays an increasingly important role in serving people’s livelihoods, shaping the lifelong education system, and building a learning society. At the same time, community education governance is an important part of social governance. It introduces international concepts of public governance and represents a major boost to China’s community education governance, helping to improve the management system and operation mechanism and thus achieve innovative and sustainable development. Against the macro background and within the framework of social governance, the theory of collaborative governance has been introduced into community education, which is conducive to achieving collaborative governance between public institutions and other stakeholders in order to meet the public’s needs for community education and to promote the equality and efficiency of community education.

Under the leadership of the government, collaborative governance of community education aims to gather together the various participants of community education through coordination, cooperation, market mechanisms, and other methods, and to shape a public service system for community education with the extensive participation of community residents and that is characterised by extensive choices, autonomous learning, and sustainable development. It aims to maximise the efficiency of community education resources and the benefit to the residents, and to realise a vision of good community governance and the construction of a common spiritual home (Chen Nailin, 2013). In recent years, research has begun to analyse community education governance from the perspective of collaborative governance. Some scholars believe that collaborative governance is “a new approach to improve community education governance.”

1. The current state of community education governance in open universities

1.1 Phased results have been achieved in the collaborative governance of community education

1.1.1. Formation of a five-level governance system

Open universities, including open universities and radio and TV universities, began to get involved in community education following the establishment of Fujian Radio and TV University Community Education Centre in 2001 and the inauguration of Qingdao Community University at Qingdao Radio and TV University in 2003. After 16 years of exploration, a five-level community education governance system has been created, that is (1) community education guidance service centres in provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities under the administration of the central government, (2) community universities in cities with districts, (3) community colleges in counties and districts, (4) community schools in neighbourhoods and townships, (5) and study centres in residents’ and villagers’ committees. As of March 2020, as many as 280 prefecture-level city community education centres or community universities have been established by educational administrative departments (or with the approval of commissioning offices for public sector reform) in 28 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, most of which are in open universities. Using eastern coastal areas as an example, community colleges have been established all over China, largely with the help of open universities. Open universities have established community schools by leveraging their branches and study centres in neighbourhoods and townships. In cooperation with residents’ or villagers’ committees, cultural and sports venues, and local enterprises, community study centres or tutorial centres have been built in villages and residential compounds.

1.1.2. Explore multiple community education teaching models

Community education in open universities uses several different teaching models. For example, the service system, with community universities or colleges at the centre and an orientation towards communities, radiates from the inside out. Research and development projects are jointly completed at the provincial, prefectural, and city levels, representing a synergised operation model. There is also cooperation with enterprises and social organisations, which represents an attempt to make full use of modern information technology and to construct a teaching model based on “online and offline integration and school and community interaction.” This has broken through the bounds of conventional community education and the teaching model based on lectures and public activities. With the support of internet technology, creative activity platforms rooted in families have thus been established.

1.1.3. Carry out diversified community training and teaching activities

Community universities linked to open universities have integrated multimedia learning resources and strong teaching teams, and explored the socialisation of community education. At the same time, campus teaching facilities and rich education resources have been used to offer courses and organise activities on campus. Schools in Shanghai, Zhejiang, and Beijing have engaged in trial cooperations with social organisations with a view to expanding education methods and content by outsourcing and purchasing services through market mechanisms.

1.1.4. Create an initial structure for joint construction and governance and collaborative governance with multiple participants

Led and coordinated by the Party and government, community education in open universities has received different levels of support from different governmental departments. Governments at all levels have also increasingly recognised the importance and advantages of community education in open universities, and open universities have engaged in active connection, consultation, and coordination with government departments including spiritual civilisation offices, civil affairs, human resources and social security, culture, science and technology. They have joined hands in the community education governance of open universities in the areas of policy making, funds, and projects with gradual preferential discrimination. In the eastern coastal provinces and municipalities, a pattern of collaborative governance is gradually taking shape.

