Challenge and Opportunity Facing China after Opening the Field of by mifei


									Challenge and Opportunity Facing China after Opening the Field of Distance Education: the Case of Australia HUANG Fusheng & WEI Qi
(Shanghai TV University, Shanghai 200086, China) Abstract: After China’s entering WTO, developed countries in the field of distance education service strongly call for the opening of china’s relevant education field. Among them, China has negotiated with Australia about the opening of distance education. Australia is advanced in distance education and admitting her distance education service into China may bring great positive significance into such aspects as optimizing China’s capability and environment in distance education, and attracting foreign investment in education. But Australia’s distance education has her own characteristics, such as the curriculum localization, their understanding on distance education, the preparation of distance learners, teaching staff, teaching methods and so on. Besides, China’s distance education is still at the initial stage, resulting in her irregular development and lower level. According to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) ---the opening degree in distance education is controlled by the opener, and based on the above analysis, China’s distance education field should be opened step by step in five to ten years. Meanwhile, we should currently regularize China’s distance education market, perfect its environment, and promote its competitive ability. Key words: China; Australia; distance education; challenge and opportunity I. The weaknesses of Australia’s Distance Education Universities in Australia have fastened their steps in opening their overseas services. Central Queensland University(CQU) has reached an agreement with Sichuan Normal University(SNU) lately to conduct a joint university, providing business courses via distance education. The students have to pay their tuition for themselves, while they can pursue their degree in both CQU and SNU at the same time. They have now started Business (Market Management) Bachelor degree and Business Administration Master degree, and students can enroll the CQU bachelor degree in Sichuan. We are informed that CQU is paying great attention to the 30,000 students from Sichuan as this is their debut in China. Until now CQU has launched their branches in Hong Kong China, Malaysia and Singapore. In March, 2003 Haerbin Medicine University signed a contract for a joint education service with La Trobe University, which is one of the biggest universities in Australia that provides overseas education programs for Chinese students, there being over 400 Chinese students studying in their campus, and the university sent over 3500 students to their joint education institutions in more than 22 Chinese cities. Based on the research and practice conducted by scholars we can safely announce that Australian Distance Education has the following advantages: extensive coverage, great flexibility in operation, providing valuable educational program instead of hardware facility, support from government, industrialization, hi-tech. Yet relevant research revealed that there could be some disadvantages when we import their programs directly: 1、Curriculum. Hardly can foreign course provide localized knowledge and skills required by Chinese society, besides, their courses might vary in their quality. Firstly Australian universities are under the regulation of Australian educational and adminitry departments, themselves not being able to modify

their course to adapt to the needs of our students, making a discrepancy between social needs and what they can provide consequently. Secondly some of the universities just came to China to issue their degrees to students who are pursuing nothing but a copy of certification. Those universities have greatly harmed Australian school’s reputation. When a university tries to put their curriculum to other countries and regions they might encounter the discrepancy between what they can give and what others want to take, as described before. To make things worse, they design other educational sections(like examination) in an environment way too far from the learners. The case study always select topics concerning the business practice, rules and regulations in Australia. They can never suit Chinese students if they can’t modify their courses to fit in local needs. 2、The understanding and acknowledgement to distance education. Many would think that distance education is inferior to traditional education in quality. They don’t understand that distance education has quality course design and learner support system, so both the providers and learners are reluctant to admit that they are providing or receiving courses from distance education. In mainland China distance education didn’t enjoy high social acknowledgement due to the insufficient understanding of distance education’s real nature. Besides, some serious disciplinary problems uncovered in distance education examination like cheating degraded people’s confidence to distance education. Some learners admitted that they don’t want others to know that they are receiving Correspondence Education. The reasons for this could be that people haven’t realized the class course design and learning support system, but could also be that they are impressed by bad educational programs provided by some institutions. 3、Learners’ Preparedness. Currently it’s difficult for Chinese learners to follow the teaching language, teaching method, learning and thinking styles from Australia. Learners vary in their levels due to the openness of distance education; furthermore, traditional Examination-Oriented education gives them weak ability to generate the motivation and independence which are prerequisite for distance education. Being indulged by tradition education mode, many learners don’t have enough computer literacy as well as adaptability to new teaching modes. Furthermore, enrollment management and fake registry raised certain issues concerning the learning result. Even in Hong Kong when students are required to learn in a reflective way and make their own judgment to the learning content they would bring up the issue that they are not familiar with this learning method. For mainland students they would most probably have some difficulty absorbing new knowledge in English. Usually it would take them quite a long period of time to achieve this because the problem comes not only from speaking and writing in English, but also from thinking and reasoning in English. 4、The disagreement in education ideas between two countries. There exists disagreement concerning some key concepts in education due to different cultures, which brings some instructional issues. For example, students who are pursuing Australian distance education in HK would have a different understanding of Plagiarism from their teachers. Although usually deemed as a cultural issue, the understanding gap is huge. To copy others work is doubtlessly deemed as plagiarism, while to westerners, to quote author’s wording and ideas without reference is plagiarism too. We have noticed that although tutors have state clearly the definition and result of plagiarism both in the entry lesson and in the small classes, students may also end in puzzled about that. They know plagiarism is not right and they tried their best to avoid it, but they found it simply beyond their capability to express the meaning of the article in their own words. They seemed to be satisfied with the original words and expressions, and any attempt to express the

