Online university offers free degrees to Syrian refugees

The university offers fully accredited four-year degrees, completely taught online, with students scattered across 180 countries.

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An online university is offering 500 refugees from Syria's civil war free degree courses, supported by the likes of Bill Gates and Google.

The University of the People, based in California, is a non-profit project designed to provide higher education for those with the academic ability to study, but without the ability to pay or without any practical access to a traditional university. In the US, it provides places for people without documentation, who otherwise would be stuck in a loop-tape of needing qualifications to get a better job but not having the paperwork to enrol in a conventional college.

The university offers fully accredited four-year degrees, completely taught online, with students scattered across 180 countries.The courses are built on 40 separate units, with each usually costing $100 (£77) to take an invigilated exam - making a full degree $4,000 (£3,100), but even these relatively low fees are now being waived for Syrian refugees.

"There isn't a better reason for the invention of the internet," the university's founder and president, Shai Reshef, told the BBC this week. "We open the gates to higher education. We are an alternative for those who have no other alternative - survivors of the genocide in Rwanda, refugees from Syria, the earthquake in Haiti.

"Nobody deserves education as much as refugees. These are people who have lost everything. Many will never go back to their countries, and their children and grandchildren become refugees too. The only way out of the cycle is by education, the only way for them to integrate in their new countries is through education."

A combination of academic and tech philanthropy – charity from tech companies  – makes this low-cost model possible; the aim is to make the university self-sustaining eventually, but currently it's supported by big donors like the Gates Foundation, Hewlett Packard and Google.

This has allowed the university to expand from 500 to 5,000 students in two years, with an expectation that it will double again.

Students are taught for 20 hours per week in online classes of about 20 to 30 students, with the instruction and homework assignments provided by a group of academics and retired university staff, whom receive only a very small token payment. Reshef said there is no shortage of academics wanting to help students who otherwise would be excluded.

"These professors see the price of education,” he said.”Particularly in the US and the UK, and they think it doesn't make any sense." Notable academics involved in the project include Sir Colin Lucas, former vice-chancellor of Oxford University; Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley and John Sexton, former president of New York University.

 

 

"Nobody deserves education as much as refugees. These are people who have lost everything. Many will never go back to their countries, and their children and grandchildren become refugees too."

"Nobody deserves education as much as refugees. These are people who have lost everything. Many will never go back to their countries, and their children and grandchildren become refugees too. The only way out of the cycle is by education, the only way for them to integrate in their new countries is through education."

A combination of academic and tech philanthropy – charity from tech companies  – makes this low-cost model possible; the aim is to make the university self-sustaining eventually, but currently it's supported by big donors like the Gates Foundation, Hewlett Packard and Google.

This has allowed the university to expand from 500 to 5,000 students in two years, with an expectation that it will double again.

Students are taught for 20 hours per week in online classes of about 20 to 30 students, with the instruction and homework assignments provided by a group of academics and retired university staff, whom receive only a very small token payment. Reshef said there is no shortage of academics wanting to help students who otherwise would be excluded.

"These professors see the price of education,” he said.”Particularly in the US and the UK, and they think it doesn't make any sense." Notable academics involved in the project include Sir Colin Lucas, former vice-chancellor of Oxford University; Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley and John Sexton, former president of New York University.

 

 

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