Shai Reshef believes that education should be a right and not a privilege. His core argument is that there are communities that hunger for higher education around the world, and the internet has created, among other things, the potential for a new educational economy.
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The University of the People (UoPeople) Reshef founded is the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited, online academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally for all qualified individuals, despite financial, geographic or societal constraints—according to their “About” page.
And you can take their degree to the bank, or, rather, to a graduate school anywhere in the world. In February 2014 UoPeople received accreditation from the Distance and Education Training Council, a U.S. Department of Education authorized accrediting agency.
For now, the University of the People offers Associate and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration and in Computer Science. But they also offer Arts & Science courses, “to add both depth and breadth to each student’s overall educational experience by providing opportunities to make interdisciplinary connections between concepts and ideas, as well as an environment to contemplate their meaning and significance.”
Founded in 2009 by educational entrepreneur Shai Reshef, who until then was CEO and Chairman of the Kidum Group, an Israel test preparation company with annual revenues exceeding $25 million, UoPeople is affiliated with the United Nations’ Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), the Clinton Global Initiative, and Yale Law School The Information Society Project (ISP).
As to recognition: UoPeople has signed collaborative partnership agreements with New York University (NYU) to accept students; Microsoft for scholarships, internships and mentoring and with Hewlett-Packard (HP), and the Catalyst Initiative for student internship opportunities.
About 2, 000 students from more than 150 countries have been enrolled.
Steven Rosenbaum, writing for Forbes on Sunday, related that, when taking his high school student son on a college tour this year, he noticed the colleges they visited offered no awareness of the new communications realities of the 21st century. They might as well have been operating in the late seventeen hundreds:
There was no discussion of WiFi on campus, of electronic campus communities, of access to study materials online, of making up online for missed classes, of electronic access to professors via chat or email, or of Skype study groups.
“We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just looked at what wasn’t working and used the amazing power of the Internet to get around it, ” Reshef told Rosenbaum. “We set out to build a model that will cut down almost entirely the cost of higher education, and that’s how we did it. First, bricks and mortar cost money. Universities have expenses that virtual universities don’t. We don’t need to pass these expenses onto our students. They don’t exist.”
Reshef explained: “By using open educational resources and the generosity of professors who are putting their material free and accessible, we don’t need to send our students to buy textbooks. All of our materials come free.”
And: “The most expensive line in any university balance sheet, Professors, come free to our students, over 3, 000 of them, including presidents, vice chancellors, professors and academic advisors from top universities such as NYU, Yale, Berkeley and Oxford, came on board to help our students.”