Breaking down barriers to higher education globally

Project funding

Supported by the Yidan Prize project funds

Education theme

Education in emergencies

Equity, access, and diversity

Lifelong learning




About the idea

More to explore

University of the People offers a tuition-free university education to students who might otherwise lack access.

Millions of learners worldwide are unable to attend higher education—for reasons ranging from geography to gender. University of the People is open to any qualified student with a basic internet connection, making high quality education affordable and flexible for all.

Shai Reshef

Founder and President, University of the People


Higher education transforms lives—but it’s out of reach for many

University education is life-changing. But many students who would otherwise qualify for higher education can’t attend. In some cases, low incomes and constrained resources make university seats scarce. Others are navigating financial limitations, having to work or raise a family, or facing cultural or political barriers. And around the world many thousands of students are refugees or displaced people, who might at any point be forced to flee where they’re living.


Founded by Shai Reshef, University of the People is a tuition-free, non-profit, American-accredited online university. It’s open to any qualified student with basic internet access, and it’s completely flexible, so they study entirely at their own pace. Students only pay for accreditation. In some cases, students can even transfer their credits to study in person at partner institutions.


Courses are focused on workplace-relevant, transferable skills, with undergraduate and master’s degrees in subjects like business administration and computer science. And teaching practice keeps many of the benefits of a traditional university experience: class sizes of just 25 on average, personalized attention, and a dedicated advisor for each student.


Since its launch, enrolment has grown to over 137,000 students globally; 16,500 are refugees.

About the idea

Broadening accessing and closing the gap between education and employment

Shai and the team plan to split project funding across different elements which will help reach more potential students as well as improving enrolled students’ opportunities and university experience. That includes using tools like social media to raise awareness of University of the People and the opportunities it brings about.


One way to widen access for students is by translating courses into different languages. For example, University of the People already makes content available in Arabic. As part of this project, the team will focus on creating a certificate program in Spanish, as well as running an outreach campaign to reach Venezuelan refugees and other Spanish speakers across Latin America.


From the start, University of the People has also relied on using technology in innovative ways to give students experiences they might not otherwise have. One of these is offering virtual internships, so students can gain work experience remotely. With Shai’s Yidan Prize project funds, the University can offer 300 funded places to students who would otherwise struggle to pay internship fees.


They’ll also develop new tools using artificial intelligence to help both students and program advisors with admin and support services, with the aim of increasing staff capacity and raising graduation rates.


Finally, the team will develop a new degree program in General Studies—including curriculum design and course development that aims to foster critical thinking, communication, and problem solving skills. With the help of an outreach plan, they hope to reach even more potential students.

Our 2023 laureate Shai Reshef devoted his project funds to support this project from January 2024 to December 2026.