Diversification and a Lifelong Education System

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6 Diversification and a Lifelong Education System







China is a developing country with 1.3 billion people and an economy that is both underdeveloped and imbalanced. Divided strikingly in social status, cultural background, living and work conditions, and income, the Chinese are yet to enjoy equal opportunities for higher education, and their demands for it are so radically varied that regular college education alone is far from enough to satisfy them. The only solution is to provide diverse forms of higher education. Higher education could not be as popular as it is today without the effective diversification efforts made over the recent years.

Providing all citizens with all manner of post-secondary and post-graduate education and a sound system of lifelong education by pooling and coordinating the various resources available for education helps to ease the tremendous strain on higher education development in the early 21st century, to increase the fairness and efficiency of higher education, and to keep China in the world's mainstream of higher education development. Thanks to these years of reform and development efforts, adult universities, higher education examinations for the self-taught, radio and television universities, online education, and a technical degree system are running smoothly across the country, laying a solid foundation for a lifelong education system.


Adult higher education is a nascent system that has emerged during the transition from traditional school education to lifelong education. It caters to citizens above eighteen years of age, with a senior secondary school or equivalent education. It has become a major force in the country's effort to make higher education available for all its citizens. As China goes full steam ahead to build an affluent society, the flourishing of diverse forms of adult higher education can not only accelerate the transition of traditional school education to lifelong education, but also help disseminate the notion of lifelong study, develop a learning society, and promote all-round human development.

Evolution of adult higher education

In the early years of New China, large-scale economic reconstruction called for large numbers of competent people. It was against this background that adult education started to grow. At the First National Conference on Workers' and Farmers' Education held in September 1950, it was pointed out that it was a major political task for educators to properly deliver education to workers and farmers. For this reason, adult education was dubbed “education for workers and farmers.” For a considerably long period of time after that, adult education was targeted mainly at workers and farmers, and job seekers, and it was also a form of continuing education for older intellectuals and veteran government functionaries. On September 19, 1958, the government issued the Directive on the Work of Education, pointing out that adult education should be provided in a variety of ways, such as through different forms of “spare-time” schools. This Directive had a profound impact on the development of adult education. Prior to 1966, correspondence universities and night colleges run by regular universities were major forms of adult higher education that led to a diploma. The other spare-time colleges included independent correspondence universities and radio and television universities that some cities had opened in 1960 to provide distance education for local people. By 1965, more than 100 million had received adult education of one form or another.

Following the demise of the “cultural revolution” in 1976, adult higher education quickly came back into its own. Thanks to the government policy of “active support and vigorous development,” adult higher education was able to grow simultaneously with regular college education and play a major part in building character and boosting socio-economic development. In 1987, the government officially established adult education as part of national education and the rubric for socio-economic development and scientific and technological progress in the contemporary world. The Outline for Educational Reform and Development in China promulgated in 1993 further points out that adult education is a nascent system born of traditional school education in transition to lifelong education and has a major role to play in improving education levels and boosting socio-economic development. In 1995, the adult education system was institutionalized in the Education Law. Since then, adult higher education has changed from a purely remedial form of schooling to a driving force behind education development, and from a government-subsidized public-interest undertaking to a cause driven by market forces. Its level is rising as well. As a form of continued post-secondary and post-college education, adult higher education figures increasingly prominently in the drive to provide a lifelong education platform for all citizens

Forms of schooling and administration

Adult higher education in China comes in diverse forms. It is provided in such institutions as correspondence universities, night colleges, and refresher classes affiliated with regular schools of higher learning. Added to the list is a good variety of independent adult colleges: managers' training colleges, colleges of education, post-secondary schools for workers and farmers, correspondence colleges, and senior citizens' universities. Radio and television universities, however, form the mainstay of all these independent adult colleges, having produced more than 3.6 million graduates, or 26.7% of the total number of graduates from all the adult education institutions. Adult higher education also ministers to learners in a good assortment of teaching forms, such as full-time, on-the-job or spare-time classroom instruction, and distance education that supplements textbooks with multimedia teaching aids for those engaged in spare-time study. There are both credit courses for continuing post-secondary and postgraduate education, and non-credit courses catered to those receiving on-the-job training or pursuing a vocational or technical certificate. The Ministry of Education issued the Interim Regulations on the Setup of Adult Higher Education Schools on April 9, 1988, and the Interim Regulations for Radio and Television Universities on May 16, 1989. Both documents set the norms for adult education schools with the exception of higher education examinations for the self-taught.

Administration over adult higher education is changing as well. After a major government institutional reshuffle in 1998, adult higher education came under central and provincial administration, with provincial governments taking charge of most independent adult higher education schools. Under this two-tiered administrative system, independent adult higher education schools are run either by education administrative departments such as education colleges and radio and television universities, or by industrial or professional administrative departments such as managers' training colleges and workers' universities. The institutions of adult higher education are being readjusted and optimized in light of changing circumstances and internal needs. In 1993, there were 1,183 independent adult higher education schools throughout the country, while 829 regular universities were running their own credit-giving correspondence colleges or night universities. The number of independent adult higher education schools was cut to 686 in 2001 and further to 505 in 2004, and those that had been cut were converted into post-secondary vocational and technical colleges or merged with regular universities. This readjustment served to optimize the resources available for education, so that despite the reduced number of independent schools, the scale of adult higher education as a whole keeps expanding.

