Shai Reshef – Founder of University of the People

The greatest potential of the Internet is its connectivity and its amazing ability to deliver products, services and information around the globe, almost instantaneously. As the Internet has grown in scope over the last decade, online education has exploded onto the scene and only is getting bigger by the month.

One of the leaders in the online education movement is Shai Reshef, who is founder and president of the University of the People. This is the world’s very first global online institution that does not charge tuition. This university was designed by Reshef to serve populations who are poor, in distant locations, and suffer from socioeconomic disadvantages in their daily lives. Reshaf came up with a number of innovations as he established his free university, such as using the Internet to provide classes, peer to peer teaching techniques, and a broad and diverse, international network of faculty and students. With the University of the People, Reshef is helping to transform education from a privilege of people with wealth into a right for disadvantaged people all over the planet.

  • His free university is built on three basic concepts:
  • Access to education is a fundamental right of all people
  • Widespread, easy access to information by computer
  • The natural tendency of people wanting to help each other

Of course, these concepts are not unique to Reshef’s effort, but his idea of a free university, online education and peer to peer teaching is truly original.

Reshef majored in political science at Tel Aviv University in the 1970s, and he worked part time as a carpenter, and also as a research assistant at Tel Aviv University. He started to study for his PhD in political sociology in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. The focus of his studies was this: How do you go about changing social and cultural values by using education? What he discovered as he researched this question led him in some very interesting directions. Reshef concluded that one of the key aspects of social change is to enact political change. This is especially true when it comes to enacting legislation that involves economic incentives, legal protections and government safety nets.

Reshef returned to Israel in the 1980s and became the CEO of a for profit test prep company in 1989, called Kidum. In 1996, Kidum partnered with the American learning firm Silvan, and eventually Kidum was bought out by Kaplan in 2005. Reshef next became involved with the for profit online education company Cramster. It was at this point that he began to focus on using online education to help to break down both socioeconomic and geographical barriers to education. It was in 2009 that he formed the University of the People.

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