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.
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.