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TED2014

Shai Reshef: An ultra-low-cost college degree

March 14, 2014

At the online University of the People, anyone with a high school diploma can take classes toward a degree in business administration or computer science — without standard tuition fees (though exams cost money). Founder Shai Reshef hopes that higher education is changing "from being a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all."

Shai Reshef - Education entrepreneur
Shai Reshef wants to democratize higher education. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I would like to share with you
00:12
a new model of higher education,
00:14
a model that, once expanded,
00:16
can enhance the collective intelligence
00:20
of millions of creative and motivated individuals
00:22
that otherwise would be left behind.
00:26
Look at the world.
00:29
Pick up a place and focus on it.
00:31
You will find humans chasing higher education.
00:34
Let's meet some of them.
00:38
Patrick.
00:40
Patrick was born in Liberia
00:42
to a family of 20 children.
00:44
During the civil war, he and his family were forced
00:47
to flee to Nigeria.
00:51
There, in spite of his situation,
00:54
he graduated high school with nearly perfect grades.
00:57
He wanted to continue to higher education,
01:01
but due to his family
01:03
living on the poverty line,
01:05
he was soon sent to South Africa
01:07
to work and send back money
01:09
to feed his family.
01:11
Patrick never gave up his dream of higher education.
01:14
Late at night, after work,
01:18
he surfed the Net looking for ways to study.
01:21
Meet Debbie.
01:25
Debbie is from Florida.
01:26
Her parents didn't go to college,
01:29
and neither did any of her siblings.
01:31
Debbie has worked all her life,
01:34
pays taxes, supports herself month to month,
01:37
proud of the American dream,
01:41
a dream that just won't be complete
01:44
without higher education.
01:46
But Debbie doesn't have the savings
01:48
for higher education.
01:51
She can't pay the tuition.
01:52
Neither could she leave work.
01:54
Meet Wael.
01:57
Wael is from Syria.
01:59
He's firsthand experiencing
02:01
the misery, fear and failure
02:05
imposed on his country.
02:07
He's a big believer in education.
02:10
He knew that if he would find an opportunity
02:13
for higher education,
02:15
an opportunity to get ahead of the rest,
02:17
he has a better chance to survive
02:19
in a world turned upside down.
02:22
The higher education system
02:25
failed Patrick, Debbie and Wael,
02:28
exactly as it is failing
02:32
millions of potential students,
02:34
millions that graduate high school,
02:37
millions that are qualified for higher education,
02:40
millions that want to study
02:43
yet cannot access for various reasons.
02:45
First, financial.
02:49
Universities are expensive. We all know it.
02:52
In large parts of the world,
02:55
higher education is unattainable
02:57
for an average citizen.
02:59
This is probably the biggest problem
03:02
facing our society.
03:03
Higher education stopped being a right for all
03:06
and became a privilege for the few.
03:10
Second, cultural.
03:13
Students who are qualified for higher education,
03:17
can afford, want to study, cannot
03:20
because it is not decent,
03:24
it is not a place for a woman.
03:28
This is the story of countless women
03:30
in Africa, for example,
03:33
prevented from higher education
03:34
because of cultural barriers.
03:36
And here comes the third reason:
03:39
UNESCO stated that in 2025,
03:41
100 million students
03:45
will be deprived from higher education
03:48
simply because there will not be enough seats
03:51
to accommodate them, to meet the demand.
03:55
They will take a placement test,
03:58
they will pass it,
03:59
but they still won't have access
04:01
because there are no places available.
04:03
These are the reasons
04:07
I founded University of the People,
04:09
a nonprofit, tuition-free,
04:11
degree-granting university
04:14
to give an alternative,
04:16
to create an alternative to those who have no other,
04:18
an alternative that will be affordable
04:22
and scalable,
04:25
an alternative that will disrupt
04:27
the current education system,
04:30
open the gates to higher education
04:33
for every qualified student
04:35
regardless of what they earn, where they live,
04:37
or what society says about them.
04:42
Patrick, Debbie and Wael
04:45
are only three examples
04:47
out of the 1,700 accepted students
04:48
from 143 countries.
04:50
We — (Applause) — Thank you.
04:54
We didn't need to reinvent the wheel.
04:59
We just looked at what wasn't working
05:02
and used the amazing power of the Internet
05:04
to get around it.
05:07
We set out to build a model
05:09
that will cut down almost entirely
05:12
the cost of higher education,
05:14
and that's how we did it.
05:17
First, bricks and mortar cost money.
05:19
Universities have expenses
05:22
that virtual universities don't.
05:24
We don't need to pass these expenses
05:28
onto our students.
05:30
They don't exist.
05:31
We also don't need to worry about capacity.
05:33
There are no limits of seats
05:36
in virtual university.
05:38
Actually, nobody needs to stand
05:40
at the back of the lecture hall.
05:42
Textbooks is also something
05:45
