Two stages of development

The Top-Level Courses Project’s official title was “Project for the quality of teaching and reform of teaching in institutions of higher education, work on the construction of top-level courses”, and was always meant to be a part of a larger project for the quality and reform of teaching in higher education. In 2007, the State Council, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Finance officially launched the three year "Project for Reform of Teaching and Improvement of Teaching Quality in Institutions of Higher Education", usually referred to as the Quality Project (zhiliang gongcheng, 质量工程 ). The project launch had been preceded with more than a year of investigation, research and open meetings with stakeholders (Li Bin 2007). 

This project targeted 1000 universities with 10 million full-time students, and was to cost approximately USD $365 million. The targets were as follows: Help 3000 professors and administrators to develop peer training exchanges, select 1000 national-level teaching teams, give awards to 500 top national teachers, develop 500 experimental teaching centers, 500 individual talent development and creativity areas, and 500 high quality bilingual classes (Jingpinke 2010) In addition, the project would restructure majors, publish teaching evaluations and data on teaching and learning, promote mutual assistance between universities in Eastern China and universities in Western China, and promote self-study, learning through research, and practical learning to improve initiative and creativity among students (Wen 2007).

As for the Top-Level Projects, the first stage from 2003 to 2007 had produced 1,500 national Top Level courses, with the focus on commonly taught basic undergraduate courses. The second stage beginning in 2007 had a target of constructing 3,000 national level Top Level courses. That year, the Ministry of Education also expanded the project to include online courses, and during the next three years of operation, evaluated 149 national level online Top Level courses. After this expansion, including online courses, and also courses from public security and military schools, the project covered a total of 700 institutions of higher education in every part of China. From 2003 to 2010, 3790 national level courses have been produced, including 2528 undergraduate courses, 1037 vocational courses and 209 online courses. In addition to the national level courses, more than 6000 provincial level courses, and a large number of campus-level courses have been produced (NTPC 2010).

In addition, the 2007 stage called for the creation of an organized system for sharing the course materials generated, and support the development of software and portals that could facilitate this sharing (Wang Xueyin 2008). This would later become the portal, which will be discussed in a separate section.