Shai Reshef’s deep understanding of the difference education made in his own life inspired him to work on solutions aimed at providing accessible, affordable, quality higher education for all. Today, he and his team at University of the People are rewriting the future of higher education. The team leverages digital technology, open-source solutions, open education resources, and an outstanding network of volunteers to create learning and certification opportunities for those who are marginalized by traditional higher education offerings. University of the People is a tuition-free, non-profit, American accredited online university. It works to open access to higher education globally. It is future-oriented, innovative, and transformative. And at the same time, it has set a solid foundation for scalability and sustainability.
The inequities in global higher education access mean that the improved employment opportunities and earnings associated with it remain out of reach for far too many people. Secondary school graduates may find their path to higher education blocked by competitive selection criteria, an inability to pay fees, and their need to enter the world of work to survive. There are additional barriers linked to cultural norms, gender, and ethnicity. Geography is a factor, too. In some contexts, there are simply not enough seats in brick-and-mortar institutions to cope with demographic growth. Estimates are that about one in ten Africans currently accesses higher education. Refugees and internally displaced persons experience particular challenges linked with conflict, instability, and relocation.
The University of the People enters this mix delivering a practical solution that uses open-source technology to deliver peer-based collaborative learning globally. Targeted offerings at the undergraduate level include Business Administration, Health Sciences, and Computer Science. The university also offers Masters level courses in Business Administration and Education.
Prospective students need to prove that they have completed high school. Tuition is free, however students need to pay for course assessments. Recurrent data costs are kept down as students can download materials and only need to come back online to submit assignments. University of the People factors in the realities of adult learning by offering total flexibility in scheduling as courses are asynchronous. Multinational peer learning groups broaden students’ horizons through cross cultural exchange. Special offerings have been designed for specific target groups—for example, University of the People in Arabic offers the huge refugee population in the Middle East the opportunity to study for business degrees.
In addition to its accreditation in the US since 2014, University of the People adopts a collaborative model, partnering with a number of top tertiary institutions for its governance and quality control. These partnerships also allow for transfer of students who may wish to move from online study to physical institutions.
The pandemic resulted in massive increases in the volume of online courses being offered globally. In a way, the model is no longer seen as disruptive. Yet, few universities have actually made the leap to offering exclusively online accredited degrees. University of the People’s scalable model has proven to be of worldwide relevance. Its strong partnerships and the amazing work of volunteers who believe in creating higher education opportunities for the underserved mean that we can anticipate a rapid expansion of its student base.
The Yidan Prize for Education Development honors Shai Reshef’s achievement in mobilizing a global collaborative network to deliver a solution that is life-changing for so many. We are pleased to support his aspiration to ensure “every qualified, deserving student on earth has the opportunity to access affordable higher education”.
Dorothy K. Gordon
Panel Head, Judging Panel for Education Development, Yidan Prize