I would like to express my deepest appreciation to the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning for granting the 2017 Learning City Award to Hangzhou. Winning this award is a result of Hangzhou’s ongoing process of developing a learning city. We would like to take this opportunity to improve policy, increase investment, promote legislation, balance urban and rural education resources, and further develop the application of new learning technologies such as online learning. We will further establish the concept of lifelong learning for all, which could promote economic transformation and social welfare, giving impetus to the sustainable development of the city. We are looking forward to enhancing cooperation with UNESCO and UIL, strengthening international communication, enlarging the cooperation between cities, and sharing the development experience.

Mr Hongming Zhang, Mayor of the Municipal Government of Hangzhou

Building a learning city

Learning city initiatives play a significant role in Hangzhou’s strategy to improve the well-being of its inhabitants.

Hangzhou is one of the most innovative cities in China when it comes to the learning opportunities it offers its citizens. The city is a front-runner in terms of the improvements made to its education system, which include making it compulsory to attend school for 15 years, compared to nine years nationwide. As a result, citizens over the age of 15 currently average 9.79 years of schooling – one of the highest rates in the country.

While Hangzhou already possesses an excellent, government-led, formal education system, the city also oversees numerous non-formal and informal learning activities that contribute to creating a culture of lifelong learning. Students are invited to learn in and out of school, and more than 100 extracurricular activities are available to young people. A vocational high school – the Migrant College – enables migrant workers to obtain professional qualifications, helping them to integrate into society. Learning opportunities are proliferating: there are 200 communal and mobile library facilities across the city, allowing thousands of learners to satisfy their desire to expand their knowledge. In addition, Hangzhou has created what it terms the ‘15-minute cultural circle concept’, stipulating that there should be a cultural centre, such as a museum, theatre or library, located no more than 15 minutes’ walk away from every citizen’s home. Furthermore, Hangzhou extensively promotes digital learning, and organized its first Digital Reading Conference in 2015.

This thriving learning and cultural environment created by the city of Hangzhou has fostered the development of digital and creative industries, boosted the city’s overall economy and contributed to the well-being of all of its citizens.

  1. Introduction

Situated in the Bay of Hangzhou between Shanghai and Ningbo, Hangzhou is famous for its unique scenery. It is known in China and worldwide for being one of the country’s most beautiful cities, with a rich historical heritage. The city, which is built around the West Lake, was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2011.

However, the city is not dependent on its heritage alone: with more than 9 million inhabitants in 2015 and 21 million people living in its metropolitan area in 2010, it is now one of China's most innovative technological hubs. Major technology companies, including the Alibaba Group, have their headquarters in the city. Hangzhou capitalizes on lifelong learning to maintain the continuous growth of its thriving economy while increasing the well-being of its citizens. Indeed, the city was awarded the title of ‘Happiest City in China’ for the ninth consecutive year following a survey carried out by Xinhua, one of China’s two official press agencies, in collaboration with the mayors’ association of mainland China.

Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province, whose strong commitment to education has been evident since 1992 when it launched a plan to build a better future based on education and science. Since then, the province has implemented several steps of its plan. One of its many successes has been the achievement of an enrolment rate of almost 100 per cent in primary and secondary schools.

For Hangzhou, education and learning are part of a virtuous circle: an inclusive learning system geared towards excellence that promotes both culture and modern technology will benefit inhabitants and the economy alike.

  1. Developing a plan

Hangzhou aims to maintain the well-being of its inhabitants and to sustain economic growth in the region. The more the city does to create a thriving learning environment for its citizens, the more educated and creative its workforce becomes. At the same time, more exciting job opportunities become available as new and innovative companies are established. These two, intertwined goals at the heart of Hangzhou’s strategy have informed the city’s initiatives to promote lifelong learning.

In order to achieve these goals, the city developed a lifelong learning system based on three pillars: excellent education, easy access to vocational training for all, and family and community education. Hangzhou is committed to the development of a dynamic teaching system, and positions itself as a pioneer among Chinese cities in this regard. Since 2004, it has extended compulsory schooling to 15 years in lieu of the nine years stipulated nationwide, and now advocates for this model.

