Press Conference on First Ever Tuition-Free Global Online University

19 May 2009

Press Conference on First Ever Tuition-Free Global Online University

19 May 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The first non-profit, tuition-free global online university could provide unprecedented access to education for aspiring students in developing countries, Shai Reshef, founder of the University of the People, said at a Headquarters press conference this morning.

“We in the University of the People are opening the gate for them to go into higher education to continue their education and open a better future for themselves,” he said of the initiative, which aims to use growing access to the Internet to counter the worldwide effects of rising tuition fees.

Mr. Reshef, a long-time educational innovator, is a member of the panel of advisers to the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), established by the Secretary-General in 2006 as a platform for policy dialogue on the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in development.

He announced that the University’s advisory committee comprised Jack Balkin of Yale Law School; Ryan Craig, Director of Bridgepoint, a provider of post-secondary educational services; Daniel Greenwood of the Hofstra University School of Law; and Humayun Kabir, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States.  Also on the panel are Mihai Nadin, a professor of computer technology at the University of Texas; Y.S. Rajan, author of a best-selling book on India’s future; David Wiley, Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology, Brigham Young University; and Russell Winer of New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Speaking for the advisers, Mr. Kabir described the University of the People as “an innovation that will be remembered for a long time” because of the degree to which it would increase access to higher education around the world.

Mr. Reshef said the University would use open-source technology and course material, alongside peer-to-peer teaching to bring a high level of learning to its students, of whom there were already more than 200 from over 50 countries after the first few weeks of registration for business administration and computer science, the first two majors.  Requirements for admission were 12 years of study, a high school diploma and proficiency in English.  Students must also pass an orientation course in English and computer skills in order to continue on to the major, which would require 40 courses, similar to most undergraduate degrees.

Each virtual classroom would hold 20 students from around the world, he said.  They would read the same “lecture” at the beginning of each week, hold discussions in a kind of chat room and help each other understand the material.  If students still had problems after discussing the material with their peers, they could go to a course forum where they could consult with academics.

Mr. Reshef said that, in order to open access to as many people as possible, no material requiring broadband connections, such as video, would be used, which would enable people restricted to dial-up connections to follow courses.  It was to be hoped that there would be associated projects to supply computers to those without them, but at present there was a burgeoning of poor people who could gain access, either through a centralized public computer, an Internet café or private machines.

He said that, to fund the University, there would be a sliding scale of fees for admissions and exams -– depending on the World Bank’s wealth-ranking of each student’s home country -– from $15 to $50 for admission and from $10 to $100 for the testing.  Most staff would be volunteers and the administration would be “very lean”.  The University would need $6 million for its initial phase, which envisaged an enrolment of 15,000 students.  He said he had donated the first $1 million and other donors had shown interest.

The University would mine much of its course material from courses already made available on the Internet, free of charge, by major institutions like Stanford University in the United States.  However, the term “open-use” had to be defined carefully to avoid problems.

Responding to a query about the make-up of the first 200 students, he said they were from all over the world, aged mainly between 25 and 35 years of age so far, and 55 per cent male compared to 45 per cent female.  Fifty-five per cent of them had chosen the business major and 45 per cent had opted for computer studies.

Asked in particular if students had applied from China and the United States, he said that, for some reason, there had been 20 applications from China in the last 48 hours, adding that students from the United States had also been admitted.  It was important that students from the industrialized world participate alongside those from every economic situation and from all cultures, as that would enrich their educational experience, with the added benefit of boosting intercultural understanding.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.