On July 12th, 2019,the 4thAnnual Meeting of University General Education Alliance themed“undergraduateeducationand combination of general andSpecialized education” was held in Tsinghua University. Professor Cai Dafeng, Vice Chairman ofNPC Standing Committee, Academician Han Qide, Former Vice Chairman of CPCC and educationalpractitioners from over 70colleges and universities nationwidegathered inTsinghua Campus and jointly discussed the way of reform of undergraduate education.
The opening ceremony was presided over byProfessor Peng Gang, Assistant to the President and DeputyAcademic Deanof Tsinghua University and a speech was made by Academician Qiu Yong, President of Tsinghua University. President Qiu pointed outthat in 2015, University General Education Alliance was jointly sponsored and established by Tsinghua University,Peking University,Fudan University, and Sun Yat-sen University. For four years, the Alliance played an important role in driving the development of general education in Chinese universities and promoting the exchanges in general education among universities. Tsinghua University has always paid close attention to general education. In recent years, it implemented some practical measures to drive general education reform and promote talent cultivation quality, such as establishing Xinya College as a general education experimental area, opening anart museum, settingWriting and Communicationas arequired course and so on.
Soon afterwards,Professor Cai Dafeng, Vice Chairman ofNPC Standing Committee and Former Vice President of Fudan University made a keynote speech titled“People Oriented,MoralityFirst”.
According to Professor Cai, general educationaims to solve the problem of generalizationand specialization. Theroot cause for the emergence of general education is how to bettercultivate talents in the era of increasingly refined social division of labor. General education is an idea, but it is also a practice. Every school has its own confusion and difficulties in the process of promoting general education. This confusion in practice is first embodied in the arrangement ofgeneral education curriculum: what courses will be offered? Who will offer the courses? How many courses will be offered? How will students select courses?All these problems come down to how to deal with the relationship between the professional attributes of the departments, teachers and students in universities and the public attributes of the universities. Professor Cai pointed out that the original function of a universitywas to cultivateone’s all-round ability; with the process of industrialization, universities gradually became a collection of majors. Majors can beoffered without a university. So a fundamental challenge faced by universities is: since so many majors are offered,what are the public properties of these majors? How can a common education be offered to students of different majors to sufficiently cultivate them in various aspects includingmoral, intellectual, physical, aesthetics and labor education?In this regard, Professor Cai thoughtthat all teachers and students in a university should have a common talent training concept and embody it well in their own professional education. At the concept level,“people-oriented” means to be oriented with students’ development needs;“morality-first” meansthat we should not only care about students’ score ranking, but also cultivate students to have a good foundation of three viewsbefore they build their careers andenter thesociety, so as to ensure their healthy developmentthroughout theirlives.
Professor Cai stressed thatthe essence of general education is to cultivate students’ sound personalities, so whatmatters is not knowledge, butthe value goals that lead various kinds of knowledge combinations. Teachers of all majors should try to combine their life experience andspecialized knowledge into new knowledgeand pass it on to students.“Specialization” refers to knowledge while the“generalization” refers to realm. If these two can be combined, students, teachers, even the whole school and the whole society will be benefited. In conclusion, the basic goal of general education is to enable the students to maintain their own independent personalities in complicated life and work environment after graduation, so as to keep lifelong healthy development and play a role in the social progress all the time.
The special report in the morning was presided over byProfessor Gan Yang, Secretary General of University General Education Alliance and Dean of Xinya College, Tsinghua University and the four universities to initiate the alliance respectively brought about a wonderful presentation.
With the title of“‘trinity’ and general education”, Professor Peng Gang, introduced the implementation of general education in Tsinghua University and construction of the curriculumWriting and Communication.“Building anundergraduate education system based on general education and combining general education with specialized education” is the basic schooling thought of Tsinghua University.As for the construction of general courses, on the one hand, humanities and social sciences courses are still the main courses, and on the other hand, more general courses based on engineering and basic scienceshould be offered. Professor Peng Gang introduced several specific measures of Tsinghua University in the construction of general education: first, to mobilize more teachers to participate in general education and offer more high-level general courses; second, toestablish an incentive mechanism to attract more resources from outside school and abroad and promote more better teachers to offer high-quality general education courses from the perspective of institutionalmechanism; third, to establish a curriculum assessment mechanism and to guarantee the amount of training, gold content and high quality of general education courses.