Scale of enrollment and development

Institutions of adult higher education enroll mainly students who have passed national entrance examinations qualifying them for two to three years of schooling leading to a junior college diploma. The correspondence colleges and night colleges run by regular universities may provide junior college or undergraduate courses, and their enrollment rate has been rising on an annual basis. During 1980-1993, adult higher education produced 5.219 million junior college and regular college graduates, accounting for 46% of the total number of college graduates the nation produced during that period.

Thanks to persistent readjustment and optimization efforts, enrollment for adult higher education has sustained a brisk growth over the last decade and more. In 2004, a total of 6.685 million enrolled in regular colleges and post-secondary vocational and technical colleges across the country, and 2.212 million of them landed in adult higher education institutions. That same year, 17.533 million attended regular colleges and adult higher education institutions across the country, while 4.198 million received adult higher education, or 23.94% of the number. Among them, 1.416 million pursued an undergraduate diploma and 2.782 million a junior college diploma.

Adult higher education enjoys an extensive pool of aspiring students who have two salient features. First, a wide age gap: despite a steady drop in the average age in recent years, they run the gamut from the young to the aged. Second, most of them hold jobs and attend college during their spare time, and only a tiny number of them are full-time students.

Conferment of degrees and evaluation of education results

Students receiving adult higher education become eligible for a diploma after they have finished all the courses required of them and met all the prescribed graduation requirements during their term of schooling. Their academic credentials are electronically registered by the state education administrative department and made public through the Internet. Adult higher education diplomas are under central, provincial, and school administration. That is to say, the central government shapes the relevant administrative rules and regulations, the provincial education administrative departments supervise and examine school governance over enrollment and student records, and schools issue diplomas to graduates according to prescribed rules and regulations. Based on the strength of the Interim Regulations on the Conferment of Bachelor's Degrees on Undergraduates from Adult Higher Education promulgated by the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council in July 1988, universities certified to issue bachelor's degrees may confer such degrees on outstanding graduates from the correspondence universities and night universities affiliated to them.

Evaluation is an indispensable policy measure to regulate and ensure the quality of teaching. Since 1995, a three-level evaluation system has been introduced to adult higher education, whereby the Ministry of Education shapes the items for and standards of evaluation, and guides, coordinates, and inspects the evaluation work of departments and localities; the education administrative departments of provinces (and municipalities and autonomous regions, as well as cities enjoying provincial-level economic and administrative status), and the ministries and commissions of the State Council carry out the evaluation work; while the school leaders organize the evaluation in their own schools.

Evaluation falls into two major categories: comprehensive evaluation and evaluation of single items. Comprehensive evaluation entails all-round inspection of a school's work orientation, school governance, and teaching quality; it is carried out once every four or five years by provincial or ministerial education departments. The findings are announced to the public. Schools with outstanding performances are commended and awarded. Those that do not measure up or have serious problems are asked to make the necessary changes and to prepare for re-evaluation; during the rectification period they must reduce or stop enrollment of students in credit courses. Single-item evaluation, as the term suggests, involves a particular field of education in a school, and is organized by the higher-ranked education administrative department or the schools themselves.

Thanks to more than five decades of growth, adult higher education has provided the government with a tool to tackle the issue of continuing education for many of China's citizens without having to increase the outlay. It also helps tap the quality teaching resources of universities and enhance the connection between these institutions and the public. For a long period of time to come, adult higher education will continue to be a major conduit of higher education in the country. As a major part of the national higher education system, it promotes socio-economic development by cultivating a large contingent of people with abilities closely geared to social needs. However, with the emergence of a modern national education system and a lifelong education system, plus developments in modern distance and online education, adult higher education has to readjust its overall plan and developmental strategy.


The system which allows self-taught students to take examinations that lead to a junior college diploma was a government invention in the early 1980s to “open up schooling avenues” for the learning public and encourage citizens to turn themselves into well-educated members of society through self-study. After twenty or so years of trial and error, the higher education examinations for the self-taught have emerged as one of the most popular educational activities in China. Known for its large scale, little investment, openness, and flexibility, this system's role in providing citizens with wide higher education opportunities and its place in the development of a lifelong education system cannot be underestimated.

Rise of higher education examinations for the self-taught

The system of higher education examinations for the self-taught in pursuit of a junior college diploma was born out of the circumstances of China's new age of historical development. The restoration of national college entrance examinations in 1977 in the wake of the “cultural revolution” unleashed an enthusiasm for schooling among students all over the country. However, the higher education establishment of the time, with an annual enrollment capacity limited to 300,000–400,000 students and a meager enrollment rate of about 5%, could in no way meet the colossal public demand for education, particularly the demand of the young and the middle-aged to learn. Out of this huge demand was born the system of higher education examinations for self-taught students as a brand-new educational testing institution in 1981, when the State Council endorsed and published the Ministry of Education's Report on the Experimental Procedures for Higher Education Self-Study Examinations. The system gradually matured through its formative and promotional periods. The Provisional Regulations on Higher Education Self-Study Examinations promulgated by the State Council in 1988 provides that all citizens of the People's Republic of China, irrespective of gender, age, ethnic background, and educational level, can take part in higher education examinations for the self-taught in accordance with these provisions. This document has provided basic institutional backing for further development of self-study examinations.

