October 8, 2010, [MD]
Having reviewed how modern Chinese higher education began as an import from the Soviet Union, with very centralized and rigid curricula and no local autonomy, we now come to a watershed. Universities are gradually given more power to modify the curricula, and at exactly the same time, systematic course evaluation systems are introduced. I later argue that this is a crucial precursor to the Top Level Courses Process, which is essentially a giant national course evaluation system.
Around the same time that the universities gained more freedom over their curriculum and teaching, efforts began to measure and improve the quality of courses. The Shanghai Higher Educational Bureau began experimenting with evaluation in 1983, to raise the quality of teaching, strengthen the teaching of basic courses, and improve the training of practical ability. At all 45 institutions of higher education in Shanghai, courses on the history of the Chinese revolution, political economy, philosophy, English, Chinese, higher math and general physics were examined to catch teaching problems, and to promote the reform of teaching (Zhou Yuliang 1986, 458). In 1984, the Higher Education Bureau of Jiangsu province conducted the first peer-reviews of teaching quality in teacher’s colleges and universities since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The process lasted 25 days and involved 50 people, who examined a broad range of materials and questions:
The purpose of this peer-review exercise was for institutions to learn from each other. It was purely qualitative, with no standardized measurements (Zhou Yuliang 1986, 459-460).
There were a number of other experiments with teaching evaluation, using different units of analysis. Zhejiang University and East China Chemical Industrial College both implemented evaluation of departments in 1983. The next year, Beijing Normal University also implemented an evaluation of course teaching quality in their departments. In 1985, South China Normal University experimented with course evaluation throughout the whole school. A trial program for appraising the quality of teaching, based on teaching attitudes, content, methods, and results, was printed and dispatched to all departments (Zhou Yuliang 1986, 459-460).
After these various experiments, the practice of evaluating courses and teaching practice in higher education gradually became formalized in 1985. In May, the “Decision on Reform of the Educational System by the CPC Central Committee” pointed out that "the educational and intellectual sections and the employment units are to be organized to appraise the levels at which institutions of higher learning are run" (State Education Commission, cited in Zhou Yuliang 1986, 461). In June, the Ministry of Education organized a meeting on the problems of evaluation in engineering education, and then in November published the “Circular on the Implementation of a Study and Experiment on Appraisal of Higher Engineering Education”, which contained the two appendices “The Standard System for Appraisal of the Educational Levels at which Higher Industrial Institutions are Run” and “Measures to Enforce the Appraisal of the Educational Levels at Which Higher Industrial Institutions are Run” (State Education Commission, cited in Zhou Yuliang 1986, 461).
In December, the State Education Commission held another meeting, on the reform of teaching work in comprehensive universities. There, it was decided to conduct tests of teaching evaluation at Nanjing University, Fudan University, Wuhan University, East China Normal University and Beijing Normal University. In May 1986, the State Education Commission entrusted East China Normal University with convening a working conference on the evaluation of specialities and courses in higher education. At this meeting, universities proposed various programs and standard systems of evaluating the quality of teaching, based on their own experiences and pilot programs. This led to the collectively drawn up document “Comprehensive Standard System of Appraisal for the Quality of Courses” (Zhou Yuliang 1986, 461-462).
The quotes in this text is from the MA Thesis "The Chinese National Top Level Courses Project: Using Open Educational Resources to Promote Quality in Undergraduate Teaching" by Stian Håklev, University of Toronto 2010.