Shai Reshef is an expert on innovations in education and the intersection of education and technology with twenty years of experience in the international education market. From 1989 to 2005 he served as Chairman of the Kidum Group. Between 2001 and 2004, while continuing as the chairman of Kidum, Reshef lived in the Netherlands where he chaired KIT eLearning, a subsidiary of Kidum, the eLearning partner of the University of Liverpool and the first online university outside of the United States.
Irene: What brought about this idea of founding a tuition-free, non-profit, online institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally?
Shai: 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, so I founded the University of the People (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 peer to peer learning, I created UoPeople to provide high-quality, low-cost education to people all over the world.
Irene: How many students, and from which countries, are registered at your university?
Shai: To date, more than 1300 students from 126 countries have been accepted, mainly from the Middle East and Africa. UoPeople has an incredibly diverse, global student body with students hailing from all over the world including both developed and developing countries. Recently, the University accepted students from five new countries: Botswana, Honduras, Ireland, Jamaica and Somalia. UoPeople looks forward to furthering its reach, thus positively impacting individuals in need of educational advancement from within even the most remote places of the earth.
In other words, the UoPeople, the world’s tuition-free, non-profit, online academic institution, is dedicated to opening access to higher education globally. Based on the principles of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning, coupled with open-source technology and Open Educational Resources, UoPeople is designed to provide access to collegiate studies for qualified individuals, despite financial, geographic or societal constraints. I need point out that UoPeople, founded in 2009, has partnered with Yale University for research, New York University to accept students and Hewlett-Packard for internships
Irene: You are offering asynchronous (anytime, anywhere learning) programs which are probably most attractive to women. What is the proportion of women among your students? Are there any special incentives needed to attract more women?
Shai: UoPeople is convenient and attractive for women, as the flexibility of anytime, anywhere learning is compatible for stay at home mothers or women who juggle work/family and school commitments. Additionally, UoPeople is especially relevant for cultures where women do not tend to go to higher education institutions. This relevancy is still being addressed since UoPeople, unfortunately, still has an overwhelming majority of male students over female students. Only 20% of the students are female, one reason being that worldwide computer science is dominated by males. Due to the lack of financial resources to effectively market itself to females and re-balance its current gender imbalance, UoPeople is currently seeking the resources to be able to both effectively market its programs to women, as well as find local partners around the globe who will spread the word on the opportunities UoPeople offers women.
Irene: What are your expectations concerning the collaboration with ECWT?
Shai: UoPeople hopes to be able to work with the European Center for Women
and Technology (ECWT) to spread the word of our tuition-free undergraduate degree programs in Computer Science and Business Administration, and the relevancy of these programs for women. We hope to share the quality education we provide so that women interested in furthering their education can attain the benefits they seek. Additionally, we hope to find local partners capable of helping us reach women.