In the 1990s, self-study examinations entered a new stage of “reform, improvement, enhancement, and development.” The Higher Education Law, promulgated in 1998, in particular, establishes self-study examinations as a basic higher education system. The law provides, among other things, that the state carries out a system of higher education examinations for self-taught people, under which those who have passed the examinations shall be issued appropriate academic qualification certificates or other education certificates, and that citizens who, through receiving higher education or self-teaching, have met the qualifications for academic degrees in terms of their educational level as prescribed by the state, shall apply to degree-conferring bodies for the issuance of appropriate degrees.

The nation has set up an administrative system that spans both central and local levels to tighten up leadership over and administration of self-study examinations. The National Steering Committee for Higher Education Self-Study Examinations is chaired by the Minister of Education and its membership includes principal leaders of the central planning, finance, personnel, and labor departments, and presidents, experts, and scholars of relevant institutions of higher education. The Higher Education Self-Study Examinations Office, headquartered at the Ministry of Education, serves as the committee's executive body handling the day-to-day operations. Branch committees and offices are also established in provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities. Where necessary, ad hoc organizations may be set up right down to the county level. These administrative bodies make overall plans, coordinate with one another in a division of labor, and ensure the smooth operation of

the self-study examination system through efficient administration of fields of learning, the curriculum, media of study, examinations, and student files.

The National Steering Committee for Higher Education Self-Study Examinations runs sixteen specialist panels in literature and history, economics, law, electronics and electrical engineering, art, and other fields. The 260 panel members are renowned experts from universities, and their tasks are to make feasibility studies of plans for new fields of study, shape the curricula, compile the syllabi and textbooks, and evaluate the quality of examination papers.

Under this system, schools must be certified to give the examinations. So far, Peking University, Renmin University of China, and 509 other regular universities have been certified to administer examinations to the self-taught. They also provide teaching for the self-taught examinees, evaluate the examinees' fieldwork performances, and confer diplomas on those who have passed the examinations.

After more than two decades of exploration and practice, the number of participants in higher education self-study examinations is growing steadily (Figure 6.2), and their quality is improving constantly as well. A total of 41 million, or one out of every thirty-two citizens, have taken these examinations, 5.5 million have earned diplomas at and above the junior college level, and 13 million apply for the examinations every year, with the number of registered examinees reaching 19 million.

Examination contents and cooperative projects

The self-study examinations entail both credit and non-credit academic programs. The credit programs are offered at two levels: junior college and undergraduate. The examinations cover 534 academic subjects: 245 or 45.9% are junior college subjects, 100 or 18.7% are regular college subjects, while 189 or 35.4% are regular college specialties offered to junior college graduates. More than 2,000 courses are offered across the country, and nearly 700 of them are subjects for unified national examinations.

The National Steering Committee for Higher Education Self-Study Examinations has developed extensive cooperative ties with government departments and professional associations. Since 1985, twenty-three State Council departments, including the State Statistical Bureau, the General Administration of Customs, the Ministry of Finance, the State Price Administration, the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Electronics, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, the State Population and Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Forestry Administration, and the State Archives Bureau, have entrusted the committee to open thirty-three self-study programs at college, junior college, and secondary levels. In the last couple of years, the committee has worked with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to offer self-study examinations that lead to professional certificates in labor and social security, with the China Culinary Association in administering self-study examinations that lead to catering business management and restaurant managers' certificates, and with the China E-Business Association to give self-study examinations concerning e-business diplomas and certificates at intermediary and senior levels. All these examinations have received great praise.

The Chinese self-study examination system has drawn the attention of the international community and resulted in a number of international cooperative projects. For example, the National Steering Committee for Higher Education Self-Study Examinations has set up examinations for financial management and business management certificates and secretaries' grading certificates in collaboration with the Cambridge University Examination Committee. It is also working with the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) to devise an e-learning model for universal use in China and Europe, explore teaching methodology for virtual study, experiment with e-learning materials on the basis of a universal model, and develop a platform and related instruments for e-learning. The scope for self-study examinations is expanding constantly according to social needs, and domestic and international cooperation in this field will be further developed.

Defining characteristics of self-study examinations


Education is a citizen's basic right. Under the current circumstances, however, not every college-age citizen can become a full-time college student. Many people may be able to pass entrance examinations and enroll in college, but even more of them have to receive a higher education through such open forms as self-study examinations. In this age of the knowledge economy, people need to continue learning their way through their lives; they must not stop building their overall character and achieving upward mobility in the workplace. Their demands for learning are becoming more varied. Self-study examinations are a form of education that limits no one and offers equal higher education opportunities for everyone (Figure 6.3).


The openness of self-study examinations is relevant to college education. They impose no credential limitations on participants, and provide ready access to all available educational resources. There are no strict rules on the length of schooling either. An examinee can take the examinations at different sites. There is interaction between self-study examinations and other forms of higher education. The openness of the self-study examinations is all-encompassing. The examinees include senior citizens and young students. There are workers, farmers, teachers, soldiers, and office workers who have failed to go to college for one reason or another, as well as students from different types of schools. These examinations have a large following in cities and are popular in rural areas as well.


