Inception of the Chinese Top Level Courses Project

October 12, 2010, [MD]

After discussing the historical background for Chinese higher education since 1949, I now come to how the actual Top Level Courses Project was created in 2003. I will explain the factors that I believe led to the creation, and will also describe the project as it exists today, and as it has developed during the last 7 years, in detail. This will be based on both literature review, and a number of interviews with academics and administrators involved with the production of Top Level Courses. The groundwork for the project was laid in 2001, with a report:

In 2001, the Ministry of Education released a document called “Some ideas about strengthening undergraduate teaching and improving pedagogy in higher education” (MoE 2001). This document laid out the case for an improved focus on teaching, including an increase in financial resources, and encouraging more full professors to teach undergraduate courses. Teaching quality was to be made an important criterion for promotions, young academics were to receive special training in teaching and pedagogy, and more courses were to be taught in English, or a mix of English and Chinese. The final two recommendations are particularly relevant to the Top Level Courses Project: more educational technology was to be applied in education, and the document also called for the establishment and improvement of teaching quality monitoring and assurance systems.

Then, in 2003, the specific project was launched:

In April 2003, the National Top Level Courses Project was formally launched by the Ministry of Education (MoE 2003). It set forth a plan to use the development, selection and publication of Top Level Courses to carry out the goals of the 2001 policy mentioned above, to which it made explicit reference in its justification. The creation and evaluation of these model courses would act as a catalyst and promote the improvement of all courses, raising the general importance of pedagogy and teaching within universities. The policy called for all universities to design a comprehensive plan for how the project would be implemented, to make sure that it raised the quality the teaching at the entire university.

So why did this happen?

The head of the academic affairs office at University B (B0) explained that enrolment in Chinese higher education had begun expanding rapidly from the year 1999, transitioning from elite education to mass higher education. This expansion happened too fast, and there was not sufficient equipment or teachers available. According to Mr. B0, this led to society doubting the quality of instruction. The Top Level Courses Project was designed as a way to make universities and individual professors care more about the quality of instruction.

Professor B3 puts the project into a historical perspective, and shows how it was the natural consequence of a trajectory that had begun with the Ministry of Education first focusing on evaluating the best national universities, and increasing their funding. The second step had been to identify national key disciplines, so that a given university would have educational technology as its key discipline, another economics. These were also peer-reviewed, and implied increased funding, and a responsibility to lead the development of that particular field. However, a discipline is still very broad, so finally the Ministry of Education decided to evaluate individual courses.

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.

Stian Håklev October 12, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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