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Friday, December 25, 2015

‘For most, a great education is wishful thinking’

Photo: Satish Nandgaonkar
Shai Reshef talks to Satish Nandgaonkar, Journalist at The Hindu about the idea of a non-profit university, support from leading academics across the world and his association with former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam.

Photo: Shai Reshef, President and Founder, University of People,
The world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited online university
Shai Reshef, who quit a lucrative international e-learning sector to start the non-profit University of the People, wants governments to replicate his model.

Shai Reshef describes himself as an ‘educational entrepreneur’. With over 25 years in the international educational market, he set up KIT e-learning, the first online university in Europe, and in 2009 founded the University of the People, the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited American online university dedicated to opening access to higher education globally.

The university now offers Indian students tuition-free, accredited online associate and bachelor degree programs in Business Administration and Computer Science. Reshef, who was in Mumbai to deliver the keynote address at IIT Bombay’s Techfest this week.

What was the rationale behind setting up University of the People?
When you educate one person, you can change a life, but when you educate many, you can change the world.

I worked in the for-profit education world for over 20 years. As the founding chair of KIT e-learning, the online learning partner of the University of Liverpool and the first online university outside of the United States, I saw first-hand how great online learning could be. While it was proving to be a great success, I started feeling that something was missing.

I was conscious that, for most people, getting a great education is nothing but wishful thinking. It’s just too expensive.

Then I realised that everything that had made online learning so expensive is actually available for free. 
There’s open-source technology, open educational resources that professors produce and put on the Internet for everyone to use.

There’s social networking where people share, teach, and learn from each other for free. I knew that I wanted to give back and to make an impact on the world, so it made sense for me that this would be through education.

All I needed to do was to put all these available resources together and create a university, so I did, and that’s how I came up with the University of the People.

Is this a model for keeping education costs low and making it universally available?
Absolutely. In 2025, UNESCO has stated that nearly 100 million people will be deprived of higher education simply because there won’t be enough seats available. University of the People is building a model to show that every single qualified person in the world can get a higher education opportunity.

While UoPeople is tuition-free, we are not entirely free. Apart from the one-time $50 application fee at registration, for each end-of-course exam there is a $100 fee.

The average Bachelor’s graduate at UoPeople will have taken 40 courses and pay $4,000 by graduation. Keeping in line with the university’s mission of not turning any qualified student away due to financial constraints, a range of scholarships are available in cases of need.

The university is run on a very tight budget and the institution is marching toward self-sustainability. We plan to continue growing by doubling student numbers every year.

Some people or governments or countries might replicate what we do. If they do so, then maybe there won’t be a need for us. Once all the people are served, we can go to sleep and wake up with another dream.

Do you have programmes tailored for Indian students?
At UoPeople we create global citizens, and as such we want our programme to cater to a global village and students to be prepared to work with teams of co-workers from international companies. We have enrolled students from over 170 countries. We do not create special programs tailored for any particular country.

Globally, UoPeople has found encouragement from some leading academics and top global companies. How does each partnership work?
I think many would agree that higher education should be a right for all and not a privilege for a few. The institution has, therefore, gained the widespread support of academics from leading universities around the world. Its President’s Council, chaired by New York University President John Sexton, includes Oxford Vice Chancellor Emeritus Sir Colin Lucas, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, IIT-Bombay Director Devang Khakhar, Indira Gandhi National Open University Vice Chancellor Emeritus Abdul Waheed Khan and Nobel Laureate Torsten N Wiesel, among others. UoPeople is supported by The Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Hewlett Foundation, and companies such as HP, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Western Union, Estee Lauder and many more.

It has partnered with Yale ISP Law School for research, New York University to accept students; Microsoft for scholarships and employment opportunities and HP for general support and scholarships for women.

Source: The Hindu