The system of self-study examinations is flexible in that it is a two-way street. On the one hand, the system's quick-reaction administrative mechanisms make it easy to open, on the basis of feasibility studies, new academic programs in time to meet socio-economic needs and public demand, make timely readjustment of the curriculum according to changes in a particular field of examinations, and give interdisciplinary examinations according to actual needs. On the other hand, its management of the main self-study courses along specialized lines makes it possible for the self-taught students to choose what they want to study according to geographic, professional, job market, and personal conditions, and engage in learning activities the way they want to and at the times convenient to them, without conflicting with their jobs. That is why people graphically liken self-study examinations to a “credit bank” where they can deposit small sums of “money” over time and withdraw what they have saved in a lump sum when required.

Personal initiative

Self-study examinations manifest the notion of education that takes People's interest into full account and the philosophy of education that stresses diversity and individuality. The initiative is completely in the hands of the prospective examinees when receiving higher education and preparing for the examinations. They can make their own decisions about whether they want to engage in self-study, what they want to learn, and how they should proceed. They can arrange their own timetables, and check the results of their studies at their discretion. In short, self-study examinations help to furnish well-defined targets and meet practical purposes because the examinees choose what they want to learn strictly according to their own wishes and needs.


The higher education examinations for the self-taught are of such a low cost that every aspiring examinee can afford to take them regardless of the job they hold and their income status.


With the aforementioned defining characteristics, self-study examinations can effectively pool resources for education from many fields and build a platform to meet the People's lifelong learning demands. By incorporating traditional education concepts and methodology in the modern theories and approaches of a modern, open education system, higher education self-study examinations accord with China's socio-economic conditions and provide an effective alternative to higher education in a developing country like China. The self-study examination system will be further improved according to circumstances. The level of examinations and the quality of teaching will be raised constantly to boost all-round human development, facilitate exchanges with other forms of higher education, better develop and utilize modern teaching approaches as represented by the Internet, shape a multi-leveled public system in the service of those furthering their education, step up international cooperation and exchange, and become part of a national lifelong education system.


Establishing radio and television universities is another major step by the government to make higher education accessible to more citizens. In fact, radio and television universities in China are by far one of the world's largest distance education establishments, and rank first among the world's ten mega-universities. So far, they have produced more than 3.6 million graduates with higher education diplomas, accounting for 12.7% of the total number of college graduates and 26.6% of all the adult university graduates in this country. Currently, 1.936 million are attending radio and television universities for academic diplomas or technical certificates, and 1.745 million of them are pursuing junior college and regular college degrees. Radio and television education has done its share in ushering in a popular stage of higher education in China ahead of schedule. It is a major force behind the lifelong education system being developed in this country.

Creation of radio and television universities

Under the personal care and support of top government leaders, the China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU) came under construction in February 1978, and was inaugurated a year later together with twenty-eight radio and television universities (RTVUs) run by provincial governments across the country. In February 1979, China Central Television began to broadcast CCRTVU courses.

Basing themselves on college-level credit courses, the RTVUs offer lifelong schooling opportunities at different levels for people throughout the country, those in remote border regions, and minority-inhabited areas in particular. They are committed to bringing forth professionals with wide hands-on knowledge and skills. Their major tasks are:

First, offering credit courses at junior college and regular college levels to people working in professional fields and enterprises, soldiers and officers, and other members of society.

Second, providing on-the-job training, such as in farm techniques and other non-credit courses, to help citizens get updated on new knowledge and skills.

Third, making use of their own education resources to build a distance education system with public access, and providing distance education services for universities and other institutions of education.

The RTVUs offer credit programs in two categories: junior college education for students enrolled indiscriminately and education for junior college graduates in pursuit of regular undergraduate diplomas. This category of radio and television education is marked by three salient features: first, senior secondary school graduates, senior secondary vocational school graduates, and people with equivalent academic records can enroll without taking entrance examinations, but only those who excel in studies are allowed to register, and the credits earned from the courses are effective for a term of eight years; second, convenience and flexibility, whereby students can make self-study choices from a variety of media—textbooks, radio broadcasting programs (audiotapes), television programs (videotapes), CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) courseware or websites—and teachers give hands-on instruction when and where necessary; and third, unified administration over student files and centralized conferment of diplomas by the CCRTVU, which has so far registered 1.277 million students and produced 186,000 graduates.

Enrollment of senior secondary school graduates for junior college education and of junior college graduates for regular college education is subject to a unified state plan. Aspiring students for these two categories of credit-granting education must pass the national college entrance examinations or adult university entrance examinations. Those who are enrolled can engage in part-time studies or full-time studies while on leave from work. Diplomas for these students shall be issued by provincial RTVUs. Today, 467,800 students are attending RTVUs in China.

Under the CCRTVU's overall planning, the RTVUs across the country are administered and operated at different levels and coordinate with each other so that they can fulfill their teaching tasks together. So far, China has forty-four provincial RTVUs, 961 branches and workshops run directly at the prefecture level by provincial RTVUs, and 2,075 workshops and 26,698 teaching centers at the county level. These organizations differ in both functions and tasks. The CCRTVU offers credit courses in line with a uniform teaching plan, and unifies the syllabi, textbooks, examination papers, and examination score evaluation standards for over 60% of the major courses, leaving the other courses to the decision of the local RTVUs. Local RTVUs may also choose from the CCRTVU's uniform courses and benefit from CCRTVU services in syllabi, teaching resources, and examination papers.

