10 Good Questions with University of the People [Q&A]

Meet Shai Reshef, founder of University of the People.

Apr 30, 2015
Shai Reshef TED

Shai Reshef speaks at an official TED conference in 2014

University of the People founder Shai Reshef wants to change higher education - "from being a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all" - and he’s doing everything he can to make that happen. Anyone with a high school diploma can take classes toward a degree in business administration or computer science at the University of the People - without paying standard tuition fees. Reshef speaks to Goodnet about democratizing higher education in this 10 Good Questions.

1. What is your organization’s mission?

The mission of University of the People is to democratize higher education globally by offering affordable, quality, online, degrees to any qualified high school graduate despite financial, geographic, social, and personal constraints keeping them from collegiate studies.

2. What makes you guys different from the rest?

University of the People is the world’s first and only non-profit, tuition-free, accredited online university, dedicated to opening access to higher education globally.

3. Offices or open work space?

While we are based in Pasadena, California, we are a virtual online university, which means we don’t have an actual campus. There are over 3,000 volunteers working from around the world, supported by a small cadre of paid staff run the university.  

4. What three words describe your organization?

Pioneering, innovative, necessary

Watch Reshef's inspirational TED Talk: 

5. What inspires you?

I am most inspired by our students from all over the world, many of whom have overcome tremendous challenges and barriers in their path to obtaining higher education, and many for whom we have changed their and their families’ lives. I often think about, for example, our student Joe Jean, who came from the rubbles of Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake, and the many challenges he faced, and of how he never gave up hope. Through his determination, we gave him the stepping stone he needed to get to where he is today at NYU, fulfilling his dreams. I think about our students who are being given a chance to get ahead in life, after having survived all kinds of hardships and challenges that life has thrown their way, whether it be financial hardships, poverty, genocide, conflict, natural disasters, racial discrimination, or simply being female in a country where it’s not acceptable to study… the list goes on. Our students and their stories make me proud and inspire me to continue doing what I’m doing.

6. What is the best part about your job?

Interacting with our amazing, inspiring students from all over the world, hearing their great stories of overcoming challenges and creating a path to obtain a higher education. I can connect with our students who are being given an opportunity to get ahead in life, after having survived hardships and challenges that life has thrown their way, once again, whether it be financial hardships, poverty, genocide, conflict, natural disasters, racial discrimination, or simply being female in a country where it’s not acceptable to study. Our students and their stories make me proud and give me reason to keep working hard and open the gates of higher education to all.

7. Does your team eat lunch together?

As an online university, our team is all over the world. Those who live close to each other meet together often for lunch though.

8. Facebook or Twitter?

Twitter - I am able to connect with broad audience on what feels like a one-on-one interaction.

9. What do you want Goodnet users to know about your organization?

We believe higher-education should be accessible to everyone.

10.  How can people get involved?

Anyone can volunteer their time and expertise with UoPeople - we are always happy to bring people who share our mission and beliefs to the team. We currently have over 3,000 volunteers, filling positions at every rank of the university.