article in a new way is to them sort of impolite piracy. We may see this in another way: maybe that is because the students are not good at English enough to express their meaning in their original way. 5、Staff issues. It’s hard for overseas distance education institutes to hire competent local tutors. Data reveals that some overseas students find local tutors are not as competent as the teaching staff who runs the courses in the universities. An investigation towards students who studied Australian courses in HK revealed different evaluations to Australian teachers and local teachers. Many of them tend to think Australian teachers give more detailed and more theoretical comments while Hong Kong teachers are more likely to give grades than comments. Some think it beneficial to be commented by Australian teachers as they would get more enlightening feedback while others think comments from Hong Kong teachers are easier to understand. Some think the Australian teachers are strict in their grading while others think Hong Kong teachers are stricter than their foreign peers. A few more words to say about this: all such institutions adapted double-grading system, which empowers Australian teachers to change the grade if the Hong Kong teachers are not being fair. 6、Drawbacks in Distance Education itself. Teachers should pay more attention to the communication in emotions than in knowledge and information, but distance education by definition couldn’t realize face-to-face communication between teachers and learners. There exists some serious problems in current distance education. Take the thesis writing for example. Many students would hire a gunner to do the thesis for himself. Teachers would communicate with learners via e-mail in order to get appropriate idea of their progress in their thesis writing and to ensure that there is no gunner part. But who could really know whether it’s the gunner sending and receiving emails? It’s a serious problem to ensure education quality in the open distance education, and to balance between open education and elite education. On the other hand modern distance education is a system program. We have to count on the fully development of hardware and software to develop itself. Firstly because of the instable factors in satellite transmission and network technology, there exist a lot of inconveniences for learners. Secondly due to the openness of distance education and the multifoldness of learners many learners do not have enough computer literacy and adaptability to new teaching mode. Also they don’t have very strong self-motivation and independence, there being a lot of them only enroll for the certification copy. At the same time the teachers are not doing their job very well. For example multimedia is only used as a teaching tool and an affiliated part during the teaching process while it could be fully employed to enhance the information communication and interactivity. There exists remarkable room for non-computer-major teachers to improve their computer literacy, as they don’t seem quite competent when designing the courses. 7、The Profit. We observed a decrease in Australian universities’ resources and its impact on bachelor education. Most classes have grow into bigger scale and some universities have lowered the percentage of the practice lessons. Such actions were based on the pursue of greater profit and they would surely entail a decrease in the final quality of the whole education program. Besides, the cost of distance education is rather high. Data reveals that the hourly cost of learning materials that meet the quality standard is $ 25000, way too expensive for Chinese learners. Australian universities are having a hard time finding distance education courses that meet the request and budget of Chinese learners. 8、Lack of relevant policies. The inconsistency in educational input among Australian federal government, states government and local government may cause critical risk in monitoring issues. With the

insufficient rights protection awareness among Chinese consumers, especially the weakness in their selfprotection capability in education areas, long distance and language issues, there is no protection regulations in learners rights and tuition risk. The fact that Chinese government is not very experienced in this respect would cause some lose in Chinese learners as well. 9、The building of learning materials and learning support system. With the learning era coming Chinese learners will doubtlessly have more diversified needs, which could hardly be met by Australian universities. Hardly can they build diversified and resourceful teaching materials based on the needs of Chinese learners(including resources in network, multimedia and printing format). Nor can they construct a learner support service system suitable for Chinese learners. These would surely impact the quality of the service they provide.