The CCRTVU offers provincial branches and local workshops with seventy-odd uniform credit courses in ten fields of study—sciences, engineering, agronomy, medical science, literature, law, economics, business management, education, and history. In line with a central CCRTVU teaching plan for both credit and non-credit courses, local RTVUs offer 580-odd unified courses and derivative programs for their respective localities.

The CCRTVU is also establishing a Ministry of Education network that will provide public support for modern distance education in the hope that all the RTVUs' strengths in resources and Internet services can be tapped to provide other education institutions at home and abroad with standard public support and serve those receiving distance education throughout their courses of schooling, thereby raising distance education's quality of teaching and comprehensive benefits. Towards the end of 2003, the CCRTVU had signed agreements with the online education colleges of thirteen regular universities in China to establish thirty cooperative teaching programs and 256 off-campus study centers for a total enrollment of 9,700. The CCRTVU is also running schools together with a dozen or so ministries and commissions. It has established the August 1st College and Zongcan College jointly with the Headquarters of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, the Institute of Education for the Disabled jointly with the China Federation of the Handicapped, and the Tibet College jointly with Tibet University.

RTVUs' modern teaching approaches

In the beginning, China Central Television broadcast thirty-three hours of CCRTVU courses a week, which were transmitted to every part of the country through microwave channels. In 1985, with central government approval, the CCRTVU rented special-purpose satellite transmitters to broadcast educational programs. China Central Education Television began televising CCRTVU courses and other educational programs twenty-four hours a day, right after it was inaugurated on July 1, 1986, and opened a satellite channel in 1988 offering CCRTVU's lectures.

The completion of a modern distance education project a few years ago marked a breakthrough in the development of the infrastructure of RTVUs for distance education. Especially after the CCRTVU started offering open access to its education programs in 1999, the CCRTVU and its local branches have spent a total of 4 billion yuan to hasten construction of a modern infrastructure, which has enabled distance education to make a quantum leap from traditional radio and television broadcasting to sophisticated multimedia approaches as represented by the Internet.

The CCRTVU makes use of government-run satellite and microwave transmission networks to broadcast lectures on China Central Education Television. Through links with the CERNET's optical-fiber channels, it has achieved speedy connection between campus websites and the CERNET, with bandwidth reaching 1,000MB for the backbone network and 100MB for desktops. The CCRTVU is connected to the China Public Computer Network by a special-purpose channel, and has registered its own website (www.crtvu.edu.cn) and an open education website (www.open.edu.cn) on the CERNET and a mirroring website (www.openedu.com.cn) on the China Public Computer Network. It operates its own live-telecast classrooms, online video system, and a forty-eight-user two-way video conferencing system. Its distance teaching platform and teaching administration and office automation systems make it possible to quickly transmit education resources and teaching and administration information and achieve real-time or non-real-time interactions and communications with local RTVUs and students.

The RTVUs at both central and provincial levels and their teaching centers across the country dispense distance teaching through an interactive digital, multimedia platform that connects computers, satellite-transmitted television, and telecommunication networks. They also provide students with necessary hands-on instruction, printed and audiovisual textbooks, multimedia courseware, audiovisual reading rooms, multimedia networking computers, and other sophisticated learning facilities and tools. Their students can go to the teaching centers or simply stay home, juggling study and work while following curricular arrangements with the aid of video-on-demand and downloading services offered by the Internet and the distance teaching platforms of the central and provincial RTVUs. Online live telecasting and two-way video conferencing systems make exchanges and interactions possible among students and between students and teachers.

Faculty and teaching quality

The RTVUs have a total full-time teaching staff of 77,967 and a total part-time teaching staff of 31,498. The CCRTVU alone is staffed with 1,200-plus professors and experts from colleges and research institutes who serve as chief textbook composers or principal instructors. Accomplished experts in different disciplines of learning are invited from all over the country to make feasibility studies and evaluations of the setup of academic programs, curricula and syllabi, teaching designs, and development of teaching resources.

In December 1998, the CCRTVU hired eminent scholars and experts to form a council whose tasks were to provide consultancy on open access to education and teaching reform and modernization, to explore and guide reform of curricula, syllabi, and courses, to steer the teaching plans for different fields of study, to compile the syllabi, and to evaluate and examine multimedia textbooks. Under this council are academic panels for ten fields: economics and management; law; education; Chinese language, literature, and history; foreign languages and literature; engineering mechanics; engineering electrical information technology; engineering chemistry and light industry; agronomy; and medical science.

To ensure the quality of teaching, applicants for RTVUs must have the required education credentials and take entrance examinations. Enrollment is based on competitive selection and examination scores. Students are given instructions according to their academic levels and majors. The credit programs are open and student-centered, and tailored to students' individual demands for learning. The RTVUs carry out a credit system, and the credits gained by students are effective for a term of eight years so that they can choose courses freely and arrange their own study plans. Multimedia teaching resources are deployed in ways that every student can get what he or she wants. The RTVUs also give their students ample fieldwork opportunities by arranging for them to use the faculty and fieldwork facilities of regular universities.