To support this main strategic axis, Hangzhou has multiplied the learning opportunities available to its citizens. Access to physical and digital learning platforms has been facilitated and remains free of charge. More than 400 museums, theatres, memorials, galleries and cultural centres are accessible to all in the urban area. The same applies to cultural centres in rural areas.

Hangzhou is creating a comprehensive network of learning communities at the local level. In order to learn from best practices worldwide and to inspire other cities to follow its example, Hangzhou is actively cooperating with international networks and organizing international events.

  1. Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders

In 2011, Hangzhou created a structure dedicated to managing the development of a learning city, which reflects its ambition and commitment to that goal. One of its main aims is to coordinate collaboration between public administrative bodies and private initiatives, particularly from the corporate sector. With this management structure in place, the city is better able to promote and encourage learning, disseminate information across the public and private sectors, and increase the availability of learning opportunities for citizens. The steering committee of the Learning City Construction initiative, composed of the heads of various municipal bodies (specifically, those responsible for education, civil affairs, culture, statistics and finance) alongside representatives from the media and various cultural organizations, is in charge of managing and promoting learning and cultural activities citywide. The specific structure of this steering committee underlines the importance of cross-sectoral interventions when building a learning city. It is important also to note that the Steering Committee of Hangzhou’s Learning City Construction initiative works in close cooperation with Zhejiang University.

Another outcome of the kind of public-private sector cooperation championed by the steering committee was the first Digital Reading Conference, hosted by Hangzhou in 2015. It is now an annual event, recognized nationwide, which promotes innovative access to learning.

  1. Mobilizing and utilizing resources

In 2015, the city spent 19.5 billion yuan (US $2.8 billion) – 16 per cent of its total public expenditure – on culture and education. The city’s financial resources are used to fund its numerous high schools and vocational training colleges. Hangzhou also provides significant funds to train teachers throughout their careers, as a means of guaranteeing the excellent quality of the city’s education system. The municipal budget for education and culture is also used to finance other city initiatives to promote lifelong learning, such as the 200 bookcases placed in various locations across the city, where inhabitants are invited to borrow books for free.

Effective collaboration between public and private sectors is at the heart of Hangzhou’s strategy to stimulate excellence in learning. The private sector thus plays an important role in the city’s educational system: more than 520,000 people benefit from 1,050 private kindergartens, primary schools, lower-secondary schools, upper-secondary schools and non-degree awarding institutes in Hangzhou. In 2015, Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of the Alibaba Group, founded Hupan College as a private, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship among China’s business leaders. Working with other Chinese entrepreneurs and academics, Ma aims to create a curriculum centred on start-up businesses.

  1. Making learning accessible to all

Hangzhou’s view of education and learning is comprehensive and inclusive. This view is reflected in the ‘3 Ls’ (Lifelong, Life-wide and Life-deep) and the ‘6 Ws’ (which ensure that learning is accessible no matter Who, What, Where, When, Why or How) that underpin the city’s learning city policy.

Hangzhou envisages a lifelong learning system that serves communities, workplaces and families, and encompasses pre-school, basic education, higher education, adult education and special education. The city’s policy targets all citizens, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups. As a result, the city has increased the school enrolment rate for children with disabilities to 100 per cent.

Hangzhou encourages learning through innovative initiatives. One of these ensures that all citizens can easily access culture by offering free entrance to museums and memorials. Since 2008, the city has organized regular events for school pupils: 111 museums, historic buildings, galleries and youth centres have become designated activity sites, holding regular events for schoolchildren. Since 2008, nearly 10 million students from 490 schools have benefited from these activities, which have in turn served to underscore the role that museums, libraries and youth centres play as public learning spaces.

The education of domestic migrant workers and their children is a prominent issue facing many Chinese cities in the wake of rapid urbanization. Hangzhou has addressed it by launching policies aimed specifically at migrant workers and their children, who are likely to be less well-off and more marginalized than the majority of the population. In Hangzhou, migrant workers’ children are enrolled in the standard education system, while adults can access a ‘Migrant College' and follow specific training courses designed to meet the requirements of potential employers. Learners who pass these courses receive an adult vocational high school qualification and professional certificates. Over the past five years, 128,500 people have obtained these dual certificates.

