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Online For A University Degree
China Has 67 Online Universities

Social development demands more and more talents in all walks of life. It seems that the traditional way of education is no longer able to meet people’s increasing desire for knowledge. With the rapid development of information technology and its penetration and application in all aspects, an online university sprang up in China four year ago. Now, it has become a parallel system to traditional classroom education.

China has been enlarging university enrollment in recent years. However, the lack of teachers, teaching facilities and dormitories still prevent a lot of high-school graduates from entering universities or colleges. How to enable more persons to receive higher education?

In 1998, Hunan University pioneered online education. The following year, it was joined by Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and they were approved by the Ministry of Education as the first batch of pilot universities to provide online education courses. To date, China has set up 67 online universities, enrolling over 800,000 students. Thirteen universities in Beijing have opened online education colleges.

Since online education is still at its early stage, China encourages the coexistence of multiple forms: First, the independent operation by the university itself, such as Tsinghua University. This requires great comprehensive strength and large capital. Second, joint management between universities and enterprises, which brings advantages for each side into full play; so this model is most frequently employed. The third stage is integration between universities and telecommunication institutions. The first university on the Internet was jointly sponsored by Hunan University and Hunan Telecoms, which reduced infrastructure input but covered only a limited area, so it didn’t completely embody the advantages of “distance learning.”

Why Go to Online University?

Each year, about half of high-school graduates are left outside college school gates. They are still eager to learn, so some then opt for the online university.

In the online college of South China University of Technology, people see neither blackboard nor teachers, but only computers and teaching software. No lectures from teachers, but only the sound of beating keyboard. Students can open any web page they want to learn and arrange their study freely. “Learning is interesting here,” said one girl student.

“Compared with traditional way of teaching, online learning is more convenient,” said Luo Xuechao, deputy director of the online college, “Anyone can start learning anything through the Internet from any chapter at any time, any place. Even if you are on a business trip, a portable computer and a piece of teaching software will enable you to learn. You needn’t worry about any interruption of your studies.”

Online education is the only teaching method in which mutual contacts are realized between teachers and students or among students themselves. Teachers are no longer dominators of classes, but counselors, and students study positively rather than passively. The teaching materials are not merely dull words, but a multi-media demonstration of words, sound, tables, videos and cartoons.

Cheng Huanwen, director of the online college of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, capital of southeast China’s Guangdong Province, said that online teaching is more helpful to suit instruction to student level. As complete records of each student’s study progress and examination scores are available on the Internet, the teaching system will accordingly put forward suggestions to the student based on his personal data.

Future Development Depends on Social Recognition

As a new thing, the online university concept had its doubters. Some say: “Is it a class if there’s no teacher?” Others say: “Will the diploma be accepted by the state and by institutions wanting an employee?”

The problems have aroused wide concern among educators in this field. As the first key university in China to open online education, Tsinghua has felt the lack of support from the public service mechanism. Though its online education is closely related with the competitive teaching staff, popular courses and strict management, it has no experience at all. “If we can learn from Western developed countries and set up a public service system, then online education will be rapidly developed,” said Yan Jichang, deputy director of the School of Continuing Education of Tsinghua University.

Beijing Lanse (Blue) Market Investigation Company conducted a survey last year among 40 employing units, equally divided with 10 each from state-owned enterprises, private enterprises, foreign-funded enterprises and administrative institutions. The result shows that 72.5 percent, or 29 of them expressed willingness to accept online university graduates. Only three units were doubtful.

For private and foreign-funded enterprises, diploma seems to be not that important. They pay more attention to employee’s capability and experiences. In comparison, state-owned enterprises and administrative institutions are more unwilling to receive such students. A person in charge of the personnel department said, “Though online university is a kind of higher education acknowledged by the state, it is a new thing. We cannot judge the real worth of each diploma. So if we must accept such kind of students, we will select from those graduated from online colleges of Tsinghua and Renmin University of China.”

This poses a new problem. Online university must first set up famous brand names and focus on teaching quality if it wants to develop. That’s why the Ministry of Education decided to set up pilot online colleges in key universities. Though the online university diploma has been recognized by the state, the students of this kind must get social acknowledgement with their own abilities.

Professor Xie Weihe, director of the Networking Education College of Beijing Normal University, said that the online university must perfect its teaching and management system to be highly acknowledged by the society, adding that formal online colleges must guarantee their quality of teaching and attach great importance to the real value of their diplomas.

Only when excellent talents are cultivated, can online universities be accepted by society and employing units. This will help form a favorable circulation in the future.

Zhang Yaoxue, head of the Higher Education Department of the Ministry of Education, confirmed that the state acknowledged the diploma issued by online colleges run by universities approved by the Ministry of Education. People doubt the online university diploma because they haven’t got accustomed to something so new. Once the Internet gets enough bandwidth, quickens its transmission speed and Internet usage improves, the online university will become an important way of getting degrees and diploma.

Now, more enterprises are planning to invest in online education. They will bring capital, technology and necessary services. Online education is forging ahead vigorously.

(china.org.cn by Li Jinhui, July 26, 2002)

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