The nation's RTVU system operates a well-coordinated teaching quality control system commensurate with the openness of their teaching activities, and ensures the teaching quality of distance education by offering their students learning services through the Internet. Towards the end of 2003, the RTVUs had conferred junior college or undergraduate degrees on 3.6 million graduates, and put 40 million students through on-the-job training and other non-credit programs. They had also trained tens of millions of farmers in practical farming techniques and skills. Their teachers' training programs had produced 1.28 million teachers with post-secondary and secondary graduate diplomas, and trained more than 3 million elementary and secondary school headmasters and teachers.

RTVU graduates are found in every nook and cranny of the country. They are emerging as a vital force in every field of endeavor. Many of them have become key members in production, management, and technology, and are respected in the workplace because in general they do not hesitate to go down to work at the grass-roots level, accomplish the tasks given to them no matter how difficult, and are devoted to their work posts. Those working in remote and underdeveloped regions are playing an active part in local economic development and social progress. Many have become prefecture leaders or county magistrates; and some have become top-echelon managers. The RTVUs have laid a solid foundation for their students' continuing education, many of whom have gone on to earn master's and doctoral degrees. There is no lack of professors and renowned scholars among RTVU graduates, who have proved highly competitive in examinations for accreditation for academic titles, technical certificates, and jobs. Many are proud of their RTVU background, and owe their success to the professional knowledge, self-confidence, and tenacity their alma mater have instilled in them.

China's guiding principle for radio and television education is to build the CCRTVU into an open university for modern distance education and the nation's distance education databank, turn provincial RTVUs into local distance education centers according to local education development plans, and convert RTVU teaching centers at the prefecture and county levels into local distance education and community education centers. Where necessary and possible, the government makes a point of connecting radio and television education with online and other forms of education, the idea being to facilitate both interactive and parallel development of all forms of education.


Education via the Internet is a new type of education. It is not just a means of teaching, neither is it the same as online study in the ordinary sense of the term. Education via the Internet is an education system with its distinct concepts, objectives, and processes, as well as evaluation and quality control requirements.

The system and mode of online education

Distance education has undergone three generations of development in China. The first generation involved correspondence education that began in the 1950s, where teaching was rendered by combining mail-delivered printed textbooks and short-term hands-on lectures. The second generation was the radio and television university that rose in the 1980s, where distance education is dispensed by such media as radio, television, printed textbooks, and audiovisual courseware. The third generation has been modern distance education dating back to the 1990s, which is supported by computer networking, digitalized satellite telecommunications, and multimedia technology; in China it is called “online education” because in this country, modern distance education depends on the Internet.

In 1999, the Ministry of Education gave Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, Beijing Post and Telecommunications University, and Hunan University the go-ahead to experiment with modern distance education. Peking University and CCRTVU were added to the list later that year. The experiments went full steam ahead in July 2000, when the ministry published the Proposals on Supporting Several Higher Education Institutes to Set up Pilot E-Learning Colleges. The document sets the major objectives for the experiments and qualifying conditions for participating universities, and lays the ground rules for issues associated with web-resource management and development. In 2000–2003, more well-run and high-quality universities passed strict inspection and examination by experts and were admitted for the experiments. Altogether sixty-eight universities have set up online education colleges to conduct modern distance education on a trial basis.

Online education is tailored to diverse forms of schooling and administration, academic levels, curricular arrangements, teaching and learning methodology, and duration of study. In China, institutions wanting to run online colleges must follow strict application procedures, and only after they have successfully defended their applications in debates organized by the Ministry of Education can they gain the permission to run credit and non-credit online education on a trial basis. In the course of running this type of education, they are subject to the ministry's annual inspections, evaluations, and accreditation. The ministry holds universities and the provincial education administrative departments above them accountable for the day-today operations of the web colleges they are running.

All but one of the sixty-seven universities certified to run online education on an experimental basis have established an online education department that takes care of enrollment, teaching, student administration, and resource development, set up off-campus learning centers, and organizes and guides the work in these centers. The only exception is the CCRTVU, which has a unique establishment for this purpose. It may run online colleges independently or in cooperation with enterprises, and it may also raise its own money or invest jointly with enterprises to keep these colleges going. Fees are collected from students according to standards approved by local price administrative departments in order to recoup costs rather than to make a profit.

Teaching via the Internet

Freedom in running online colleges

The experimental online colleges are given a free hand in deciding what teaching programs to offer and how many students to enroll within their capacities. They may enroll students at junior college and regular college levels, either through national entrance examinations or their own entrance examinations, and set their own enrollment standards. They may decide where to enroll students according to the location of their off-campus learning centers. The online colleges practice a credit system, and decide on the duration of schooling and the effectiveness of credits. They may confer bachelor's and junior college diplomas on their graduates, but such diplomas only become official after they are electronically registered with the state higher education academic accreditation authorities. Online colleges offer courses to regular college students pursuing academic credits for a particular field of study. They may also reach agreements among themselves on co-registered courses and mutual recognition of student credits.

