Creatively Speaking: Shai Reshef


A new university is opening its doors this April, and guess what? It's going to be 100% tuition-free!

University of the People, the brainchild of an Israeli entrepreneur named Shai Reshef, will be a virtual school, the world's first tuition-free, Internet-based academic institution. The idea is pretty remarkable in its simplicity: provide universal access to college—even in the poorest parts of the world.

"Education, just like democracy, should be a right, not a privilege," says Reshef.

UoP will be open to any student with access to a computer and an Internet connection. And with the 500 rupee laptops now hitting India (that's about $10, believe it or not), seems college is about to get much, much more affordable. Check out the whole interview with Reshef below and find out how you can help out by volunteering.

DI: University of the People "“ sounds like Lincoln meets Stalin. Kidding. It's an amazing concept, and one that really fits the present zeitgeist. How'd you dream it up?

SR: I have always thought there is one issue that unites people around the globe "“ a need for improved education. As the founder of KIT, the eLearning partner of the University of Liverpool, in the Netherlands, I realized that the tools for providing accessible higher education were out there, but the price was too high. Then I began working at and discovered the strength of online study communities. I realized by coupling open-source technology and open courseware with online academic networks, we could create a global chalkboard and provide affordable collegiate level education to people worldwide.

DI: How many students will you be accepting straight away?

SR: [We] anticipate tens of thousands of students to enroll within the first five years of operation, although enrollment will be capped at 300 students in the first semester.

DI: What kind of degrees do you plan on offering?

SR: In the initial stages, UoP will offer two undergraduate degrees: a BA in Business Administration and a BSc in Computer Science. The University plans to offer other degrees in the future.

DI: Who will "teach" the classes?

SR: The student body will learn through peer-to-peer teaching with the guidance of respected scholars. Within the online study communities, students will share resources, exchange ideas, discuss weekly topics, submit assignments and take exams. A larger community of educators, comprised of active and retired professors, master level students and other professionals, will be available to answer students' questions, discuss topics and provide support.

DI: Is it free to apply?

SR: The University is tuition-free. However, we plan to charge nominal application and examination fees ($15-$50 and $10-$100 respectively), which will be adjusted on a sliding scale based on the economic situation in the student's country of origin.

DI: Clearly the demand will far outweigh your ability to accept students. How many students do you anticipate turning away each year?

SR: Our hope is to be able to accommodate any student that applies and meets the enrollment requirements.

DI: What language will the classes be taught in?

SR: For now, classes will be taught in English. If there is a great demand for additional languages, we will add them in the future.

DI: What countries do you think you'll get the most applicants from?

SR: The student body at UoP will be comprised of students from all over the world. The demand and need for access to higher education, however, is particularly strong in under-developed and developing countries so we expect to see an influx of students from those areas.

DI: Who are your major funders?

SR: We are making an initial investment of $5 million, $1 million of which I am contributing. The rest of the money will be raised through donations by individuals, companies and other organizations.

DI: It's all quite exciting, but what are the chances an endeavor like this can realistically succeed?

SR: It depends on how many people volunteer their services. We encourage all of your readers to visit our Web site and volunteer.

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