Tuition-free, online university gives students a second chance

University of the People is the first tuition-free, fully accredited online university, with 400 SA students already enrolled.
President and founder of UoPeople, Shai Reshef. Picture: Supplied

Students across the world are receiving the opportunity to complete their studies and obtain a globally-recognised degree for free, through American-based, University of the People (UoPeople).

Entering its eighth year since establishment, UoPeople – founded by Shai Reshef in 2009 – currently offers 10 000 students in more than 200 countries an opportunity to study and complete a degree in one of four fields, Business Administration, a Master of Business Administration, Computer Science and Health Science.

Speaking at a gathering to South African students enrolled with UoPeople and to open the academic year, Reshef said the university was about opening the gates of learning to students around the world who were otherwise unable to obtain an education through traditional university settings. He said that he wanted to use this model to help students and countries facing difficulties in higher education.

“We feel that our role is to build a model, to show the world that higher education can be accessible, affordable and for everyone,” he said.

There are minimal requirements for students wanting to enroll in the school. Students must be 18 years or older, have completed high school and be proficient in english.

The university, according to Reshef, is an open-source university, and students must complete at least two courses before proceeding to the next level. He distinguished that the university is not “free”, but is tuition-free, meaning that students are required to pay a standard $100 exam processing fee. Reshef said this is one of the core means of sustaining the school.

Students unable to afford the $100, are offered the option to apply for scholarships that are offered by different sponsors or companies.

In South Africa, 400 students are enrolled in the school and 2 000 students from Africa as a whole. According to Reshef, around 1 000 refugees have been given the opportunity to study through UoPeople. Reshef is working on special projects to educate Syrian refugees and as it stands, there are 500 Syrians enrolled.

South African students who have enrolled  UoPeople. Picture: Supplied

UoPeople has made agreements with Yale, NYU and Berkeley University in the US to ensure students have access to research material and that they are also offered the chance to transfer credits between the institutions and UoPeople.

The school is accredited by Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

The university’s main office is based in Pasadena, in the US, and its core functioning IT offices are based in the West Bank, Palestine.

Reshef says there are no plans to build or establish offices around the world, because it aims to minimise costs as much as possible.

Forty-year-old South African student Andrew Price is completing his fourth year in BSc Computer Sciences with UoPeople. He said he chose this university because he is unable to afford any other institution. Price battles with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia and depression and said this works best for him while he also works a job at Dimension Data.

He said it requires discipline, time and research, but the end result is worth it, because the course will enable him to get a degree in computer science, that stays valid forever.

A number of South African students have been offered scholarships and Reshef said that there are currently more than 2 000 students across Africa who have enrolled and are awaiting scholarships or sponsorships to begin their studies.

The model, which sustains the university, works independently from the country’s governments but Reshef said that it would be ideal to have government intervene and integrate the model with traditional universities to help more students, more effectively.

When asked about solutions to the #FeesMustFall campaign taking place across institutions of higher learning in South Africa, Reshef said the online university model is the solution.

“Technology is becoming naturalised and the world is getting younger,” Reshef argued, adding that younger generations prefer online, and with the continuous improvements in internet and technology, accessibility to online courses becomes much easier.

With institutions of higher learning getting more expensive and students sitting with higher debt as years go by, Reshef says that governments should start investing in education to make people more successful and more productive.

“Invest in infrastructure, if you want to give people a good education, invest money in education, it’s a question of priorities,” he says.  

Reshef said the sector for online and distance learning is becoming more popular, and that integrating online models in traditional universities reduces the cost of higher education.

“I don’t think online learning will replace traditional, it will be side by side, it will complement it and that’s how it should be. It makes it cheaper and better.”

Reshef hopes to double his numbers by 20 000 students next year and develop more degree programmes.



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According to Wikipedia this “free” university charges for the exams, so a bachelor degree costs 4000US$.
How reliable and secure are the exams? How do they prevent somebody else taking them or using some electronic link to help the student? Which SA companies accept these degrees from job applicants?


From their own website.
“UoPeople is tuition-free, not free.” and “non-profit”

“Based on this, an associate’s degree can be completed in 2 years for $2060 (R27 072),
a bachelor degree can be completed in 4 years for $4060 (R53 355), and an
MBA can be completed in 15 months for $2460 (R32 328).”
Using todays exchange rates.

You need to find a credible person, that needs to apply to the university to make sure the exams are carried out correctly. So yes exams are strict.
Fees are for the marking of the exams and to sustain the university.

Since SAQA accepts and recognize the qualifications, they should be accepted in any work place.
Keeping in mind that the deans and curriculim are from top universities, NYU Stern Business School ranked at 3rd best business school, and even Wits University. Many other universities and Prof/Dr are involved.

Locally even companies like Microsift is sponsoring people from Africa to study.


I am sorry, but “credible person”? In a country were lot of the people, including MPs, simply buy a driver’s licence who can be accepted by this university as a “credible person”? Would membership of the ANC automatically disqualify someone? 🙂

The Proctor (Process)

In Detail
1. It is the Student’s sole responsibility to choose a proctor. A proctor must meet the following requirements:
1.1. Be at least 21 years old.
1.2. Be a reputable person of integrity (e.g. local official, supervisor at work, religious figure, etc.)
1.3. Cannot be a relative of the student, a student at UoPeople or an applicant.
1.4. Cannot have a conflict of interest or have any vested interest in the student’s grade or performance on his/her exam.
1.5. Must have adequate and reliable access to the Internet, including email services.

2. When choosing offline proctor,
tudents are strictly prohibited from offering the proctor any payment or other benefit in return for the proctor’s willingness to supervise the exam.

3. Students must identify a proctor during online registration for courses that require a proctor by entering the following information:
3.1. First and last name.
3.2. Email address.
3.3. Contact information (telephone number
and place of residence)

Then it is the sole decision by the university to accept the Proctor or not.
Any exam proctor at South African institution are pretty much the same.

Any more questions please address it to the university. I am not associated with the university.

A tuition-free university you say? Would that be a university free of tuition then? What would the point be?

The Sangoma has predicted that within the coming months Free Tertiary education will be available in South Africa. The bones thrown do not lie! Wait and see.

I asked SAQA and they do recognize the qualifications in South Africa, which puts them equal to South African institutions.

Date: Fri, Sep 15, 2017 at 6:26 AM
Subject: Re: US University Status
To: **** ****

Dear **** *****

University of the People, Pasadena, California is a duly accredited / recognised institution in the United States of America and the national qualifications which it is authorised to offer will be recognised by SAQA.

Kind regards

Directorate Foreign Qualifications Evaluation and Advisory Services

How does one apply for scholarship? If you can’t afford application fee.How do you get assistance with the application fee?

End of comments.




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