Students for web education are enrolled where universities' online colleges and their off-campus learning centers are located. Online education departments of the online colleges are responsible for the enrollment work, with the cooperation of off-campus learning centers. Most online colleges enroll students through national college entrance examinations, adult higher education entrance examinations, and entrance examinations organized by the colleges themselves. They may set their own enrollment standards and the number of students to be enrolled. According to 2002 statistics, the sixty-seven experimental online colleges offered 141 academic programs in literature, education, philosophy, law, economics, business management, sciences, engineering, agronomy, and medical science, but more of these courses were in computer science and technology, law, industrial and business management, accounting, English, and finance than in the other fields.

By the end of 2002, the online colleges had enrolled 1.373 million students from all the thirty-one provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities on the mainland, and 1.179 million or 85.9% of these students were job-holders. Most online college students belonged to the twenty-one to thirty-five age group, those between thirty-six and forty-five years of age formed the second largest group, and the those aged below twenty and above forty-six formed the smallest. A total of 32,641 students have graduated, some of them with academic degrees from the online colleges of Peking University, Hunan University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Zhejiang University, and CCRTVU.


The experimental web colleges employ the following five main teaching methods:

First, via the Internet. Students access online courseware by request or surfing the Internet, attend interactive question-and-answer sessions with teachers, and do homework on these colleges' distance education platforms.

Second, satellite-transmitted live broadcasts of lectures.

Third, real-time bilateral teaching and learning sessions through a video conferencing system.

Fourth, teaching through online courseware. This will be offered upon request or by using CD-ROM courseware.

Fifth, classroom teaching.

Most experimental online colleges are using at least two of these teaching methods.


The online colleges employ both full-time and guest teachers, and staff their off-campus learning centers with tutors, 58% of them being at least associate professors and 54% of them holding a master's or doctoral degree; 55% of them are lecturers and 31% of them tutors, but there are those who serve both as instructor and tutor.

Coursework and examinations

The coursework required of online students is arranged at the beginning of an online course and is checked partly by tutors at off-campus learning centers and partly by instructors or tutors dispatched directly from the online college. Students gather at off-campus learning centers towards the end of an academic term for final examinations. Most of such examinations are open-book or closed-book written tests, in which examinees may or may not use reference materials, and a few are real-time online examinations. Taking a strict approach to the work of monitoring the examinations and grading the examination papers, online colleges make a point of dispatching inspectors to monitor off-campus examination rooms or entrusting a third party to do so. Examination papers are collected for unified reading and scoring.

Supportive services and quality control

Supportive service system

Six services are provided for students receiving distance education. First, the students are tutored and have their questions answered synchronously or asynchronously via an Internet-based distance teaching platform. Second, the self-taught students are provided with ready access to digital libraries, databanks, and other online resources available. Third, real-time seminars are organized via video conferencing or satellite transmission. Fourth, learning activities are arranged in the form of laboratory work, visits, and cooperative workshops. Fifth, students may consult their teachers by using regular communication tools. Sixth, teachers give hands-on tutoring to students and are available to answer their questions.

Technical means

Major online education media include the Internet, satellite transmission, radio, and television. Four major technical tools are used to deliver online education. First, Internet-based distance teaching platforms operated by online colleges, which enable students to access the needed information and interact with one another via the Internet and campus websites. Second, a two-way video conferencing system that employs special-purpose digital circuits to connect an online college with its off-campus learning centers, so that teachers in the college can give real-time lectures and directly answer students' questions and students can have exchanges with one another. Third, the one-way or two-way satellite transmission system which relays multimedia information from a college to learning centers and from learning centers to multimedia classrooms or regional websites, and which enables those receiving distance education to swap information with their colleges. Fourth, information transmission and teacher-and-student and student-and-student interaction based on traditional radio broadcasts, and television and telephone networks. Most online colleges combine these technical means according to the conditions of their region and students and come up with a modern distance education network to provide integrated teaching designs and multimedia learning resources by connecting computer networks with satellite-transmission television networks.

Teaching quality control

Online education has developed distinctive teaching targets, modes and processes, and means of evaluation. Universities are screened according to strict procedures and standards and only those capable of providing adequate educational resources, fine supportive services, and strict governance are allowed to enter online education. No effort is spared to improve the web infrastructure and replenish the learning resources to ensure a good learning environment and services for students. Online colleges are requested to submit annual reports, and their teaching processes are subject to annual inspection and evaluation. Unified national examinations on basic courses are organized to evaluate the quality of teaching—they were given on English and rudimental computer science in 2004, and from 2005, higher mathematics and Chinese will also be tested. Students who have completed all the courses required and passed all the examinations and go on to pass unified national examinations on basic courses are eligible for college graduate diplomas that are registered electronically for online reference.


Establishing a system of technical degrees for various specialties and professions is a major item in reforming China's academic degree system. What leads to a technical degree is a form of post-college continuing education that not only remedies the monotony in the types and specifications of degrees, but also meets the demand of both employers and students. By providing an impetus for the cultivation of high-level engineers and technicians with multiple practical talents, this system has drawn much praise from the public, particularly those wishing to continue to work full-time while earning a degree.

Establishment of the technical degree system

Degrees in China fall into two categories: academic degrees (akin to the degrees of philosophy in Western countries) and technical degrees. Academic degrees are based on disciplines of learning, such as master (or doctor) of education science or of engineering science. Technical or vocational degrees are granted to high-level professionals with the skills needed in certain trades and professions, such as master of education and master of engineering.