In sum, phased results have been achieved in the collaborative governance of community education in open universities, laying a good foundation for future sustainable development.

1.2 Major problems facing the community education governance of open universities

After many years of practical experience, great progress has been made in community education in open universities. However, China’s vast size often leads to great differences in regional culture and economic development, and the coverage of community education governance is uneven. Even in China’s vigorously developed eastern areas, the governance system and capacity construction still face a number of problems.

1.2.1 Unbalanced development levels

The objectives of collaborative governance are to improve community education governance and strive to develop community education. Uneven development is a common problem for various participants including government departments, social organisations, public institutions, troops, and individual residents. Taking social organisations as an example, those that fall into the categories of education, public interest, and science and technology are, in particular, an important force in promoting community education development and improving community education governance. However, the overall capacity of social organisations, which are often small in quantity and size and narrow in field, is extremely limited due to the lack of policy guidance and encouragement measures from the government. With regard to the community education carried out by open universities, social organisations often have limited involvement or cooperation, and do not have h awareness and experience to cooperate with one another.

1.2.2 Multiple participants with low coordination

Government departments, community education institutions, social organisations, enterprises, and individual residents constitute a number of subsystems that promote and extend community education and advance community governance. All the subsystems should form an orderly, cooperative, and coordinated system that works together towards common action by means of law, administration, science and technology, information, and public opinion. However, the multiple participants are often not very coordinated.

In many areas, leadership and coordination by the government is not enough. To some extent, there is a lack of policy and system guarantee due to the biased understanding and recognition of community education. The various departments involved do not always play their due leading role in publicity and promotion, coordination planning, defining strategic development objectives, macro guidance coordination, and policy guarantees. The specialised division of labour among different functional departments leads to their segmentation, and industrial barriers exist among them. There is great difficulty in information integration and policy coordination, and it is hard to create synergy between society and the government. Due to the unclear borders between functional departments, offsides, absences, and misalignments often occur. In many places, the education department is unable to take care of overall coordination on their own. Community education in open universities can be managed by all departments and is yet often managed by none.

1.2.3 Poor synergy in education resource integration in communities

Community education resources represent all kinds of education resources needed in the process of realising and implementing community education, including overt education resources such as materials, manpower and financial resources, and covert education resources such as sense of belonging, learning atmosphere, the social education system, and policies (Shen Guanghui, 2016). Community education in open universities now integrates culture, sports, science and technology, and other education resources, but there is still a gap when it comes to establishing public service platforms and promoting the sharing of quality education resources. The difficulty of integration lies in the grassroots neighbourhood, township, and villagers’ committees. Regional primary and middle schools, cultural centres, social work stations, and adult schools are underused for community education, and township and neighbourhood governments and people who sit on villagers’ committees, as participants in community education, need to be encouraged to take the initiative.

1.2.4. Low interaction inside the governance system

(1) Unbalanced development between the east and the west. Pursuing the balanced development of community education and providing the residents with education products and services of equal opportunities are key requirements for achieving equal education opportunities. Balanced community education should have unified planning for management operation, funding support, resource allocation, and team development, and realise relative balance when meeting residents’ learning needs and offering services. There is a major difference in community education in open universities in central and western areas of China in terms of basic operation capacity and development level, and the resources are not evenly distributed. Though some scattered and localised activities have been spontaneously organised among provincial and city guidance centres and community universities, such as the Forum of Community Colleges in the West and East, and the twinning of community colleges, there is no long-term overall planning or coordination.

(2) Weak coordination of the five-level governance system. Provincial and city guidance service centres for community education function more in terms of “service” than “management.” They have weak guidance and it is difficult to for them to give play to their role as “bellwether” in the five-level system. The manpower, finance, and materials in areas at or below county or district levels are under the management of local governments and education departments because of the management system. As such, their orders are not always headed, and the communities each act in their own way. This difficulty in achieving rigorous, standard, and effective coordination has seriously limited the system from giving play to its overall advantages.