Development of distance education in Chinese higher education in perspectives of accessibility, quality and equity under COVID-19

Ying CHEN*, Angela Yung Chi HOU, Lei HUANG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


This paper aimed to explore the development of distance education (DE) in Chinese higher education as well as the three significant themes: accessibility, quality and equity in Chinese DE and the performance of these three themes in Chinese DE.

Document analysis was used as the major research method in this study to examine the development and challenges in terms of accessibility, quality and equity in Chinese DE. In this study, national-level official policy documents and reports from the Chinese government were collected and analyzed. Also, scientific articles from CNKI were analyzed to find out the evolution of the Frontier topics on Chinese DE in accessibility, quality and equity.

There are three major findings. First, the Chinese government has shown its positive attitude toward DE in higher education. Second, compared with the other two themes: quality and equity; the number of articles in the accessibility of DE was lower than the other two themes and the problems of accessing online courses were insufficiently caused by two reasons due to lack of basic ICT literacy and poor Internet infrastructure. Third, there was a gap between Chinese policies and research articles mainly because of the unbalanced development of accessibility in policy management and research articles.

Research limitations/implications
Although this paper has summarized the development of the DE in Chinese higher education, it was clear that accessibility, quality and equity were three critical issues in DE. However, there are still other essential factors that contribute to the development of DE that requires further investigation, such as learner satisfaction, different features of learning platforms and instructional strategy.

Practical implications
The findings of this paper can be used to identify the attitude toward the DE of the Chinese government. Besides, the accessibility could be a research and practical focus for Chinese DE in the future.

This study showed some significant policies released by the Chinese government toward DE in higher education and revealed the achievements, trends and challenges in the accessibility, quality and equity of Chinese DE.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-365
Number of pages10
JournalAsian Education and Development Studies
Issue number2
Early online date19 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2022


  • Chinese higher education
  • Distance education
  • Accessibility
  • Quality
  • Equity


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