Course evaluation and quality assurance
Since the beginning of formal course evaluations in 1985 with the appraisal of engineering education, systems of quality assurance developed rapidly. Evaluation and recognition of excellence among courses were used to foster competition and reform of curriculum and teaching approaches (HEEC 2010).
One of the two universities I visited during my research, was a Normal University (University B). The academic affairs officer there explained to me how their course evaluation developed, since they first began evaluating courses internally in 1987. Those course evaluations looked at the quality of the teachers, the academic level of the teachers, teaching team composition, teaching content, and teaching materials. The initial courses selected for evaluation were the key obligatory courses in each specialization. After beginning experimentally in 1987, they regularized the process in 1988, and added the competition to become designated as an “excellent course” (优秀课程 - youxiu kecheng). The following year, they added the requirement that every single course would pass an “approved course” (合格课程 - hege kecheng) test.
This test was quite simple, it just required a course to have an approved teacher or teachers, a syllabus, and use approved teaching materials. The academic affairs officer at University B explains that their motivation was to get rid of those courses without a syllabus, where teachers went “all over the map”, and to standardize educational quality. University B continued this evaluation system until 1992, when the provincial Bureau of Education began evaluation key courses, which continued for almost ten years. In 1997, the State Education Council began to organize the National Teaching Achievements Awards, which was received by 422 teachers in the first year (MoE 2010). In 2000, the province also began evaluating and selecting excellent courses. University B had been prepared to evaluate again, but that was the one and only round of evaluations, because the system then became superseded by the National Top-Level Courses Project (Mr. B0).
In the meantime, the Ministry of Education had issued “Regulations for the Award for Instructional Achievement” in 1994, as a result of studying the power of teaching awards to motivate teachers and administrators (Wang Xiufang 2003). In the late 1990s, the Ministry began randomly selecting a few universities each year for teaching audits. These were conducted at all levels of universities, and included examining teacher performance, portfolios, textbooks, student assignments, teaching records and examination papers. Some provinces and municipalities, like Shanghai, also began organizing their own centralized course evaluation projects. In addition, it became common for universities to let senior and retired university faculty attend classes taught by junior faculty to provide feedback and critique (Vidovich, Rui and Currie 2007).
In addition to a narrow focus on teaching and courses, systems for evaluation and quality assurance of entire institutions also appeared. In 1990, the State Ministry Commission released the “Draft Regulation of Higher Education Institution Evaluation”, which was the first regulation on higher education evaluation (HEEC 2010). This was followed by the “University Evaluation Standards Project”, which released standards for the evaluation of six different categories of institutions: comprehensive universities, industrial colleges, agricultural and forestry colleges, medical colleges, finance and economics colleges, and foreign languages colleges.
All new undergraduate degree-granting colleges were required to undergo this evaluation, and by the end of 2002, 192 institutions had gone through the process. In 2003, the “Action Plan of Education Innovation 2003-2007” makes it clear that all higher education institutions must undergo quality evaluation every five years. The work is carried out by the provinces, and supervised by the new Higher Educational Evaluation Centre of the Ministry of Education, which was founded in 2004. This center maintains a pool of over 1,000 experts, which performs the evaluations, and provides them with regular training (HEEC 2010).