Work programme and Implementation

Second phase (2016-2019)
For the study a detailed work programme was defined, involving three action lines and presented as sets of milestones. A distinction was made between ‘activities’ to perform by the ‘new subject areas’ and the ‘old subject areas’. The list of identified activities was used as the basis for defining the draft agendas for the meetings/conferences 2 to 4, which took place in 2018 and 2019. Due to the funding the Chinese Ministry of Education was able to make available, the focus in the project was on the ‘new subject areas’. In practice they took over part of the ‘activities’ initially scheduled for the ‘old subject areas’.

According to the initial planning the ‘old subject area groups’ would devote much time and efforts to develop a Chinese Credit Reference System (CCRS). In practice a different approach was applied. The NCEDR of the Ministry of Education took the initiative to organise an International Conference on Tuning Higher Education Quality and Credit System, to raise awareness about and to discuss a student workload and output based credit system in Beijing (19 October 2018) in conjunction with the second combined conference of the Study. For this meeting academic experts were invited from renowned universities from all over China. The meeting was attended by more than 100 experts, of which a high number contributed significantly to the debate. In particular EU experts played a central role in this conference as speakers and panel chairs.

The conference was used by the Ministry to find out whether there would be sufficient support to develop a new Chinese credit point system, in practice replacing the Carnegie System applied by many Chinese higher education institutions although not in a consistent way. A follow-up was organised to collect more data about the use of credit systems by Chinese higher education institutions as well as the calculation of student workload by asking the new subject area groups to organise a survey for finding out more about the use/calculation of credit points. The initial results of these surveys were presented at the 4th conference in December 2019.

As part of the Study a site visit was made of a delegation consisting of members of NCEDR and academic leaders of the working groups to Europe in November 2017. The delegation involved 8 persons. The aim was to acquaint the Chinese with practices in European higher education institutions. For this purpose each of the EU experts of the ‘new’ subject area groups prepared a programme at their institutions to explain the organisation of studies, the application of the student centred approach and the use of ECTS in practice. The tour involved visits to the University of Wuppertal (D), Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt (D) and the University of Tampere (FIN). The Chinese delegation was accompanied by the EU coordinator and the EU manager of the Study.  The site visit was finished by a meeting hosted by unit C3 of DG EAC in Brussels. At this meeting the aim of the study was discussed and the members of the Chinese delegation offered their expectations and presented their first impressions of the higher education institutions visited. The Chinese delegation proved in particular impressed by the German dual system and the level of (applied) research it involves. This was no different for the level of implementation of the student-centred and active learning approach and the full application of ECTS for curriculum design, implementation, quality assurance and also credit recognition.

The initial meeting or first meeting, which was linked to the Beijing HHPD meeting 2016, was crucial to bridge the first and second phase of the Study. This meeting was based on 3 sessions. In session 1 Tuning in global context and Tuning in China was outlined. In session 2 the Tuning Methodology towards the student-centred approach and the development of (meta) profiles as well as level indicators and descriptors and the survey instrument to identify the importance/achievement were explained. It also contained presentations by the EU experts of the subject areas of Nursing, Information and Computing Sciences and Transport and Logistics. Finally in the third session the Chinese academic leaders of the three working groups representing the three new subject areas presented the ‘state of affairs’ in their subject area. The meeting was finished with discussing the implementation of the EU-China Study II. The meeting showed that already some initial work had been done regarding the implementation of the questionnaire on the importance/achievements of competences.

The second meeting  took place in October 2018. The meeting was linked to both the International Conference on Tuning Higher Education Quality and Credit System for which NCEDR was able to obtain special funding and the 2018 EU-China Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange (HEPCE) Meeting. The Tuning EU-China Study meeting was hosted by the North China University of Technology based in Beijing. The meeting concentrated in particular on the outcomes of the surveys of the importance/achievement of generic and subject specific competences. These were presented in plenary sessions and discussed in more detail by the different working groups. Prior to the International Conference also the philosophy of and experience with student workload credit systems in different parts of the world were shared.