II、Opportunities and Threats we have after Opening up of Distance Education. (A)Opportunities According to the General Agreement on Trade in Service signed by WTO participants, distance education is now one of the four areas. The opportunities brought along by the opening up of this area are: 1、To Optimize International Trade Environment. To boost adjustment to domestic economic structure and industry structure; to propose how to raise talents in new standard and scale. With the acknowledgement and acceptance of Life Long Study and educational consumption, the social needs for education is growing bigger and bigger. This huge yet diversified need could not be met by formal education which is featured by regular time and space. So distance education became people’s first choice. Yet with insufficient development of distance education in China, we don’t have available too many institutions dedicated to distance education and most of them are under initializing stage. So we can only state that opening up distance education would bring new possibilities for the imbalance between supply and demand in this field. 2、To Attract Foreign Investment. Opening up distance education could attract investment from abroad. Currently we are experiencing a shortage of educational fund, which restricted the investment to common universities, let alone to distance education. Furthermore, the initial stage of distance education needs quite a lot of investment(or direct cost), so the fund problem(including tuition) might become the bottleneck for the development of modern distance education. As long as we stick to the principles the attraction of foreign investment would definitely be a valid solution. The effective use of foreign investment would speed up the development of distance education. 3、To Improve Domestic Education Institution and Introduce Our Distance Education Abroad With overseas distance education coming to China with their comparative advantages, they will pose great threat to domestic distance education, forcing us to improve ourselves and better the quality of our distance education. There surely exist huge differences in their content and form, owing to their unique social culture and educational background. This diversity would prove complementary to current distance education system, and it would help to make an extensive, diversified, flexible and reasonably configured

distance education system, optimizing the whole distance education industry. Besides, we are entitled to many rights through the opening up of distance education. Trade barriers removed, entry level lowered, we can export our education services to abroad. Noticeably we have an advantage in teaching traditional culture. 4、To Improve Final Quality of Our Distance Education Institutions. Distance education will cause competition among its institutions as it’s part of educational service trade. Featured for zero time and zero space and Modern distance education covers a lot of targets and it’s hard to avoid the overlapping among various institutions. Most distance education is operated by current universities; the similarity in their department structure caused the interchangeability among courses from different universities, their unique programs being rare. On the other hand, while paying for the distance education consumers sure want to get optimal benefit, which will make the learners pickier. So distance education institutions should improve itself in order to survive this severe competition. (B)Threats 1、Domestic Distance Education: Not Competitive Enough. (1)Current teaching ideas and management methods shadowed by traditional education. Previously our distance education has a weak basis. Until recently its primary components are Correspondence education and Broadcast and TV education. The former is operated by universities while the latter is operated by TV universities. Now we don’t have developed network supports. Internet access has been widely spread yet education via internet is problematic. Current band width can’t permit fluent transmission of real media courseware; this greatly harmed learners’ learning experience. Domestic distance educations are not professional enough neither. TV universities and Internet Colleges still carry on the department arrangement, learning content of common universities, resulting in low quality and social recognition. Besides the distance education industry is in disorder, TV universities and Internet Colleges belonging to different systems, no backbones elected. (2)Rough production of teaching materials and shortage of resources Currently teaching materials are primarily produced by universities teachers or staff from distance education companies. They would struggle for the production right in order to harvest more payment, and most of them would handle the production to post-graduate or graduate students, leaving little chance for the materials to excel in quality. Secondly Internet College are primarily about compulsory education, which is low in academic level, professionalism, media pool, test pool, case pool and courseware pool. The simple teaching methods only serve to distract learners’ interests, making use only of e-textbooks. Thirdly, despite fully developed course materials, there is no systemic planning. The courses are too much focused on shorttermed benefits. Universities have too many hot subjects while middle schools have too many entry tests instructions, no focus on practical ability being found in either of them. Lastly, there is shockingly repetition in learning resources despite the shortage. There being no close cooperation among universities or distance education companies, many human resources and monetary resources were wasted on the same content, harassing the overall quality of teaching resources.

