A quiet cup of tea in Sun Yat Sen Park, Beijing

Contribution from Martine Vidal, Vice-President

On the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary, and of the tenth anniversary of the China Distance Education Society (CDES), CCRTVU, now the Open University of China, has organised an International Forum on the 16th and 17th of October 2009, on the theme of : “Challenges and Opportunities for Open and Distance Learning in Lifelong Learning in a Global Financial and Economic Crisis”. It was followed by a ceremony in the Great Hall of the People, on Tienanmen square on the 18th.

As Vice President of EDEN I have had the privilege of being invited to tackle the following subject in one of the Forum plenary session, on the first day: “Innovative Competence: Strategies and measures to address demands and changes in socioeconomics in evolving contexts, and ability of coping with local and global challenges”.
At the end of my talk I officially offered a copy of the EDEN book «Distance and E-learning in Transition, Learning innovation, technology and social challenges» as a birthday present to CCRTVU.

The whole Forum has been an amazing occasion, with participants from all over Asia and from parts of the western world. I met numerous Asian colleagues, in both formal and informal ways, such as : Prof. Ge Daokai, President of CCRTVU, Vice Presidents, Zhang Shaogang, and Yan Bing, Professor Zhang Yuguang, Professor Li Yawan, with colleagues from her department – Haishan Chen, Spring Dai, and from the Chinese Ministry of Education: Professor Wu Qidi, or from related institutions: Dr Zhang Yousheng. From Taiwan Prof. Chen Dar-Wu, Jack Fei Yang, from Malaysia, Wong Tat Meng , the Vice Chancellor of the Wawasan university, or Prof. Yan Ze Xian, rector of the Open University of Macau, and Prof. Yoichi Okabe, Vice president of the Open University of Japan … and many more with whom it has been so interesting to share experiences, and to realise how important the hopes and efforts are invested in distance education.

I have been really happy to be able to continue the previous contacts between EDEN and CCRTVU, as several visits from us to CCRTVU (Alan Tait more recently, Ingeborg Bø and Ulrich Bernath two years ago …) or from CCRTVU to EDEN (Professor GeDaokai, Li Yawan, …), various exchanges and participations in annual conferences have taken place.

Among the other international guests I had the pleasure of meeting again with Carl Holmberg, Secretary General of ICDE and previously an EC member of EDEN. At the inaugural session, just our two networks (that is, not based in Asia) were present on stage, as can be seen on the photograph posted on the Forum homepage:


Well, you do have to look carefully to the very end of the row, there we are, Carl and I…

More about the forum and the participants in the plenary and parallel sessions can be found at on this site.

Among the participants in the plenary sessions :

  • Ge Daokai – President, the Open University of China
  • Sir John Daniel – President, Commonwealth of Learning
  • Martine Vidal – Vice-President of the European Distance and Elearning network (EDEN)
  • Prof. Gajaraj Dhanarajan – Vice-Chancellor & CEO, Wawasan University
  • Dr. Susan C. Aldridge – President, University of Maryland University College
  • Prof. V. N. Rajasekharan Pillai – Vice-Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University
  • Prof. Anuwar Ali – President/Vice Chancellor?Open University Malaysia (OUM)
  • Prof. Sarah Guri-Rosenblit – Director of International Academic Outreach, The Open University of Israel
  • Carl Holmberg – Secretary General for the International Council of Open and Distance Education (ICDE)
  • Prof. Denise Kirkpatrick – Pro Vice-Chancellor, the Open University of UK

Parallel sessions had been organised as well, and two special “Debate sessions”, one in Chinese, one in English, where two teams of three students were to defend (affirmative side) of argue against (negative side) the idea that distance education was not more cost efficient than face to face education. The teams belonged to either the University of Beijing (traditional) or CCRTVU. It was a lively session, with a few jokes (on the advantage of being on site for getting married, or the fact that DE must be better because the Party says so), but some more serious arguments too, notably on the “Open” status of DE vs the selective process of traditional universities. We were involved via electronic voting! This gave the opportunity for students to express themselves (something we are keen on at EDEN too, I think). Given the circumstances, you will not be surprised that the distance education students won!

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Sir John Daniel is getting involved

Prof. Li Yawan has been very welcoming, and showed us the developments of CCRTVU. She took us to the headquarters of CCRTVU, showed us the several communication rooms, videoconferencing facilities, etc. and told us they would be moving next year as the university is developing fast and needs more space.
And she paid great attention to our cultural curiosity as tourists : I now have a stone seal engraved with my initials and enough brushes and ink for taking up calligraphy when I retire.


Li Yawan also showed us the numerous presents made by CRTV universities in the provinces on the occasion of the CCRTVU anniversary, exhibited in the hall of their main building : extraordinary sculptures, tapestries, traditional artefacts, etc.

Visit to Tianjin RTVU

A few weeks before the Forum, Carl Holmberg and I had received invitations to take part to the opening of a seminar of presidents of Asian universities at Tianjin University on October 20th.
After that session all in Chinese, and a few photographs later, we had a more private session with President Feng Xuefei, Vice presidents Wand Fanzhen and Wang Xiaoming and other colleagues: Prof. Dou Mengru and Yang Shunqi,Wong Tat Meng.

We visited two study centres in Tianjin and, on that week day there were many senior citizens attending, very much concentrated on the computer screens. The university uses radio and satellite television, Internet and videoconferencing for pedagogical purposes. We visited one of the two Schools – a technical one – where a new videoconferencing room had just been installed: very advanced technology and immensely comfortable seats, the kind no French academic (not to mention the students) would dare dream about.

And we were also introduced to the refinements of Chinese cooking.


In Tianjin, university dinner

On the 29th of October I received this message, that I wish to share with EDEN:

On behalf of President of OUC Ge Daokai, Vice-president Zhang Shaogang and every member of Organizing Committee of ISODE, we would like to express our sincere thanks for your attending to the Forum and the passionate email. Meanwhile, we deeply appreciate your valuable experience and visions for the Forum. We have been convinced that all of your contributions to the keynote speech, TV interview, debate salon, visiting in OU Tianjin and etc will be significantly beneficial for the development of OUC and open and distance education in China.

Finally, we wish EDEN and CNED a brightest future and our collaboration and friendship to be stayed everlasting. Warmly Welcome to China in the near future!

But back to the title of my blog entry: just after arriving in Beijing, and a little jet-lagged, I went for a walk by myself, and discovered a very quiet tea house in the middle of the Sun Yat Sen park, close to the Forbidden city. There was no one in it, and I sat on the veranda with a cup of green tea, getting slowly acquainted to the new environment, the park, the ornamented covered passage. A half hour I will not forget. It got late and I hailed a sort of “motorbike taxi” (a good thing I was seated not looking ahead, but backward on that little shaky one-seater) and got back into reality, into busy Beijing!


A wonderful tree trunk in the Sun Yat-Sen park in Beijing

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