Shai Reshef


Yidan Prize for Education Development




Breaking down barriers to higher education globally



Judge's citation

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Shai Reshef

Founder and President, University of the People


Higher education; Education in emergencies; Inclusive and affordable education

Widening access to quality higher education

Flexible, adaptive, inventive, and low cost. These principles are at the heart of Shai Reshef’s vision for University of the People, the first tuition-free, non-profit, American-accredited online university. Having founded the university in 2009, he is determined to ensure that every qualified high school student around the world has access to quality higher education. 


University of the People’s courses build on the strengths of virtual learning—fitting around work and family commitments, letting students progress at their own pace, and keeping the cost to students as low as possible. Under Shai’s leadership, it also keeps some of the benefits of a more traditional university experience: class sizes of just 25, personalized attention, and a dedicated advisor for each student.  


Since its launch, enrolment has grown to over 137,000 students globally. Three quarters of their students come from countries where low incomes and constrained resources make university places relatively scarce and out of reach for many qualified students. Others face financial, geographical, cultural, or political barriers; 16,500 of students are refugees. 


University of the People keeps its focus on workplace-relevant, transferable skills, with undergraduate and master’s degrees in subjects like business administration and computer science. The university works closely with partners including Harvard Business School Online, University of Edinburgh, and McGill University among others—and in fact, students can gain credits that allow them to transfer and study in person at some of these institutions. 


With his Yidan Prize project funds, Shai plans to continue to grow University of the People and support more students and populations, providing a comprehensive solution to issues of accessibility and affordability in higher education.

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

Featured initiatives

Supported by the Yidan Prize project funds
Breaking down barriers to higher education globally

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



Meet Shai Reshef


Acceptance speech


Hearing from our judges


2023 Yidan Prize


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2023 Yidan Prize for Education Development Laureate