On September 14, the famous businessman Shai Reshef, one of the 50 “people who are changing the world,” according to Wired magazine, gave a talk in the Digital October center. In 2009, he created and headed the world’s first free online university, the University of the People (UoPeople).
After 20 years of work in the education business, Shai Reshef sold the companies that he owned and decided that “the time had come not to take, but to give back.” He knew from his own experience the online education opens wide possibilities for students, but is too expensive for most young people. And so the idea was born of creating the free university UoPeople, which has given the possibility of obtaining higher education to people for whom earlier this was only a dream.
Today, one-and-a-half thousand students from 132 countries are studying at the online university. They include young people from poor developing countries, as well as handicapped people who cannot attend a typical university. Professors from the world’s most prestigious institutions of high learning – Harvard, Oxford, Yale, and Columbia – volunteer to teach them from a distance. UoPeople is the world’s second-highest-ranked university in terms of number of friends on Facebook, with a million people subscribing to its page (only Harvard has more).
UoPeople exists thanks to the support of benefactors: Bill and Melinda Gates, Bill Clinton and Hewlett-Packard contribute to the development of universally accessible education. The university also takes symbolic fees from those students who are capable of doing so; a small amount is taken upon enrollment (from $10 to $50) and upon finishing exams ($100).
Shai Reshef considers UoPeople to be an instrument that gives equal opportunities to everyone: no matter the country in which someone has been born, and no matter how much money he has in his wallet. The university has yet another, more hidden goal – supporting peace and strengthening connections between different peoples and religions. Students from Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, and Greece and Turkey study together in UoPeople’s virtual classrooms, and the hostility between their states does not keep them from becoming friends.
How has Shai Reshef managed to attract the attention of large corporations and charitable foundations to his project? How has he gathered together professors from the best universities? How has he managed to get such a number of subscribers on Facebook? Shai Reshef talked about all of these things in his lecture.