Then, Professor Peng Gang introduced the completion status of the recently widely concerned courseWriting and Communication. In May 2018, President Qiu Yong announced that Tsinghua would offer the courseWriting and Communicationto the freshmen undergraduate and all freshmen would be covered in 2020.To this end, Tsinghua set up Writing and Communication Teaching Center and planned to form a team of 25 full-time teachers with multidisciplinary backgrounds. Thedesign conceptof the courseWriting and Communicationis that taking different coursethemes as entry points, relying on high-intensity reading, small-class discussion, one-to-one guidance, etc., to guide students to develop dialectical thinking, refine and form article viewpoints, and write articles in accordance with the requirements of academic writing standards, while naturally integrating the improvement of communication ability andwriting practice through course discussion, thesis demonstration and other links.
Starting from concrete questions,ProfessorLi Meng,Dean of Yuanpei College, Peking University analyzed all kinds of difficulties in the combination of general education and specialized education and reflected on undergraduate education curriculum system. According to the data from the survey on undergraduate graduation of Peking University, Professor Li Meng pointed outthat students tend to select bird courses from“optional courses of general education” under the burden of specialized courses. Though the quality of the“Core Course of GeneralEducation”can be guaranteed, it is still difficult for students to spend more time out of class and most of students choose to cram before exam.As a result, many teachers and students will suspect that general education course is only an extracurricular cultivation course. The root of this phenomenon is the problem of university course structure. How to graft generaleducationcourses into the specialized courses which are extendedlayer upon layerby compulsory courses, limitedoptionalcourses and optional courses is the difficulty that every research university faces. The first and most common way is to put general education courses inoptional courses andrequire the students to dabble in different knowledge fields in the way of distributing elective courses throughout the school. The second is the thought of large category cultivation, and theunderstanding of adjacent disciplines is stressed; the third is to require that general courses should be difficult and challenging, and students are expected to receive important ability training through the core course of general education.These three logics are put together in general education to constitute considerable conflicts and problems. As for how to promote the improvement of undergraduate curriculum system through the construction of general education curriculum, Professor Li Meng gave three specificsuggestions: first, to decrease the total number of courses and increase time ratio of each general education course; second, to balance the academic training of basic subjects,social sciences and professional schools; third, to establish the hierarchical relation betweenundergraduate education and master-doctor education and furtherclarify the relationship between research and education in research universities. In addition, for the design of general education courses under the current system, Professor Li Meng also gave concrete advices: firstly, to increasethe proportion ofusualexamination in generaleducationcourses and encouragemore efforts made before the examination week; secondly, to increase discussions and communications of courses; thirdly, to building the core course of general education with big credits; fourthly, to explore the modular structure of general education course and reform distribution requirements (from the classification requirements to the minimum requirements).
Echoing Professor Li Meng’s ideas on the whole curriculum system,the report fromProfessor Sun Xiangchen,Director of CenterforGeneral Education andDean of School of Philosophy of Fudan University,focused on discussing how to dowell in each general education courseatthe micro level from thetwoperspectives of teaching and learning. Professor Sun first mentionedsome misunderstandings about“combination of general education and specialized education” in China. One is“narrowing down” the general education and looking forward to“seamless joint” of general education andspecialized education; the other is“generalizing” the general education and generalizing the curriculum system other thanprofessional education into general education; and another is“simplifying” the general education and consideringthat general education is just to make specialized education better. Fundamentally, Chinese universities should take full functions of education as the starting point to realize the combination of general education and specialized education. Next, Professor Sun Xiangchen referred to some reform measures of Fudan University in“teaching and learning”. First,putting forward requirements for“teaching” of teachers: general education must be a self-revolution of teachers; second, being“learning-centered” and motivating the students’ enthusiasm and initiative. For example, Fudan University stipulatedthat the result of the final exam cannot occupy over 60%, emphasized the investigation of the whole course, implemented the ideas of general education from thecourse outline, held various communication meetings and built teaching and learning communities etc., in order to transform teachers and students through general education and fully motivate functions of universityeducation.
