Free University Courses for All: Ashoka Fellow’s University of the People is a Smart Way to Make the Future

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Source: Ashoka

Shai Reshef, president and founder of the University of the People, a nonprofit institution based in Pasadena, California, is bringing free online higher education to millions of young people around the world. Most recently, this Ashoka Fellow was nominated to Wired U.K.’s first-ever Smart List by Yossi Vardi, a high-tech entrepreneurs and an original investor in the instant messaging service ICQ.

The Smart List 2012 identifies 50 people (including Reshef) who will change the world; it’s Wired’s way of celebrating the innovators who are going to make the biggest impact on our future.

“Shai has revolutionised the way higher education can be provided to millions of young, capable people in emerging economies,” Vardi said. “He is using internet tools to provide free online higher education over the net. After having had a successful for-profit career in supplementary education, he is dedicating his life and resources to this new social initiative. He will change the outcome of many youngsters.”

The New York Times, in a nod to a brighter future in 2012, highlighted Reshef’s opening of an operations center in the West Bank:

“Shai Reshef, the founder of University of the People, a nonprofit institution that offers free online education to students in more than 120 countries, said in an interview last week that his agreement with ASAL Technologies, a Palestinian software and information technology services company based in Ramallah, was just the first stage of a plan to move the university’s entire back office to the West Bank.

“University of the People uses specially adapted Open Course materials to offer courses in business administration and computer science. ‘Those are the skills most likely to help our students find jobs,’ said Mr. Reshef, an entrepreneur who started and sold two for-profit education companies before putting $3 million of his own money into his new venture.”

“We’re not trying to create Oxford or Harvard,” Reshef said. “This is low-cost, high-quality education for people who can’t afford anything else.”

And that’s what social change is all about: giving back to level the playing field. With his ed-tech innovation attracting unprecedented support, Reshef looks poised to continue teaching the world (and a teetering Middle East) important lessons about equity, courage, and hope.