Do You Think University Should be Free? Then Meet Shai Reshef of University of the People

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I discovered the University of the People a couple of months ago and right away its mission really intrigued me. The concept is both simple and revolutionary – to create a university which is tuition free. In today’s world of rising education costs and student debt escalating out of control, this seemed like an alternative worth exploring. The concept is revolutionary because we have come to expect that learning can only happen when we pay money to sit in a classroom and listen to someone lecture. The University of the People conducts its learning completely online, which is how it’s able to function for free.

My interview with U of the People founder Shai Reshef explores how the concept came to fruition and his vision for the University and online education.

What is the University of the People?

Shai: University of the People is the world’s first tuition-free university dedicated to the global advancement of higher education.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your motivation for establishing it.
Shai: After years of working education and traveling around the world, I discovered there is one thing that unites regions around the globe—the need for improved education.  I believe that a college education should be a right, not a privilege and founded UoPeople as a way to democratize higher education.  UoPeople’s tuition-free philosophy allows disenfranchised communities around the world, regardless of economic, geographic and social constraints, access to quality and affordable education.

How does the University work? i.e. How do students enroll, take classes and receive degrees?
Shai: Students can enroll on our website,  We offer two programs: Computer Science and Business Administration. Classes are taken online.

What types of technology do students get to use at the University of the People?
Shai: Given that many parts of the world do not have access to high broadband internet connection, we offer our classes in basic HTML formats.

What’s your vision for the university in the next five years?
Shai: We hope to expand into new areas around the world and expand our base of female students.

How are you promoting the university?
Shai: Through marketing, public relations and word of mouth.

What do you think are the major obstacles to learning & working online?
Shai: For many people it’s difficult to not be in the same room as the person they are learning from.  However, learning online offers them an opportunity to study with people from all over the globe.  That is a cultural learning experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom.

What is the state of online learning in your opinion?
Shai: It’s a rapidly growing sector of education and allows people who may not have the time or resources to pursue an education.

What is your impression about how education is adopting technology?
Shai: So far so good.  However, we still have a ways to go.  Even though technology costs are dropping, the cost of higher education is still on the rise.  The economy of scale is unbalanced.  If schools and governments are able to adopt models like University of the People, utilizing open source technology and educational resources, education costs can be lowered substantially.

I want to thank Shai for sharing his thoughts. I wish the initiative lots of success!

The concept of making university free is probably foreign for many people in the US. However in other parts of the world like Europe and Canada, university education is heavily subsidized so that the cost is relatively low.  After speaking with Shai and thinking more about this initiative it seems to me that there are plenty of places in the world where the barriers to education are still pretty high. I’m guessing that in many developing countries there are few options for people to get a good education and that online learning may be a source of empowerment for them.  Free online education is certainly the wave of the future, just have a look at MIT’s Open Course Ware or the Khan Academy as interesting examples.

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Tags: Free, education, of, people, reshef, shai, technology, the, university


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