Imagine a free university where students from all walks of life can learn from professors during 10-week intensive classes that are taught on the Internet. Now, imagine that this university sets up computer centers where students need them – such as the earthquake-ravaged Haiti in the weeks after the natural disaster struck – so that students can continue learning. Well, you do not have to imagine anymore because the University of the People is making this dream a reality.
“They don’t have electricity, they don’t have computers,” said Shai Reshef, the creator of the University of People about the students in Haiti that use his computer centers to continue their education. “They come in two shifts, for four hours a day, to study. Their need waste the point that we began a feeding program.”
In the past, hundreds of volunteer professors have taught classes that are completely free to 1,000 students who are from more than 100 countries. The students have weekly reading assignments and participate in conversations about the readings. This semester, there will be a small admissions fee, but it will not be more than $50.
“It’s based on peer learning, so just like at the gym, what you get out of it depends on what you put in,” said Shay David, a software entrepreneur who has taught introductory computer programming at the school.
So what do the students think about the University of the People?
“When I heard it was tuition-free, I didn’t think it would be very good,” said Joe Jean, a Haitian student whose only option for higher education was the free online school. “But I’ve learned a lot, and I like the way the instructors support the students and the students support each other.”
Sadly, the school is not accredited yet and has limited course offerings in business administration and computer science only. However, New York University recently announced a partnership with the school that would help financially-needy students to enroll at the school’s Abu Dhabi campus and receive financial aid to help pay for their students. Hewlett-Packard has also recognized the benefits that the school is creating for students and has announced an internship program because it believes “in the work UoPeople is doing to democratize higher education.”
“We’re building a model to show that education can be way cheaper than it is, that in developing countries, they could choose to educate every person for not much money,” said Reshef.
This seems like a really cool idea to me and I’m hoping that there will be more programs like the University of the People to develop in the near future.
Via The New York Times