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XuetangX, the MOOC platform set up by Tsinghua University and the MoE Research Centre for Online Education in 2013, hosts some 400 courses.

The number of students enrolled on a MOOC in China is set to exceed 10 million by the end of 2016, up from 1.5 million just two years ago, a white paper from the Ministry of Education has predicted.

Published by the MoE’s Online Education Research Centre, the report charts an explosion of interest in massive open online courses since 2014. In the last year alone, the estimated number of registered MOOC users in China has come close to doubling, with the total standing at 5.75 million in 2015.

90% of China’s colleges and universities have not yet begun to develop MOOC provision

Higher education institutions have so far led the charge when it comes to developing MOOCs, working with internet companies and online education enterprises to develop platforms for delivery.

Preparation for China’s university entrance exam, the gaokao, is one of the most popular topics for Chinese MOOCs, along with higher education modules that slot into university courses and for-credit classes that new students can take before arriving on campus.

The vast majority of learners (83%) are aged between 18 and 35.

The white paper estimates that some 1,200 MOOCs have so far been developed by around 30 universities and an unspecified number of colleges, with a much greater focus on higher education rather than vocational courses.

But despite the boom in enrolments and courses, 90% of China’s colleges and universities have not yet begun to develop MOOC provision, according to the report.

The substantial resources needed to develop a high-quality MOOC and the subsequent building of brand awareness in order to attract users are barriers for most institutions to develop a course, the report notes.

An online survey of 761 learners who had taken a MOOC in the last year, included in the white paper, revealed that despite the bigger focus from universities to develop higher education courses, vocational training was actually more popular among respondents.

Around 61% said they were interested in this type of course, compared with 44% who were interested in degree or diploma level MOOCs.

This apparent gap between provision and demand creates opportunities not only for Chinese institutions but also their overseas counterparts.

“There may therefore be room to introduce quality content in the FE sector from overseas countries such as the UK,” commented Kevin Prest and Liu Xiaoxiao at the British Council China.

“There may be room to introduce quality content in the FE sector from overseas countries”

“The white paper predicts that the future development of the MOOC industry in China will include the expansion of service value not only to the online learners, but also schools and business (employers) – with more vocational and professional training courses for employees or adult learners,” they added.

The survey also revealed the vast majority of learners (83%) are aged between 18 and 35, with almost half falling within the 18-25 age bracket.

The largest group of MOOC takers in the survey were students (39%), followed by entry-level employees, and all but 7% had either completed or were in the process of undertaking a higher education qualification.

Just under a quarter of those who took part in the survey (22%) said they had paid for their course, spending on average between 201 and 300 RMB ($30-45).

The survey also showed users spend short periods on a course at any one time, studying for around 10-20 minutes per session.

When it came to choosing a MOOC platform, the majority of users (70%) made their decision based on the quality of the curriculum, while others commented specifically on the outstanding teachers or courses linked to their personal interests.

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