China started conferring technical degrees in 1991 in an effort to increase the variety and specifications of professionals to be trained, and to speed up the cultivation of high-level engineers and technicians with the required skills and practical knowledge who were in great demand. The Academic Degree Committee of the State Council has endorsed the establishment of the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Bachelor's and Master's Degrees of Architecture (MDA), Jurum Master (JM), Education Master (EdM), Master's Degree of Engineering (MDE), Master's and Doctoral Degrees of Medicine (MM), Master's Degree of Public Health (MPH), Master's and Doctoral Degrees of Stomatological Medicine, Master of Agriculture Extension (MAE), Veterinary Medicine Professional Master (VMPM), Master's Degree of Military Command (MMC), and Master of Professional Accounting (MPAcc). These technical degrees open up new avenues for the growth of high-level professionals and enrich the system of degrees and postgraduate education in China.

Conducting education leading to technical degrees

According to the Provisional Procedures for Examination and Approval of Technical Degrees, a university wanting to establish new technical degrees must have its application submitted by the industrial administrative department above it or submit it in collaboration with such a department, for deliberation by the Academic Degree Committee of the State Council and experts from relevant departments and for approval by the committee. It is the responsibility of the general office of the Academic Degree Committee of the State Council to organize the education leading to technical degrees, and to cooperate with relevant industrial departments to establish a national committee to provide guidance for such education, drafting education plans, and setting evaluation standards.

Specifically, after the application for a new technical degree has been deliberated and adopted by a university's degree accreditation committee and approved by the administrative department above it, experts dispatched by the general office of the Academic Degree Committee of the State Council will evaluate the applying university's teaching quality, school environment, and internal administration. Only after passing the evaluation can the university be ratified by the general office to confer the degrees on a trial basis. China is experimenting with education associated with all the twenty-one technical degrees except the MPAcc. In 2002, a total of 138,080 graduates were pursuing these degrees in universities and 17,438 of them earned their degrees; this represents an average annual growth that is much higher than the growth in the country's total enrollment of graduate students. The growth in the last couple of years has been even more impressive.

Applicants for technical degrees should hold bachelor's degrees and have had some work experience. In principle, candidates for master's degrees in engineering are selected from among engineers and engineering managers on enterprise payrolls, MBA candidates from among managerial personnel in enterprises and economic administrative departments, and MPA candidates from among those on the staff of government or non-governmental public administrative organizations in general and civil servants in particular. Those enrolled while in active service may continue to work full-time while studying to earn a degree. The term of study is three years and should not exceed five years, during which time students are obliged to study on-campus for no less than six months. All the courses are credit ones.

As part of post-college continuing education, education for technical degrees is a new type of education, parallel to education for academic degrees. After more than a decade of trial and error, it has developed distinct features. Although it has still to improve in variety, scale, and quality to become a full-fledged system in its own right, it has already made its impact felt by the public.


In the present-day world, science and technology are forging ahead aggressively, the knowledge economy is burgeoning, and knowledge is growing faster than ever before. Traditional school education, provided in “one lump” by separating learning and work in a person's life, has long fallen short of the requirements of modern production, sci-tech development, and social progress. Only by learning throughout their lives can people grasp more knowledge and skills to cope with career changes and keep up with the times. The notion of lifelong education provides a forceful impetus to the endeavor to expand both time and space for higher education. According to this notion, higher education is no longer limited to people of a particular age group but rather covers all members of society. Traditional full-time school education will no longer spell the end of a person's education. Citizens ought to constantly juggle study and work throughout their lives, make it a lifelong habit to study, and enjoy the opportunities provided by new education systems and the services that accompany them.

The demand of the government to build a modern national education system and a lifelong education system represents a new breakthrough in our understanding of education reform. To build a lifelong education system is the requirement of both education development and social progress, and it calls for the backing of a sound modern national education system. It also calls for breaking through the traditional monotonous school system, eschewing the mode of educational development predicated on traditional school education, and building a learning system that meets People's demand for ceaseless lifelong learning and is developed in a sustained manner. Only then can education extend its perimeters from schools to society and become an undertaking of the people and for the people.

To shape policies for lifelong study and build a learning society, the government should not only proceed from the overall situation of China's modernization drive, but also take into full consideration learners' desire to persist in self-improvement. It is imperative to gradually establish effective mechanisms that are centered on each and every learner and guided by citizens' demands for learning, and serve and respect learners' choices and initiative. From a higher education point of view, it is necessary to further enhance the openness of regular college education and improve the communication, interaction, and connection between regular higher education, post-secondary vocational education, adult higher education, and other forms of education. It is also necessary to vigorously develop online education, and speed up modernization and IT development in higher education.

As the platforms for the development of a lifelong education system, adult higher education, higher education self-study examinations, radio and television universities, and online education have developed a sizeable scale and shown their distinctive features and strengths. To bring about a modern national education system and a lifelong education framework that are “complete in system, rational in geographical distribution, and balanced in development” by 2020, it is of paramount importance to figure out a way to lift the administrative barriers within and without the field of education, to coordinate these and other education resources from a national strategic viewpoint, and to take the overall situation into full consideration.