Professor Xie Shi, Dean of Boya College, Sun Yat-sen University mentioned that he started to try to teach according to the requirement of combination of general education and specialized education when he was a young teacher in Department of History, Sun Yat-sen University at the beginning of thepresentation. This also corresponds with the overall education objective of Sun Yat-sen University. Sun Yat-sen University hopes to establish a scientific,complete, and competitive talent training system. Amongst,Boya College of Sun Yat-sen University aims to establish an elite systemwith broad caliber, multi-interface and major disciplines and hopes topromote the development of general education and undergraduate teaching mechanismfrom pointsto areas. Specifically, Boya College divides the undergraduate education stage into the first two years of general education and the latter two years ofspecialized education. Six different degrees can be awarded according to students ‘specialized curriculum development. Though it was just established for ten years,82% of students pursue undergraduate studies inover16 fields,and up to 59%of students choose to pursue adoctorate. In terms of future development, ProfessorXieShi pointed out that ontheone hand,Sun Yat-sen University will adjust the course module designto pursue high-quality credits, not more credits; on the other hand,Sun Yat-sen University will invest more faculty and teaching assistants. In addition, the core curriculum should be selected and encouraged better and the top-level curriculum design should be strengthened, so as to continuously promote the process of thecombination of general education andspecialized education in undergraduate education.
Afterthe four special reports, ProfessorSun Xiangchen, Deputy Secretary Generalof the University General Education Alliance made a work report of the alliance.Since its establishment in 2015, the alliance has made continuous efforts for the development of general education in Chinese universities by organizing annual meetings, national workshops on core course of general education, andusingplatforms such as WeChatofficial account “Tongshilianbo” andthejournal named“Review of General Education”, to communicate and promote exchanges across the country. In addition, with the support of Peking University, the “University-High School Roundtable Forum”was held from 2018 and this will also become an importantjob continuously promoted bythe alliance in the future.
Finally, Professor Sun Xiangchen announced that eight universities were approved to join in the alliance this year afterdeliberation ofStanding Council of the Alliance in2019, which were University of Science and Technology of China,China University of Political Science and Law, Hunan Normal University, Communication University of China, Southwest Jiaotong University, Beijing Sport University, Sichuan International Studies University and Hubei University. Sincethen, there were totally 52 member units. The next annual meeting of the alliance would be undertaken by Wuhan University.In the future, the Alliance would strive to carry out more in-depth exchange activities, especially make more exploration in the general education exchange, teacher training and other aspects.
Special Report II
In the second special report on the afternoon of 12th,Zhejiang University, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Zhejiang Gongshang University, South China Normal University and Hubei University made reports respectively on behalf of“large category of colleges”,“type of college”,“type of industry-featured universities”,“general education type of normal universities” and“type of freshmen academy”.
Professor Zhang Fan, Deputy Dean of Chu Kochen Honors College, Zhejiang University mainly introduced the cultivation of large categories and tip-top talents ofChu Kochen Honors College. After 35 years of development therewere now 11 major classes, 3 minor classes and more than 2,000enrolled students in total inChu Kochen Honors College.Chu Kochen Honors College built a batch of high-quality honor curriculum“Tiger Curriculum”, implemented individualized and internationalized cultivation of professional tutors, innovatedideological and politicalteaching, and set up anecosphere for talent training jointly with Alumni network, social network and international network.Professor Zhang Fan said that despite many concerns, she still believed that the combination of general education and specialized educationrepresents the general trend. The practice of Zhejiang University also showedthat the combination of general education and specialized education is the common appeal of teachersand students.
Yang Jianke, Deputy DirectorGeneral of Office of Academic Affairs, Xi’an Jiaotong University shared about howXi’an Jiaotong University can provideinstitutional guarantee for including all undergraduates in general education through Undergraduate School and nine colleges. Undergraduate Schoolcombined student work system andteaching administration system to realize the integration of the first classroom focusing on general education course teaching and the second classroom focusing on general practice.Two big data platforms are provided to support the timely adjustment of education and teaching work.