  1. Organizing celebratory events

Hangzhou promotes lifelong learning through regular events such as the Hangzhou Learning Festival or the Digital Reading Festival, which take place once a year and have a local and national impact.

Just five years after it was founded, the Hangzhou Learning Festival was already hosting more than 100 cultural events and attracting 10 million visitors. The festival aims to promote lifelong learning and culture for all. It is the result of a fruitful collaboration between the public and private sectors: it was initiated by the Hangzhou Daily Press Group and the Hangzhou Cultural, Radio and Television Group, but is organized in cooperation with a number of administrative bodies in Hangzhou and Zhejiang Province. Associations such as the Municipal Women's Federation are also involved. In addition, the festival is supported by multiple private cultural and creative organizations, notably publishing groups.

As mentioned above, the city also hosts the national Digital Reading Festival. The festival is a collaboration between the city’s public and private sectors. Since its launch in 2015, it has successfully promoted the use of modern learning technologies.

  1. Monitoring and evaluation

Hangzhou cooperated with Zhejiang University’s Education College to create the Hangzhou Research Centre for Lifelong Learning, tasked with evaluating progress achieved in building a learning city. To do this, it asked a sample of 250 citizens to complete a survey based on the Key Features of Learning Cities and the Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities. The survey focused on three aspects of Hangzhou’s strategy: its benefits, the major goals of a learning city, and the conditions needed to establish such a city.

The survey’s findings provided the city with an in-depth sense of its citizens’ needs and Hangzhou’s achievements to date. It highlighted the fact that building a learning city in Hangzhou required strong support from the government, as well as the participation of key actors, including the Zhejiang University research group and a panel of educational experts.

Moreover, the survey underlined the benefits of putting learning and education at the centre of the city’s development. It stressed the positive role of activities designed specifically for disabled people and vulnerable groups in helping them integrate into society. Citizens’ high level of satisfaction with social care, education and housing provision is closely linked to Hangzhou’s learning city strategy. Free vocational training for the unemployed and funds for poor families, for example, benefit citizens in their daily lives. Another of the survey’s key findings was that focusing on the city’s unique cultural, urban and historical heritage proved particularly effective in fostering citizens’ interest in learning. Finally, the survey’s findings highlighted the importance of promoting activities on an ongoing basis to maintain interest in learning.

  1. Achievements and the way forward

Several years have passed since Hangzhou launched its strategy to build a learning city, identifying three main beneficiaries: citizens, the economy and the city as a whole.

Citizens are at the core of Hangzhou’s strategy, and building a learning city is key to their well-being. An inclusive learning system offering multiple learning opportunities and easy access to culture is partly why Hangzhou has been repeatedly judged the happiest city in China. Education, culture and learning allow citizens to have access to appealing job opportunities and higher incomes, and increase their quality of life.

Building a learning city has considerable economic benefits. Hangzhou is seen as one of China’s most innovative technological hubs. A stimulating work and learning environment, along with a qualified workforce, attracts competitive and innovative companies. Businesses from the creative and digital industries, such as Migu Digital Media, are more likely to settle in Hangzhou because of its thriving learning environment. The education and training industry also brings economic benefits for the city, generating an income of 59.67 billion yuan (US $ 8.7 billion) in 2015 alone.

In summary, learning city initiatives benefit the city on a number of levels. Joining a global network has improved Hangzhou’s reputation and visibility internationally: in 2016, for example, it hosted the G20 summit. At the same time, learning promotes sustainable and creative development locally.

  1. Contact



Zhengpin Lu

Official title/organization

Director of Hangzhou Municipal Steering Committee of Learning City Construction


City website

http://eng.han gzhou.gov.cn/



For citation please use

Last update: 2 August 2017. Hangzhou. China. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 28 May 2020, 05:23 CEST)

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