(3)majors set improperly. Many universities set majors like IT, economy and ignore other majors. This causes waste in resources, and harms employment of graduates from distance education. The primary reason is the shortage of systemic management. Decision-makers only foresaw the advantages of hot majors while fails to foresee its disadvantages. Institutions should learn to set up majors based on their own strengths, thus foster better development of all the majors. (4)Shortage of teachers for modern distance education. A teacher for distance education does more than design and development of distance education. He hosts on-line discussion, gives instructions and evaluations, corrects homework. Now almost all our teachers are part-time teachers from common universities. They are neither experienced enough nor proficient enough to conduct distance education. We have to build a full-time distance education worker to achieve success like traditional education. Universities should make training plans for teachers in aspects like IT, network skills, multimedia techs etc., making IT one of the basic technologies for teachers, so that teachers can motivate learners through adding information within limited teaching hours. (5)Weak Management in teaching process. When providing learning via internet, we should highlight the importance of learner management. We should monitor the enrollment, development, learning and graduation sections of distance education with advanced monitoring system. Otherwise key factors in education couldn’t come up with a joint force. But we observed only weak management in distance education; some would even claim the management of process is unnecessary because there is no direct contact with learners. This thinking greatly harmed the quality of distance education. The high dropout rates in current distance education are due to this weak management primarily. 2、Government: Lack of management experience and relevant regulations. There is no standard process for distance education management. Rules and regulations are not ready. The quality system for distance education is not fully developed, which make it difficult to control risks, monitor education quality and protect rights. Specifically there are following points: (1)Legislation Laggard. Problems in distance education need more than administrative, economic and political solutions. Legislation is the ultimate solution. In current education laws distance education were merely mentioned three times, as in Compulsory Education Law(1986), Education Law(1995) and Law of Vocational Education(1996), and it’s through simply summary as” the nation support implementing higher education with broadcast, television, correspondence and other distance education”. The shortage of specification makes the long-term development of distance education dubious. (2)Rough orientation. Due to the legislation laggard we don’t have a clear orientation of distance education’s nature, task, position and effect, bringing a lot of difficulty to the development of distance education. Take Television University for example. Some of them were merged by other universities and lost


their independence. This weakened the advantages of TV University to a great extent, effecting teaching quality of both parties and impacting the healthy development of broadcast TV universities. (3)Insufficient investment. There being no compulsory regulations, government’s investment to education has always been insufficient, especially to distance education. The result is that the demands of distance education infrastructure have not been met for long. The underdeveloped regions call for more investment from government more urgently. The insufficient investment makes it hard to hire quality teaching staff, restricting the effect of distance education. (4)Rare self-governance. Currently there’s only one file regulating the setting of distance education, i.e. Temporary Rules for Setting of Broadcast University. There is no specified legislation as to founding a distance education school and providing joint service. The government has been too strict with distance education, leading to incapability to operate independently society-oriented. (5)Rights Protection of Owners, teachers and students. The protection of owners’ right is best illustrated in ROI and independent governance. That of teachers is best reflected in their copyright. That of learners is embodied in protection of educational consumers’ rights. (6)Severe lack of overseas education management. Firstly what overseas course management rules and regulations should we have to face the invasion of oversea curriculums, guarantee quality of imported lessons, and screen low level lessons from entering our market? Secondly what educational joint mode should we have both to protect our educational rights and to allow advanced knowledge and technologies to be transferred to China? What are the duties and rights of both parties for a joint education provider? Thirdly, the issue of internationalization and localization. As it will impact us politically, economically, educationally, culturally even linguistically if we import foreign lessons without our critical thinking, we’ve got to figure out a solution to sustain our politics, economy, education, culture and language. Lots of overseas courses are way too far from what we really need, leaving a huge gay between our badly needed knowledge and skills. We have to figure out solution to these courses as well. 3、Insufficient protection of educational consumers. Influenced by traditional ideas, Chinese learners don’t have enough independence, linguistic and thinking preparedness for distance education, which makes it hard for them to make their own decisions. Besides, due to the publicity of education and people’s opposition to education market, users of distance education knows very little about the consumer market. As opening up distance education requires the overall understanding of educational market there’s much room to improve for domestic students. Besides, we don’t have complete guarantee and policies in student’ rights protection. As there must be risks in learning quality and tuition security because of linguistic and special reasons after foreign distance education providers’ coming to China, we still need a lot of rules and policies to regulate them, which would definitely take a long period of time.