The third meeting/conference took place in June 2019 and was hosted by Shanghai Sipo Polytechnic School of Health Science and Nursing based in Shanghai. It started with a plenary session which was also meant for a wider audience to draw attention to the aims and objectives of the Study. The plenary was for example attended by a large group of students and their supervisors from Dutch Universities of Applied Sciences who were hosted by Sapo in the framework of a study visit. More than 100 people attended the opening session. NCEDR was represented with four members of staff.

The meeting built on the outcomes of the first and second meeting and activities employed between the second and third combined conference. Initial steps were made for defining subject area based qualifications frameworks for the three new subject areas involved in this study, as well as civil engineering. As agreed with the Mission of China to the EU first steps were made regarding the development of a Guideline on EU-China Higher Education Credit Transfer and Recognition (provisional title). Finely, discussions took place for developing models of effective strategies and methods to implement the student-centred approach in terms of identified aligned modes of learning, teaching and assessment. These form the basis for developing a matching quality culture for quality enhancement and assurance at degree programme level.

At this meeting it was noticed it would be necessary to collect more data which were thought useful to prepare the documents and publications foreseen as an outcome of the second stage of the Study. These data should be collected by using the format of questionnaires, which would offer better and wider evidence regarding practices in organising and delivering higher education degree programmes in China. For reasons of comparability and compatibility questionnaire were prepared in August 2019 based on the ones applied for the European CALOHEE project. The three questionnaires were edited and combined in two questionnaires as part of the translation process in Chinese.

The fourth and last meeting of the Study was hosted by Chongqing University and took place on 6-7 December 2019. The meeting was prepared at a meeting of three members of the NCEDR staff (Xiaoyan WANG, Kai MA and Yan LIANG) and the coordinator of the EU expert team which took place at the Ministry of Education in Beijing on 25 October 2019. Being the final meeting of the study it had a rather ambitious draft agenda:

  1. Finalising subject areas related documents which offer the outcomes of the stakeholders’ surveys, implemented by the three new subject area groups, regarding the importance and level of achievement of both subject specific competences and generic competences. These documents are based on earlier presentations of the new subject area groups.
  2. Discussing and defining the student workload of Chinese educational degree programmes on the basis of the information collected by the questionnaire distributed. This should result in an initial credit points testing model for student mobility to and from China and Europe, This model is intended as a facilitator for (full) recognition of studies (so called ‘credit mobility’).
  3. Defining the employability field and the tasks executed and responsibilities taken on by graduates of the subject areas involved, by making use of the outcomes of the dedicated questionnaire.
  4. Preparation / finalising one-page Qualifications Reference Frameworks for the Subject Areas involved for both the first and second cycle (bachelor and master). These frameworks will be based on the outcomes of the surveys indicated above in combination with materials produced by of the European CALOHEE project (
  5. Identifying and describing examples of student-centred models for learning, teaching and assessment to allow for promoting outcome-based learning (see also CALOHEE outcomes).
  6. Editing the Guideline on EU-China Higher Education Credit Mobility: overcoming obstacles for mobility and recognition on the basis of suggestions made by the European Commission and the Chinese authorities responsible for higher education. The Guideline should serve as an instrument for mutual recognition of Chinese and EU Higher Education at degree programme level.

The meeting was structures in the format of blocks of working sessions which allowed for in-depth discussions and reflections on the topics identified. The blocks followed a plenary session in which the aims of the two meeting days were outlined. The Plenary was open to a wider audience, which counted more than 100 students, academics and supporting staff. The conference/meeting was opened by the director-general of NCEDR. NCEDR was represented by four members of staff. At the end of both meeting days the subject area groups of experts reported on the progress made in a plenary session format.

