TRU to work with world’s largest university

Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω 

TRU has strengthened its ties with a university that has almost as many students as the entire province of Alberta has people.

A delegation from the Open University of China (OUC) met with TRU officials on Sept. 21 to officially cut a ribbon symbolizing the expansion of joint research projects, as well as prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) training programs.

Like TRU, OUC provides open and distance education.

“[OUC] provides education to a huge number of students, over 3.5 million students,” said Li Linshu, a vice-president of OUC, via translator. “That’s a challenge for us, so we really want to work with TRU on how to provide better education for our students.”

OUC is headquartered in Beijing, but has semi-autonomous provincial-level universities and county-level study centres under its umbrella.

“Think of it like UBCO (University of B.C. Okanagan) on steroids,” said Gordon Tarzwell, vice-provost of open learning. “UBC’s in Vancouver, the Open University, their headquarters is in Beijing and then they have all of these satellites and satellites of satellites. So that’s how they got to millions of students.”

Both universities operate PLAR “credit banks,” which means that people applying can, for a fee, get university credits from training programs provided by the company they worked for in their last career or from other courses.

“This means that you don’t have to start all over again,” said Alan Shaver, TRU’s president. “If you’ve taken Boxology 100 in another country or in another province, traditional schools say: ‘you’ve got to do our Boxology.’ We’re not doing that.”

It will take a few years for TRU students to notice any difference, said Tarzwell, as it takes a while to establish joint research programs, but he expects TRU to become more international as a result.

The delegation from OUC is the largest of several delegations coming to TRU over the next few weeks. Deans from the Universidad la Sabana in Medellin, Colombia, arrived Sept. 22, a delegation from Jiaxing University in Zhejiana, China, came Sept. 25 and another delegation from the Tec de Monterrey in Cuernavaca, Mexico, arrives Sept. 26.

It takes a lot of field work to build relationships with other universities and forge agreements, said Shaver.

“It’s important that TRU actually go out to visit these universities and organizations in their country, in their city,” he said. “It means a lot to them, but it means more to us because we get a much better understanding of what their dreams are, what their needs are and how we can actually provide some partnerships.”

The academic and cultural benefits of such trips are immediate, but it takes a while for the university and the local community to see financial benefits, which are produced when students from other countries come to study at TRU, said Shaver.