Forbes Education Technology Innovation Series: Shai Reshef, President of the University of the People

March 03, 2014
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A Conversation With The President Of World’s First Non-Profit, Tuition-Free, Accredited, Online University

by Peter High, published on


Shai Reshef is an Israeli-born entrepreneur who now lives in Pasadena, California. Although his master’s degree is in Chinese politics, he has made his name professionally in private education. He served as chairman and CEO of the Kidum Group, an Israeli test preparation which he sold to Kaplan, Inc. in 2005. He also led KIT eLearning, a subsidiary of Kidum and the eLearning partner of the University of Liverpool. KIT provided MBAs and Master in IT degrees, and was eventually acquired by Laureate Online Education.

In 2009, Reshef founded the University of the People, which in February 2014 received accreditation from the Distance and Education Training Council, a U.S. Department of Education authorized accrediting agency. This made it the world’s first non-profit, tuition-Free, accredited, online university.

In speaking with Reshef, I was curious about his mission, the hurdles the company had to go over in order to achieve its unique distinction, and his plans for the future. As one would expect with a serial entrepreneur, he believes that now that the foundation is in place, the University of the People is well positioned to rapidly grow its business, creating new opportunities for many of the world’s least fortunate people in the process.

(To read the prior nine articles in this series including interviews with the heads of Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera, and edX, please visit this link. To read future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)

Peter High: Shai, what is the University of the People’s mission?

Shai Reshef: The mission of UoPeople is to offer affordable, quality, online, higher education to any qualified student. We believe that access to higher education is a key ingredient in the promotion of world peace and global economic development. We view higher education as a basic right, and believe that it can both transform the lives of individuals and can be a powerful force for societal change. We believe that education plays a fundamental role in strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in promoting understanding and tolerance. We also hope that in the future, other institutions will replicate our model in order to open the gates of higher education to as many students as possible around the world.

Peter High: You have an elite group of partners, including the Clinton Global Initiative, Yale Law School, HP, and the UN among others. How did you go about establishing partners in this mission and what role do they play?

Shai Reshef: Many corporations believe, as we do, that education should be a right and not a privilege, and would like to take part in revolutionizing higher education. Since so many people identify with UoPeople’s mission, more often than not our partners seek us out without any solicitation from our part. By joining us, they also create their future potential employees. Our agreement with Microsoft is the very example of this. Launched in September 2013, the UoPeople Microsoft4Afrika scholarship program will support a total of 1,000 African students to graduate with a world-class academic degree from UoPeople in either Computer Science or Business Administration. The scholarship not only includes financial support to cover all costs associated with studies, but also extra-curricular opportunities including professional training from Microsoft, being mentored by Microsoft employees and  internship and job opportunities with Microsoft and their affiliates in Africa upon their graduation. This comprehensive program is providing students with a degree, experience in their industry, a professional network and important life skills and competencies. The program is fostering a new generation of leaders equipped to succeed in the global business and technology world, to enhance their country and region’s social and economic development and help improve the lives of people across Africa.

Additional topics covered in the article include:

  • What were the hurdles that you needed to clear in order to ensure that the university was both accredited and tuition-free?
  • What is the admission process?  What are you looking for in candidates?
  • You have chosen four degrees:
    • Bachelor (B.S.) in Business Administration
    • Associate (A.S.) in Business Administration
    • Bachelor (B.S.) in Computer Science
    • Associate (A.S.) in Computer Science

Why were these chosen?

  • Are there plans to add any others?
  • How was the curriculum designed?
  • What is the background of the professors?
  • How do you stimulate collaboration among the students?
  • What sort of funding level is required in order to sustain the university?
  • What is the retention rate of student? What methods will you employ to increase the rate?
  • What other metrics do you track in order to prove that the University of the People is on track with its mission?

To read the full article, please visit

To explore other Education Technology Innovation Series articles, please click here.

To explore the Technovation Column library, please click here.


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