After the earthquake in Haiti destroyed much of the country’s higher-education infrastructure, The University of the People decided to set up three computer centers there, inviting English-speaking students from nearby tent cities to come and work for four hours a day.
The Israeli entrepreneur behind the university, Shai Reshef, spent $1 million of his own money to create the university two years ago. The poor people who take classes in rural parts of the world often don’t have electricity or computers, he tells the Times.
Mr. Reshef sees his project as a way to use the Internet to bring higher education to poor students around the world. It uses free software and has enlisted hundreds of volunteer professors — more, he said, than he has been able to use — to teach 10-week online courses to 1,000 students from more than 100 countries. Starting this fall, students will have to pay $10 to $50 for admission.
In each class, 20 to 40 students are assigned weekly reading material and are required to post their responses and comment on others’ responses. The course materials are deliberately low-tech, with no audio or video, so that students can use them anywhere.
The university is not accredited, and it offers programs only in business administration and computer science. But in June, it got two votes of confidence: New York University announced a partnership under which unusually promising but needy University of the People students might be able to enroll at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi campus and receive financial aid, and Hewlett-Packard announced an internship program, saying it believed strongly “in the work UoPeople is doing to democratize higher education.”
For over 15 years, Shai has worked to break down the geographical and financial barriers to educational access. He believes that access to education and freedom of information are human rights and has unwavering faith in the natural willingness of people to help one another. Today, Shai is the founder and president of the University of the People, the worlds first tuition-free global online university specifically created to serve poor, remote, and disadvantaged populations. As a pioneer in the emerging field of free online education, Shai hopes to give people solutions to transform society by combining entrepreneurship, education, and political activism. UoPeople currently serves students from 49 countries. With operations currently housed in Tel Aviv, Shai envisions global offices in California, India and Africa.