The thirdspeaker wasProfessor Chen Shoucan, President of Zhejiang Gongshang University.President Chen discussedabouthow to promote the general education in business administration colleges based on theimplementation of“General Education in Business”. The so-calledGeneral Education in Businessmeans to implement six measures including curriculum, association, communities and so on to develop general education that adapts to business features in new era based on traditions in business studies of the university, traditions of Zhejiang Gongshang University and Chinese traditional culture.
Soon afterwards,Professor Tang Hao from General Education Expert Group of South China Normal University took experience of the university as an example and discussed about how to carry out general education through innovation of teaching methods under resource constraints.In order to ensure a good interaction between teachers and students, the number of students in general education class should be less than 25. However,South China Normal University has tens of thousands of students but only more than 2,000 teachers. In the face of such teacher-student ratio limitation, South China Normal University introduced the teaching method of “World Coffee” torealize the sufficient communication in the classroom full of hundreds of students. Besides, Professor Tang Hao also shared the experience of South China Normal University in field practice education,construction of general education teacherteam and other aspects.
Finally, Professor Li Benyi, Deanof College of General Education, Hubei University introduced the“three-two-four training mode” of general education of Hubei University.“Three” refers to the three-dimensional training objective in knowledge,personality, and ability;“two” refers to two classroomsin and out of class;“four” refers to the large category plus four plans including habit cultivation,academic guidance,attainment training and inquiry culture cultivation. Since the first college of generaleducation among universities in Hubei (independent campus) was established by Hubei University in 2011, 25,000 students of 8 grades had completed one year of general education so far and moved back to the main campus in Wuchang.
DirectorsForumofOffice of Academic Affairs
Special reports were followed by the Directors Forum ofOffice of Academic Affairs specially opened by this annual meeting of the alliance. The forum was attended by Professor Li Junfeng, Vice Provost and Director of Office of Academic Affairs, Tsinghua University, Professor Long Yonghong, Director of Office of Academic Affairs,Renmin University of China, Professor Fang Qizhi, Director of Office of Academic Affairs, Ocean University of China, Professor Wang Wenge, Director of Office of Academic Affairs,Hunan University, and Tan Hongyan, Deputy Director of Office of Academic Affairs, East China Normal University.
The host Professor Sun Xiangchen first asked the first question to the fivedirectors ofOffice of Academic Affairs:How do you view the role of the Office of Academic Affairs in general education in universities? Li Junfeng said that in order to guarantee the effect of general education,evaluation modes should adapt to itto guide students to do well ingeneral education course according to standards of high-quality course but bird course in addition to teaching contents and methods. Besides, the evaluation standardsforteachersin all departmentsshould also be adjusted according to thesituation ofgeneral education. LongYonghong said that wewere increasingly aware of the difficulties of promoting general education inthe realistic environment dominated byspecialized education. The co-existence ofspecialized education and general education isnot equal to thecombination of general education andspecialized education. Nowadays, “two skin” phenomenon is very common. Thepromotion ofgeneral education should not be urgen tand the teaching work should not bemade more technical, otherwise it will be easy tobecome movement reform. There should be no rush to build high-quality general education courses. In the past three years, Renmin University of China had built onlymore thana dozen general education courses, but each of them penetrates deeply at a certain point and then radiates out from point to area.
Later, Professor Fang Qizhi said thatOcean University of China started to build the general education coursefrom2003. Looking back now, it seemed that the universitywas too rushed at that time. Firstly, it did not think clearly about what kind of general education it wanted, and secondly, it did notstrictly control the quality. In 2015, general education was re-reviewed andXingyuan College was established as a pilot area. Xingyuan’s interdisciplinary course required telling students about the development context and framework of the discipline, rather thanbeingtangled in the details of knowledge.General Education Center was established in 2017 and general education courses were rebuilt in batches. Wang Wenge from Hunan University put forward that all the leaders knew the importance of general education, butthe problemwas that everyone had a different understanding of general education; teachers had a wide range of attitudes and ideas about general education courses.Some teachers had feelings and ideas and were very careful,and some teachers directlytaught their specialized courses. In addition, students paid too much attention to their GPA, so no one took the high-quality general education course. Next, Tan Hongyan saidthat general education inEast China Normal University was driven byOfficeof Academic Affair sat the earliest. The advantage was excellent execution and the problem was that general education ideas were buried in the process ofexecutive-led promotion. In 2018, the university reflected on this and realizedthat general education need to be promoted jointly by Office of Academic Affairsand professors. It set up the professional responsible professors to motivate the enthusiasm ofdepartments.