our students don't need to buy.
05:47
By using open educational resources
05:49
and the generosity of professors
05:52
who are putting their material
05:55
free and accessible,
05:56
we don't need to send our students to buy textbooks.
05:59
All of our materials come free.
06:02
Even professors,
06:05
the most expensive line in
any university balance sheet,
06:07
come free to our students,
06:10
over 3,000 of them,
06:12
including presidents, vice chancellors,
06:14
professors and academic advisors
06:18
from top universities such as NYU,
06:21
Yale, Berkeley and Oxford,
06:24
came on board to help our students.
06:27
Finally, it's our belief in peer-to-peer learning.
06:29
We use this sound pedagogical model
06:34
to encourage our students from all over the world
06:37
to interact and study together
06:40
and also to reduce the time
06:42
our professors need to labor over class assignments.
06:45
If the Internet has made us a global village,
06:52
this model can develop its future leadership.
06:57
Look how we do it.
07:02
We only offer two programs:
07:04
business administration and computer science,
07:06
the two programs
07:09
that are most in demand worldwide,
07:11
the two programs that are likeliest
07:13
to help our students find a job.
07:15
When our students are accepted,
07:19
they are placed in a small classroom
07:22
of 20 to 30 students to ensure
07:25
that those who need personalized attention get it.
07:29
Moreover, for every nine weeks' course,
07:32
they meet a new peer,
07:36
a whole new set of students
07:38
from all over the world.
07:40
Every week, when they go into the classroom,
07:42
they find the lecture notes of the week,
07:45
the reading assignment, the homework assignment,
07:48
and the discussion question,
07:50
which is the core of our studies.
07:51
Every week, every student
07:54
must contribute to the class discussion
07:55
and also must comment
07:58
on the contribution of others.
08:00
This way, we open our students' minds,
08:02
we develop a positive shift in attitude
08:06
toward different cultures.
08:09
By the end of each week,
08:11
the students take a quiz,
08:13
hand in their homework,
08:15
which are assessed by their peers
08:17
under the supervision of the instructors,
08:18
get a grade, move to the next week.
08:22
By the end of the course, they take the final exam,
08:24
get a grade, and follow to the next course.
08:26
We opened the gates for higher education
08:32
for every qualified student.
08:34
Every student with a high school diploma,
08:38
sufficient English and Internet connection
08:41
can study with us.
08:44
We don't use audio. We don't use video.
08:46
Broadband is not necessary.
08:48
Any student from any part of the world
08:51
with any Internet connection
08:54
can study with us.
08:56
We are tuition-free.
08:58
All we ask our students to cover
09:00
is the cost of their exams,
09:02
100 dollars per exam.
09:04
A full-time bachelor degree student
09:07
taking 40 courses,
09:09
will pay 1,000 dollars a year,
09:11
4,000 dollars for the entire degree,
09:14
and for those who cannot afford even this,
09:17
we offer them a variety of scholarships.
09:20
It is our mission that nobody will be left behind
09:23
for financial reasons.
09:26
With 5,000 students in 2016,
09:28
this model is financially sustainable.
09:32
Five years ago, it was a vision.
09:37
Today, it is a reality.
09:41
Last month, we got the ultimate
09:44
academic endorsement to our model.
09:46
University of the People is now fully accredited.
09:50
(Applause)
09:54
Thank you.
09:55
With this accreditation,
10:01
it's our time now to scale up.
10:02
We have demonstrated that our model works.
10:05
I invite universities and, even more important,
10:09
developing countries' governments,
10:13
to replicate this model
10:14
to ensure that the gates of higher education
10:16
will open widely.
10:19
A new era is coming,
10:21
an era that will witness
10:24
the disruption of the higher education model
10:26
as we know it today,
10:29
from being a privilege for the few
10:31
to becoming a basic right,
10:35
affordable and accessible for all.
10:38
Thank you.
10:41
(Applause)
10:43

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Shai Reshef - Education entrepreneur
Shai Reshef wants to democratize higher education.

Why you should listen

Reshef is the president of University of the People, an online school that offers tuition-free academic degrees in computer science, business administration and health studies (and MBA) to students across the globe. The university is partnered with Yale Law School for research and NYU and University of California Berkeley to accept top students. It's accredited in the U.S. and has admitted thousands of students from more than 180 countries. Wired magazine has included Reshef in its list of "50 People Changing the World" while Foreign Policy named him a "Top Global Thinker." Now Reshef wants to contribute to addressing the refugee crisis. "Education is a major factor in solving this global challenge," he says. UoPeople is taking at least 500 Syrian refugees as students with full scholarship. Before founding UoPeople, Reshef chaired KIT eLearning, the first online university in Europe.

The original video is available on TED.com
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