An ultra-low-cost college degree | Shai Reshef | Summary and Q&A

August 4, 2014
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An ultra-low-cost college degree | Shai Reshef


This content introduces a new model of higher education that aims to make education accessible and affordable for all.

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Key Insights

  • 🌍The current higher education system is failing millions of potential students, with financial, cultural, and capacity limitations preventing access for qualified individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • 💰Universities are expensive and unattainable for many, making higher education a privilege for the few rather than a right for all.
  • 🎓Cultural barriers, such as gender inequality, prevent many qualified students, particularly women in Africa, from pursuing higher education.
  • 📚University of the People has created an alternative model that reduces costs by eliminating bricks and mortar expenses and providing free access to textbooks and professors.
  • 🌐Peer-to-peer learning is embraced to foster global interaction and reduce the workload for professors, while focusing on programs like business administration and computer science that have high demand in the job market.
  • 🎓University of the People is a tuition-free, accredited university that only requires students to cover the cost of exams, making higher education financially accessible for all students.
  • 💪The accreditation of University of the People validates the success of their model and invites other universities and developing countries' governments to replicate it to ensure universal access to higher education.
  • 🌟A new era of higher education is emerging, where it is seen as a basic right that is affordable and accessible for all, disrupting the traditional model and opening doors for millions of students worldwide.


I would like to share with you a new model of higher education, a model that, once expanded, can enhance the collective intelligence of millions of creative and motivated individuals that otherwise would be left behind. Look at the world. Pick a place and focus on it. You will find humans chasing higher education. Let's meet some of them. Patrick. ... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the main problem facing higher education according to the speaker?

The main problem facing higher education, as stated by the speaker, is financial. In many parts of the world, higher education has become unattainable for the average citizen, turning it from a right for all into a privilege for the few.

Q: What is the second reason highlighted by the speaker for the failure of the current higher education system?

The second reason mentioned by the speaker is cultural barriers. In some societies, women are prevented from accessing higher education due to cultural norms and beliefs. This restricts their opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Q: What did UNESCO predict will happen in 2025 regarding higher education?

UNESCO predicted that in 2025, 100 million students will be deprived of higher education due to lack of available seats. Despite passing the necessary placement tests, these students will not have access to education because there won't be enough spaces to accommodate them.

Q: How does the University of the People aim to address the issues in higher education?

The University of the People aims to provide an alternative to traditional higher education by offering a nonprofit, tuition-free, degree-granting university. This alternative is designed to be affordable, scalable, and accessible to qualified students regardless of their financial status, location, or societal perceptions.

Q: How does the University of the People cut down on the cost of higher education?

The University of the People reduces the cost of higher education by operating as a virtual university. This eliminates the need for physical facilities and associated expenses. Additionally, textbooks are replaced with free open educational resources, and professors volunteer their time, allowing the university to offer education at a significantly reduced cost.


This talk introduces the University of the People, a nonprofit, tuition-free, degree-granting university that aims to provide affordable and accessible higher education for individuals who are unable to access traditional university programs. The founder discusses the problems with the current higher education system, such as financial barriers, cultural restrictions, and limited capacity, and explains how the University of the People addresses these issues using online resources, open educational materials, and peer-to-peer learning. The model focuses on two in-demand programs, business administration and computer science, and emphasizes global interaction and collaboration among students. The speaker also highlights the financial sustainability of the model and the recent accreditation received by the university.

Questions & Answers

Q: What inspired the creation of the University of the People?

The founder was motivated by the countless individuals like Patrick, Debbie, and Wael who were unable to pursue higher education due to financial limitations or cultural barriers. This sparked the idea of creating an alternative, affordable, and scalable model that would provide equal opportunities for all qualified students.

Q: What are the main problems with the current higher education system?

The speaker identifies three main problems with the current system. Firstly, the cost of tuition and expenses make higher education unaffordable for many individuals around the world. Secondly, cultural restrictions can prevent qualified students, particularly women in certain societies, from accessing higher education. Lastly, the limited capacity of universities means that even eligible students who pass placement tests may not have enough available spots to enroll.

Q: How does the University of the People address the financial barrier?

Unlike traditional universities, the University of the People operates as a nonprofit and does not require students to pay tuition fees. The model utilizes virtual classrooms, eliminating the need for expensive physical facilities. Additionally, open educational resources and the generosity of professors worldwide provide free course materials, ensuring that students do not have to purchase expensive textbooks. Furthermore, professors themselves volunteer their time and expertise, making the university's operating costs significantly lower.

Q: How does the University of the People overcome the issue of limited capacity?

Since the University of the People is an online institution, there are no physical limitations on class sizes. This allows the university to accommodate a larger number of students than traditional universities. The model also focuses on peer-to-peer learning, which reduces the need for professors to individually assess every student's work. This enables the university to efficiently handle a larger student population.

Q: What programs does the University of the People offer?

The University of the People currently offers two programs that are in high demand worldwide: business administration and computer science. These programs have been chosen based on their potential to increase students' employment prospects and create better job opportunities.

Q: How does the peer-to-peer learning model work at the University of the People?

In the online classrooms, students are placed in small groups of around 20 to 30 students to ensure personalized attention. Each week, students engage in class discussions and are required to contribute and comment on each other's contributions. By interacting with peers from diverse backgrounds, students are exposed to different cultures and develop a positive shift in attitude. Their homework assignments and quizzes are assessed by their peers under the instructors' supervision, reducing the time professors need to spend on grading.

Q: What are the admission requirements for the University of the People?

Any individual with a high school diploma, sufficient English language skills, and access to the internet can study at the University of the People. The model does not rely on audio or video content, making broadband internet connections unnecessary. As long as students have basic internet connectivity, they can participate in the program from anywhere in the world.

Q: Is the University of the People truly tuition-free?

The University of the People does not charge tuition fees for its courses. However, students are required to pay a nominal fee of $100 per exam to cover the cost of examination services. This fee ensures the sustainability of the model. For students who are unable to afford even this amount, the university provides a range of scholarships to ensure that financial reasons do not hinder their education.

Q: How many students are currently enrolled at the University of the People?

As of the talk, the University of the People had accepted 1,700 students from 143 countries, sharing a mission to provide higher education opportunities to as many qualified students as possible. The model has shown its financial sustainability with 5,000 students in 2016.

Q: What recent achievement did the University of the People receive?

The University of the People has gained full accreditation, marking a significant academic endorsement of its model. This achievement signifies the success and effectiveness of the university's approach to higher education. The founder invites universities and governments, especially in developing countries, to replicate this model to expand access to higher education globally.


The University of the People offers a compelling vision of a new era in higher education. By leveraging the power of the internet and embracing a tuition-free model, it aims to provide accessible and affordable education to individuals around the world. Through its emphasis on peer-to-peer learning, global interaction, and carefully chosen programs, the university has demonstrated that higher education need not be an exclusive privilege but rather a basic right for all. The accreditation it has received further validates the effectiveness of the model and invites others to adopt this transformative approach.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The current higher education system is failing millions of potential students due to financial barriers, cultural barriers, and lack of capacity.

  • University of the People was founded as a tuition-free, degree-granting university to provide an alternative and affordable option for qualified students worldwide.

  • The university's model reduces costs by eliminating the need for physical infrastructure, textbooks, and expensive professors, and emphasizes peer-to-peer learning and interaction among students.

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