The model applied allowed for maximum flexibility in using the available time as effectively as possible. Most block sessions were subject area based. The aim was to finish the two-meeting days with draft documents which would allow for finalizing in the immediate weeks after the meeting.  Although the outcomes of the meeting were quite satisfying, it also became clear that some additional work still had to be done, in particular regarding more detailed analyses of the materials collected from the surveys/questionnaires.

Important input for the meeting were the survey questionnaires of which the initial outcomes were presented by NCEDR staff. They were discussed in more detail by the EU and Chinese academic experts.

First phase (2012-2014)
In the work plan of this study a number of milestones were foreseen to offer structure to the work to be established.

As part of the preparatory phase two meetings were scheduled with representatives of Unit C4 of DG EAC and the Mission of China to the EU. These took place in September and October 2012. As part of a process to develop further understanding of the Tuning methodology and its impact representatives of the Mission of China participated in the conference Tuning in the World. New Degree Profiles for New Societies which took place in Brussels on the 21st of November 2012.

The first mile stone was realized by a visit in November 2012 of the EU coordinator, Robert Wagenaar and the co-founder of Tuning, Julia Gonzalez, to Beijing – which took place in conjunction with a visit to the Commissioner for Education and Culture – to discuss further implementation. As a result, the project outline was fine-tuned and the three subject areas and their Chinese academic leaders were agreed as well as the 5 high level universities to involve in each of the subject area groups identified.

At the second mile stone, the Xi’An seminar which took place at the Xi’An Jiao Tong University on 23-24 March 2013, the European experts presented the Tuning methodology, the survey instrument for stakeholders and the European Tuning findings in the three subject areas involved. Each of the three subject areas also had an initial meeting to discuss the outline of the study and the two strands of generic and subject specific competences. The different sessions of the meeting were very lively and showed serious interest and commitment from the Chinese MOE and the subject specific experts. The Chinese colleagues confirmed the relevance of the Tuning approach for their country and higher education institutions. They stressed that also for China reforms were thought necessary to line up with global developments and to prepare their students better for their future role in society. In particular the emphasis on transferable competences/skills was thought to be important. Concrete examples were offered in this respect. Focus was at that moment more on knowledge acquisition than on development of generic competences or general academic skills. For example, oral and written skills were felt to be insufficiently developed. This is also the experience of European HE institution hosting Chinese students. Furthermore, it was stipulated that approaches towards learning and teaching should be more active, to stimulate full participation of students in class. This is related to competences focusing on developing debating skills, peer reviewing but also to an entrepreneurial spirit as well as creativity. At the meeting the three academic leaders took the initiative to organize the activities of their groups for follow-up meetings of Chinese group members to prepare the lists of generic and subject specific competences based on the European examples.

The third milestone was the Tuning workshop at the first meeting of the EU-China Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange (HEPCE). It was attended by the EU Tuning project leader, the project manager and representatives of the MoE, two Chinese academic group leaders and one substitute group leader and a number of invited guests and Tuning experts. The seminar was directly followed by a learning visit to 3 European universities – the universities of Ghent (26 April), Deusto (29 April) and Groningen (1 May) – of a Chinese delegation of 6 representatives, 3 from the Ministry of Education and the three academic leaders of the subject areas selected.

The fourth milestone was the preparation of the lists of competences to be consulted. The process to prepare these started, as stated above, at the Xi’An seminar, continued during the site visit and was finished in June. The translations were an important point of attention. The consultation on generic and subject specific competence took place according to plan among four stakeholder groups (students, academic staff, graduates and employers) during the month of July 2013.

As a fifth milestone, the second seminar meeting for each of the three groups took place at the end of August / beginning of September in three different locations: Shanghai, Xi’An and Beijing and was hosted by the leading universities of the groups: Tongji University (Civil Engineering), Xi’An Jiaotong University (Business) and Beijing Normal University (Comparative Education).  The meeting of the Business group in Xi’An was attended by the Chinese coordinator of the Tuning study / the Director of Lifelong Learning of the MoE, Dr. Xianjin Dou,. The Deputy Director of the same unit, Ms. Dr. Hai Hong Lu, was present at the meetings of the Engineering Group and the Education Group.