For thequestions mentioned by eachspeaker in the first round ofspeeches,the host invited everyone to talk about the most specific and worst things in work and the experience of dealing with them. Long Yonghong shared that Office of AcademicAffairs wanted toeliminate all the bird courses among optional courses of general education in the university, but teachers were very much against it. Then they redesigned the electivecourses for all majors in the name ofmodularization, whichresolved thiscontradiction to acertain degree.In addition, a special committee was also established bythe Renmin University of China this year to be in charge of general education. Instead of applying for general education courses, the Renmin University of China wouldtake the initiative to find the core team. Sun Xiangchen and Li Junfeng also praised inviting good teachers to offer general education courses instead of organizing to apply for them. Althoughapplication is easier for the Office of Academic Affairs to operate, the courses applied for are often not ideal.
Wang Wenge put forward that it is also very important to create an atmosphere of general education except general education courses mentioned by everyone today. The conceptual change isvery difficult and need a long time of cultivation. In addition, a special organization should be set up to promote general education, rather than relying solely on Director of Office of Academic Affairs, otherwise the policy may change once the director is replaced. Tan Hongyan addedthat the establishment of a special organization for general education should take the situation of university into account.The practice ofEast China Normal University is to set upaworking group with a low profileto invite teacherswho are genuinely passionate about general education regardless of their qualifications.
Based on the experience of the Core Committee of General Education of Fudan University, Sun Xiangchen affirmedMr. Tan’s opinion and thenraised aquestion: how many credits should a general education course be set for? If two credits are set for general education course, students may think thetask load is too heavy and if three credits are set for generaleducation course, students will not even take it for fear of affecting theirGPA. For this question, Long Yonghong thought that the course can be divided into several groups and students are required totake at least one course in each group with the same amount of task. Li Junfeng consideredthat besides the system design, it is alsoveryimportant to change students’ ideas. Some science and engineering studentsthought that general education isnotworth the effort,with the same credits and the sameratio between class time and timeafter class. He thought that it’s time to radically reform and show every course as it should be.
AftertheDirectorsForum of Office of Academic Affairs, Professor Gan Yang, Secretary General of Alliance and Dean of Xinya College, Tsinghua University made a summary speech for the all-day meeting.
First of all, Professor Gan Yang said thatstarting with Cai Dafeng in the morning, most of speakers talked about specific problems in operation rather than official words. The difficulties will be keenly felt by those who are reallyprompting general education. All problems related to the“combination of general education and specialization” could come down to one point: how much time will be set aside for general education inspecializededucation? Although therewere differences in the specific operation of general education courses in various universities,generally about 12 creditswere set for general educationcourses, accounting for less than one tenth of the total credits of students. He frankly pointed outthat the development of general education in Chinese universities had reached a bottleneck. The so-calledbottleneck lies not in how much time teachers can devote but in the fact that the time of students is limited. If only 12 credits are still set for general education courses ten years later,it is unlikely thatgeneral education will be anymore progressive than it is today. He suggested that each department might as wellcount the output ratio of doctoral students fromundergraduates in the major. Given that only a small number of students in a departmentgot their PhD degrees and become experts in their fields over the past 20 years, we probably do need toreflect on our undergraduate education philosophy and undergraduatespecializededucation. Professor Gan Yang finally concluded that people who are really engaged in general education will realize thateach step is very difficult and students, teachers, Office of AcademicAffairs,and universities have their own difficulties. We can promote the work only by facing up to the difficultiesand not talking empty words. At this stage, it is very important to have a profound reflection on our undergraduate education philosophy.
The 4thAnnual Meeting of University General Education Alliance ended inwarm applauses.