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University Of The People: Education for All and for Free

If what stops you from being the successful person you ought to be is access to post-secondary education, then you may have to rethink your options. If what prevents you from learning and getting the knowledge you are looking for is excessive university fees, then you may have to drop your excuses.
University of the People, a tuition-free online university is offering students from all over the world online post-secondary education to qualified students… For free. All you need is self-drive and a good Internet line. And a little bit of motivation too.

University of the People (UoPeople) is the world’s first tuition-free online academic institution dedicated to the global advancement and democratization of higher education. The high-quality low-cost global educational model embraces the worldwide presence of the Internet and dropping technology costs to bring university-level studies within reach of millions of people across the world. With the support of respected academics, humanitarians and other visionaries, the UoPeople student body represents a new wave in global education.” UoPeople Website

Should you read this statement too quickly, you may pass some important facts: democratization of higher education, respected academics, humanitarians and visionaries for global education.
Does this sound like the impossible recipe for ideal education? It does indeed, and this is exactly why UoPeople has been a success since its inception in 2009.
University of the People is filling a gap, allowing students who share common goals to study at no cost. Those goals act as core values in a system that is not only making a difference in the life of many but also changing the face of the world of education; no wonder UoPeople’s students dream ‘to become leaders, to make a difference, to succeed in academia and to create a better life, community and world.’
The great mind behind this not-for-profit institution is Shai Reshef, an educational entrepreneur with over twenty years of experience.
Reshef shared with Africa Report, the story behind University of the People and the path to a revolutionary educational platform.
How did the idea of the University of the People form?
Around the world, millions of people do not have access to higher education because of financial, geographic or social constraints. I believe that education should be a right, not a privilege, and founded UoPeople as a way to democratize higher education.
Working with several for-profit educational organizations, I realized the tools for providing affordable and accessible higher education were available, but the costs were too high. Harnessing the power of the Internet coupled with open source technology, open educational resources and online communities, I created UoPeople to provide high-quality, low-cost education to people all over the world.
What motivated you to provide such an offer?
After twenty years in the international educational arena and through my travels, I realized that one issue unites communities around the world—the need for improved and accessible education. UoPeople is fulfilling a personal desire to give back to the community through academics and education.
What were the major obstacles?
Launching a university takes a lot of time and resources. I have surrounded myself with some of the best academics and advisors in the field to make sure we are providing the right framework, courses, and checks and balances to deliver what we promise to our students.
How did you overcome the obstacles you faced?
We have a great support system through our academic advisory board and colleagues.  We keep our eye on the larger vision of making higher education accessible to everyone. That keeps us motivated and provides the strength to deal with all challenges.
Did you get a good response when you first talked about the idea?
The response was overwhelmingly positive from so many different groups:  the media, academic communities, business people and the students, which is particularly gratifying. People truly believe in our mission of opening the gates to higher education to all.
How do you think the University of the People can impact on the African continent and emerging countries around the world?
Education is the key to a sustainable and peaceful future.  By educating the youth in Africa and other emerging countries around the world, we are giving them the tools and opportunity to better their lives, families, communities and, in turn, society at large.
You are an educational entrepreneur; can you tell us more about your role and what are the key responsibilities linked to it?
As president and founder of UoPeople, I am involved in all aspects of the University, from student enrolment to partnerships and fundraising. I attend and speak at many education and technology conferences. Additionally, I am the sole funder, having donated $1 million USD to UoPeople.
With twenty years of experience in the international education market, could you tell us, what, in your point of view, has changed in the last few years?
Education continues to evolve.  From online classrooms to open educational resources, alternative methods of learning have provided innovative access to education in a way that traditional academic institutions simply could not. The movement in online education is just beginning. We will see rapid changes in this area in the next decade.
Where do you see the University of the People in the next five years? Ten years?
I hope to see UoPeople as a place that can accommodate all the students who meet the enrolment requirements, equipping them with the tools and knowledge to make better lives for themselves. To date, we have accepted over 1,000 students from more than 115 countries and expect these numbers to continue to grow. The potential for UoPeople and its students is great.
What programs would you like to be focusing on? Why?
We currently offer two undergraduate programs—Business Administration and Computer Science. These academic programs are globally in demand and universally similar in language.
How do you choose your teachers? How do you monitor that the work is performed according to standards?
Our academic leadership is made up of professors from top universities including NYU and, Columbia, along with a board of advisors whose combined expertise in online education and technology provide a great sounding board for our academic needs.
In order to teach at UoPeople, instructors must have valid credentials, with at least one more degree above what they are teaching. Once those are validated, they are trained by UoPeople’s senior academic staff on our unique teaching model.
The curriculum is based on open educational resources, which have been modified to fit the needs of our students and academic programs. Professors are in constant communication with the students through the online community and oversee the assessment process.
How do you motivate your students to keep up with their studies and pass exams?
Every week, every student must answer a given discussion question and respond to other students’ answers. In this way, most of the studying and support is done between the students themselves. At the end of the week there is a brief test, and a final exam at the end of the 10 week term. All the materials are readily available to students online in a plain text format, making it easy to access any information necessary.
Why do you think education is such important and how do you think it can influence a country?
UoPeople is grounded in the belief that universal access to education is a key ingredient in the promotion of world peace and global economic development. By educating our students, we are helping to improve their standard of living, and their ability to help their communities and the greater society.
You have developed partnerships with other ‘physical’ universities. How would you see this initiative evolve in the future?
Our collaborations will help further our mission of democratizing education. Before UoPeople, millions of people around the world could not fathom attending university.  We provided them with an alternative to nothing. Now, by partnering with NYU, our most successful students may be able to further pursue their dreams by attending one of the best universities in the world.
For more information check: http://www.uopeople.org/

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