Conclusions and Road Map Ahead

It can be stated that the Tuning EU-China Study was implemented successfully. The approach applied focussing on three disciplines by groups of limited size and a total of 15 renowned Chinese universities, proved to be a successful formula. The three series of seminars allowed for in-depth discussion and full involvement of all academic experts present. The Chinese academic leaders played a crucial role in the process of implementation. They led the internal Chinese group discussions also outside the scheduled seminars as part of the study.

From the discussions it could be learned that the challenges China has to face, the transfer from a staff centred to an outcomes based approach in teaching, learning and assessment, and the necessity of moving to a more efficient and transparent system were fully understood and supported. Thus, the high relevance of the EU-China Tuning Study for the Chinese Higher Education sector was confirmed. The Study clearly has highlighted the relevance of the Tuning competences / Learning Outcomes approach as a means for reform. As a result of the study the understanding of the Chinese Higher Education System by the European participants has been deepened as a result of the very intense and open debates at the seminar meetings.

It can be confirmed that China will have to go through a process of reform of its higher education sector to match with the developments in the higher educational sector in other parts of the world. However, there are also important national factors which require for action to be taken. The higher education sector is growing rapidly but it has difficulties to assure that the overall quality of the educational programmes meet minimum standards at all levels. Like in other continents and countries there is a huge gap between the top universities and more local and regional oriented universities. Nevertheless, even for the top universities there are challenges ahead, as the outcomes of the consultation process clearly show. The focus in the degree programmes is very much on knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer and not very much on skills and competence development. Academic staff has confirmed that research is considered to be their main task, whereas teaching generally does not have high priority. Furthermore, the length of degree programmes and their limited effectiveness are perceived in China as a serious problem. Many programmes do not prepare students sufficiently well for the labour market. As is well known the number of unemployed persons in China holding a university degree is growing. It is very obvious that the Tuning approach can help effectively contribute to the required reforms.

With regard to the relevance of the study, Chinese and EU Higher Education require a comparable and compatible basis for cooperation. Cooperation is understood here as organising mobility (staff and students) and joint programmes on an equal footing. The Chinese authorities have announced that they want to attract more students from abroad. However, it must be acknowledged that the higher education sector – even the top universities – has limited added value for Europe at present.

From the discussions so far, as well as from the outcomes of the consultation process, it is clear that development of generic or transferable skills and competences in degree programmes has not been very high on the agenda. Nevertheless, the consultations show us that there is no question that these are perceived as being (very) important. There is not much difference in this respect between the different stakeholder groups. As stated before, the gap between what is considered important and what is achieved is larger than in other continents and regions where the Tuning consultation was carried out.

In order to create a good basis for mplementing reforms, it is important to develop an in depth understanding of how the academic sector is organised, what is actually taught at the moment and what the potential employability is of graduates. The three selected subject areas in the study have served as samples to develop a model or models which can be applied more broadly to other subject areas. Mapping the disciplines and employability fields involved were tasks to be done by the Chinese academic experts as part of the Tuning methodology.

As has been stated in the introduction, the study should allow for (i) strengthening the compatibility of EU and China education systems, (ii) enhancing outcome-based education, (iii) overcoming obstacles to mobility, (iv) establishing commonly acknowledged quality criteria and (v) developing tools for mutual recognition.

These five objectives are interrelated. The first seminar which took place in Xi’An contributed significantly to the awareness among the Chinese participants of the issues at stake and the reform process in Higher Education in Europe focusing on (learning) outcome based learning. The second round of Subject Area based seminars offered more insights into the state of affairs of Chinese Higher Education and the requirements / needs for reform. Also a significant start was made with developing models for moving to an educational system of outcome based learning. The consultation outcomes play an important role in this respect. The third and last round of Subject Area seminars was used to finalise the discussions about the Meta-profiles / Reference points for the three subject areas which are the basis of a system of outcomes based learning. Following from this commonly acknowledged quality criteria can be developed. These are crucial for developing a good basis for trust and confidence which are key factors for overcoming obstacles to mobility and the development of tools for mutual recognition. Regarding all these aspects of the study the three subject areas can serve as models in their own sectors as well as models for other subject areas / disciplines.

Nevertheless, it is important to realise this was a study of limited scope. Having started the process of strengthening the compatibility of EU and China education systems, it makes sense to continue this process. Some of the necessary actions identified, that is removing obstacles to mobility, establishing commonly acknowledged quality criteria and developing tools for mutual recognition, were discussed but not concluded. It will require more in-depth study and a wider approach to develop the instruments required. A good follow-up of this study might be the development of a student workload based and learning outcomes based credit system as well as a Chinese qualifications system for higher education. As stated in the chapter Outcomes it is also advisable to broaden the study to academic sectors not covered in this one.

Developing such instruments as well as the shift to outcome based learning seems to be a pre-condition for facilitating the cooperation between Chinese and European higher education. It goes without saying that this is in the interest of both parties, but it also shows us that there are still significant steps to be made.