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Technology Can a Free Online University Work? A conversation with Shai Reshef, founder of University of the People Shai Reshef founded the Univer- sity of the People (UofPeople) in May 2009, billing it as the first online, tuition-free, global univer- sity. Reshef has extensive experi- ence in online education—first, as chairman of the Kidum Group, a for-profit educational services company eventually purchased by Kaplan Inc.; and next, as chairman of the Netherlands' KIT eLearning, a Kidum subsidiary and e-learning partner of the University of Liv- erpool in the United Kingdom. Although Reshef sees great potential in this educational model, he notes that Shai Reshef for his university to be sustainable, it will eventually have to charge modest application and exam fees of $10 to $100. Even so, he says, the courses themselves will contin- ue to be offered free of charge. The university now offers two degree programs in business admin- istration and computer science. The school's advisory council already includes leaders from businesses, nonprofits, and traditional academic institutions such as Columbia Uni- versity, New York University, and the Harvard Kennedy School in the United States; INSEAD in France; and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics in India. 60 BizEd NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2010 So far, the University of the People, which is based in Pasadena, California, has enrolled more than 600 students from nearly 100 coun- tries. But that's far short of Reshef's goal: He hopes to enroll 15,000 students within five years. Reshef's passion for the enterprise is propor- tionate to the ambitious nature of his vision. But he believes that with the help of technology, volunteers, and like-minded partners, UoPeople will achieve its goal— reaching every person who wants an education but lacks the resources to obtain it. Why did you think this was the right time for a free global university? Several developments over the last few years have made an online tuition-free university possible. The first is wider access to the Internet and information. The second is open source technology—like the Creative Commons licensing proj- ect and MIT's OpenCourseWare. The third and last piece of the puzzle has been the new culture of social networking, where people are willing to share knowledge and information, and help each other without getting paid. Have you run into any obstacles along the way? In the beginning, I was very wor- ried about finding enough material online to adapt to our use. We did not know how easy it would be to recruit professors or reach out to students without a huge mar- keting budget. But as soon as we announced the project, we received coverage in the media and had professors volunteer. We now have 2,000 professors who have volun- teered to teach our courses—many more than we had anticipated. How are your courses delivered? We have no video, audio, or live courses. We want to make sure that students anywhere in the world will be able to study with us, even if they don't have their own Internet con- nection. Many of our students use Internet cafés. Each course is ten weeks, and each week runs Thursday to Wednes- day. On Thursdays, students come to the course to read or download that week's materials. They read the instructor's discussion questions, which are the core of our study. After they finish their reading, they go into the discussion forums to talk about that week's topic. The instructor supervises the discussion and ensures that each student participates at least five times. At the end of the week, students return to take an online quiz to show they understand the mate- rial; at the end of the ten weeks, they take the exam and receive their grade. You now have 600 students enrolled, but your goal is 15,000. Are you concerned about attracting that many students? Just to be accurate, we need 15,000 students to be a sustainable uni- versity, but we are not planning on

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