III、Advice: To boost the self-regulation and development of domestic distance education; To open up distance education industry gradually. According to the Country Schedule signed by our Education Ministry, “there’s no promise as to market entry and civil treatment for cross border supply. So no WTO agreement should be cited as valid for the supply of education service by foreign agencies via distance education and correspondence. ” based on the SWOT analysis above we suggest opening up distance education gradually instead of completely. And we should fasten our steps in building distance education and improving its quality. The following points are in specific: Firstly, positioning distance education and increase investment in legislative channel. We should define distance education as an independent education format and protect it against other education formats legislatively as they are equal. Also education needs investment. Currently the investment comes mainly from students’ tuition. The legislation should define government’s duty to invest and regulate investing approaches for groups, companies, even individuals. With the development of distance education becoming a global trend, lots governments have now made strategic plans for distance education and execute them as a solution to lack of educational resources. Secondly, more propaganda to reach a better understanding of distance education. We should alter people’s bias that distance education is a low level education. Being an inseparable part of modern education, it holds a particularly important position in Life Long study and learning society. As common universities, distance education could be hierarchical in ranking and quality. We should diminish people’s presumption toward distance education and enlighten them with its advancement and popularity. Thirdly, put an end to the segmentation of distance education and boost scale development. Many universities refuse to share their resources, giving too much consideration to its fame and brand. Individualism goes the opposite direction of distance education’s objective, forming a scattered industry. We all know that the essence of modern distance education is sharing of educational resources in staff, material and teaching thinking, yet most universities only open their resources to society, making only a one-way sharing, and this is the cause of segmentation of distance education. Fourthly, distance education should give a slant to underdeveloped regions. There seemed to be a dilemma here. Distance education hopes to reach population from underdeveloped areas, yet owing to poor infrastructure and staff’s cultural background, it’s not easy for people to get access to the internet, let alone to distance education. Fifthly, regulate distance education operation; strengthen administrative setting to ensure its independence. In order to build a legislative distance education system, to make its operation legal, crystal, formal and foreseeable, we have to strengthen the legislation process of distance education, to make it a legal thing instead of an administrative thing. The guideline should be in accord with development plan for higher education, Life Long study and learning society instead of pure profit. The independence refers at least to: a. self-governance in teaching, including setting power of majors, subjects and departments; b. staffing power, including the hiring and firing of teachers and other staff, their promotion and wage standard; c. management of cost and estates; d. the rights to develop cross-university cooperation and international communication.


Sixthly, rights protection of owners, teachers and students. In opening up distance education we must carefully protect the stakeholders’ benefits, build a stronger law system, make a complete management team, properly position the function of government, facilitate the involvement of owners, teachers and students into distance education, maintaining as a result the sustainable development of distance education. Seventhly, to ensure cultural security in front of globalization. With the inevitably booming trend of globalization there emerges international cooperation as well as competition in distance education. It’s a practical concern to ensure cultural security in this trend. We should monitor market entry, market order and market behavior through legislation, and then hopefully catch up with the world’s development. On the other hand we should moderately protect the rights of domestic education service providers as foreign providers are distracting students. Eighthly speed up the talent building for distance education. The talent pool includes technicians, managements and teachers. Teachers should be trained in modern educational technologies as well as modern education ideas and theories to update their knowledge. Distance education should neither be operated nor evaluated by traditional education paradigms. With the current weak operation capability we have to set the first priority as talent pool building, which really is the key to the development of distance education.

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