The presentation of and reflection on the outcomes of the consultation process took place at this second seminar meetings. At the three seminars the preparation of the conceptual framework / meta-profile of each of the subject areas, on the basis of the Tuning template, started. Before the seminar, the document a “Brief Summary of Tuning methodology with reference to the EU-China Tuning Study” was distributed.

At the seminar meetings also the transfer from the identified key competences (clustered set of competences based on the consultation process) into learning outcomes, the actual preparation/writing of these learning outcomes statements, were covered.

The sixth milestone was the preparation of the research paper by the EU coordination team in which the outcomes of the consultation surveys were presented and analysed and compared to the outcomes of surveys implemented in Europe. A draft version was finished in October 2013, in time to be taken into account for the final stage of the Study, the production of the conceptual frameworks. A more final version of the paper became available one month later.

During the September-December 2013 period the Chinese subject area groups worked hard on the preparation of the Conceptual Frameworks. The Chinese group leaders were in contact with each other as well as with the EU experts to prepare draft texts. These frameworks are a key outcome of the study and will serve not only the understanding of the Chinese Higher Educational system and its degree programmes structure, but they will also contribute to the reform of the existing system, one of the key objectives of this Study.

The work on the Conceptual Frameworks / Meta-profiles is based on a draft structure of 11 items presented at the August/September seminars, which follows the Tuning methodology applied in all Tuning projects. The items covered at these seminars were:

  • Description of the field of the Subject Area in China;
  • Overview of typical degrees offered in the subject area: orientation and application and main-subfields and specializations;
  • Overview of typical occupations, distinguishing first and second cycle (Bachelor and Master).

The seventh and final milestone – before the publication of this Final Report – were the 3rd Subject Area Group seminars which took place – according to plan – at the end of November / beginning of December in three different locations: Suzhou (28-29 November 2013), Shanghai (30 November – 1 December 2013) and Beijing (1-2 December 2013). The Civil Engineering and Comparative Education meetings were hosted by its leading university, respectively Tongji University and Beijing Normal University. The Business group meeting was hosted this time by Xi’An Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou. The meetings of the Business group and the Civil Engineering Group were attended by three representatives of MoE, Dr. Xianjin Dou, the Chinese coordinator of the Tuning study / Director of Lifelong Learning of the MoE, Ms. Dr. Hai Hong Lu, Deputy Director of the same unit and Ms Dr. Li Chen, Programme Officer of the Division of European Affaires of the Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges. Dr. Dou attended also the seminar meeting of the Education Group in Beijing. He was accompanied by another representative of the European Affairs unit at the MoE. At this meeting the first draft of the conceptual frameworks / meta-profiles were discussed. A conceptual framework or meta-profile offers the key features of a subject area in term of core generic and subject specific competences or combinations there off.

The work done during the period September – November 2013 was presented at the 3rd subject area group seminars. The presentations inspired very open and intensive discussions for further improvements and fine-tuning of the material presented.

One of the papers that was circulated as preparation for the meeting was an informative PPT presentation prepared by the Chinese project coordinator dr. Xianjin Dou, entitled Macro Educational Politics in the first two Decades of the 21st Century in China. Also a PPT presentation regarding the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and Learning Outcomes, prepared by the EU-project leader was distributed to serve as input for further discussions.

During these meetings also much attention was devoted to the identification of communalities and differences between European and Chinese HE by focussing on the structures and content of degree programmes, the credit systems in use and the approaches to teaching, learning and assessment applied, as well as quality assurance in Higher Education. Both with regard to the first cycle (bachelor), and second cycle (master), a detailed picture was obtained of the Chinese situation compared to the European.

All Conceptual Framework / Meta-profile Reports were finalised in draft format before Chinese New Year. The period February-April was used to compare and edit the materials of the groups. This was a shared responsibility of the EU team and the Chinese team. E-mail was used as the main means of communication.