We are sure this University, or at the very least this kind of effort, will succeed. And equally, we are sure that over time, this venture will significantly change the paradigm of higher education. Others will undoubtedly copy it all around the world.
UPeople will have a serious impact both on conventional non-profit universities and on the few for profit universities that have sprung up (like the University of Arizona). Reshef is smart, framing the UOP as a non-profit where an educational institution needs to be to lay claim to objectivity which is the bedrock of true accreditation.
Beyond that concern, UPeople can be a significant catalyst and accelerant in igniting the utilization of the growing number of online courses. The good will of the academic world is boundless, inhibited only by the antiquated structures and medieval ideas of entrenched university administrations.
We have taught university courses online for several years (Comparative Religions; Modern Judaism; War and Peace in Judaism, Christianity and Islam). We helped design the online charter school in Minneapolis in 1996. We know that online education works. We know the limits of how it works now. And we know its potential is boundless.
We promise to follow this story with great enthusiasm.
Israeli Entrepreneur Plans a Free Global University That Will Be Online Only
By TAMAR LEWIN
An Israeli entrepreneur with decades of experience in international education plans to start the first global, tuition-free Internet university, a nonprofit venture he has named the University of the People.
“The idea is to take social networking and apply it to academia,” said the entrepreneur, Shai Reshef, founder of several Internet-based educational businesses.
“The open-source courseware is there, from universities that have put their courses online, available to the public, free,” Mr. Reshef said. “We know that online peer-to-peer teaching works. Putting it all together, we can make a free university for students all over the world, anyone who speaks English and has an Internet connection.”
About four million students in the United States took at least one online course in 2007, according to a survey by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit group devoted to integrating online learning into mainstream higher education.
Online learning is growing in many different contexts. Through the Open Courseware Consortium, started in 2001 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, universities around the world have posted materials for thousands of courses — as varied as Lambing and Sheep Management at Utah State and Relativistic Quantum Field Theory at M.I.T. — all free to the public. Many universities now post their lectures on iTunes.
For-profit universities like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University have extensive online offerings. And increasingly, both public and private universities offer at least some classes online.
Outside the United States, too, online learning is booming. Open University in Britain, for example, enrolls about 160,000 undergraduates in distance-learning courses.
The University of the People, like other Internet-based universities, would have online study communities, weekly discussion topics, homework assignments and exams. But in lieu of tuition, students would pay only nominal fees for enrollment ($15 to $50) and exams ($10 to $100), with students from poorer countries paying the lower fees and those from richer countries paying the higher ones.
Experts in online education say the idea raises many questions.
“We’ve chatted about doing something like this over the last decade but decided the time wasn’t yet right,” said John Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium. “It’s true that the open courseware movement is pretty robust, so there are a lot of high-quality course materials out there, but there’s no human backup behind them. I’d be interested to know how you’d find and train faculty and ensure quality without tuition money.”
Other educators question the logistics of such a plan.
“The more you get people around the world talking to each other, great, and the more they talk about what they’re learning, just wonderful,” said Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College. “But I’m not at all sure, when you start attaching that to credits and degrees and courses, that it translates so well.
“How will they test students? How much will the professors do? How well does the American or British curriculum serve the needs of people in Mali? How do they handle students whose English is not at college level?”
Mr. Reshef said his new university would use active and retired professors — some paid, some volunteers — along with librarians, master-level students and professionals to develop and evaluate curriculums and oversee assessments.
He plans to start small, limiting enrollment at 300 students when the university goes online in the fall and offering only bachelor’s degrees in business administration and computer science. Mr. Reshef said the university would apply for accreditation as soon as possible.
Mr. Reshef hopes to build enrollment to 10,000 over five years, the level at which he said the enterprise should be self-sustaining. Startup costs would be about $5 million, Mr. Reshef said, of which he plans to provide $1 million.
For all the uncertainties, Mr. Reshef is probably as well positioned as anyone for such an enterprise.
Starting in 1989, he served as chairman of the Kidum Group, an Israeli test preparation company, which he sold in 2005 to Kaplan, one of the world’s largest education companies. While chairman of Kidum, he built an online university affiliated with the University of Liverpool, enrolling students from more than 100 countries; that business was sold to Laureate, another large for-profit education company, in 2004.
Mr. Reshef is now chairman of Cramster.com, an online study community offering homework help to college students.
“Cramster has thousands of students helping other students,” said Mr. Reshef, who lives in Pasadena, Calif., where both Cramster and the new university are based. “These become strong social communities. With these new social networks, where young people now like to spend their lives, we can bring college degrees to students all over the world, third-world students who would be unable to study otherwise. I haven’t found even one person who says it’s a bad idea.”