Educating the many for the price of the few
By Rob Cohen
You don’t need to be a genius statistician to notice the link between standards of education and a country’s GDP – there is an inextricable link between ongoing national prosperity and the ongoing supply of an educated and skilled workforce.
Education leads to understanding, understanding leads to innovation, advancement and leadership. These are the engines of change, growth, prosperity and ultimately peace (prosperity and stability generally being very good buddies).
However, university places are very limited and, for the majority, prohibitively expensive (a 4 year degree will cost the average Kenyan four times his annual salary). Coupled with the disproportionately higher costs of delivering higher education, the expense of developing the sector is simply too much for fragile economies to bear.
Factor-in the changing demands being made on the global work force – working with our hands is being replaced with working with our heads – and, Houston, we have a problem. Teaching young men to mine coal or stick cars together is not the answer and machines are much less troublesome than humans. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), South Africa has seen a 1000% uplift in people employed in the financial services sector, in less than a decade. The rest of Africa is showing similar trends of growth in employment in the service sectors set against static or declining growth in the production-oriented sectors.
But how do governments, particularly governments in developing countries, overcome the dual hurdles of needing to improve their basic higher educational infrastructure whilst at the same time ensuring their populations are able to meet the business and technological needs of employers?
The traditional model of post-secondary education needs help. A new approach is needed. A model that can cut a swathe through the cripplingly expensive costs of delivering higher education yet be capable of reaching hundreds of thousands of people with structured, high-quality university-level programs.
That model might just exist. Harnessing the power of the web, University of the People (UoPeople), the world’s first tuition fee-free online global university, recently opened its virtual doors to the first cohort of just under 200 students from almost 50 countries. Determined to change the global mindset on higher education delivery – UoPeople is working to bring university programs within reach of the majority rather than keeping it the preserve of the minority – irrespective of financial, geographical or social constraints.
Supporting under-served populations, UoPeople provides access to structured, degree-level programs in Business Administration and Computer Science with zero tuition fees. It excludes no one who has graduated high school, has access to a computer and the internet and has sufficient English skills to complete the English-only courses.
“By using the amazing array of openly available resources, coupled with the amazing ability for people to reach out and help each other, we are able to create a model for higher education that is financially, geographically and socially relevant for a much higher proportion of the world.” Said Shai Reshef, Founder and President, UoPeople.
Social networking and helping each other is a big part of the UoPeople credo. Peer2peer learning forms part of the overall learning and grading system with students required to fully participate in discussing questions posed by the faculty and other students in their groups and forums.
Underpinning the peer2peer methodology is the constant presence of academic faculty – both employed and volunteer – who provide the necessary support, within the learning environment, for students as they progress.
UoPeople is not accredited but this does not mean it isn’t quality – its advisory committee of senior academics from the likes of Yale and INSEAD make sure of that. And, although UoPeople applies no fees at all currently, to ensure self-sustainability it will need to start charging nominal application and exam processing fees.
UoPeople is brave. There are significant challenges and there will be fans and detractors. The United Nations and Yale University, it seems, have both seen the potential and are firmly in the “friends” camp right now. More partnerships will no doubt follow as the project gathers momentum. This could be one of those momentous occasions of serendipity where vision, opportunity and sheer will collide with remarkable effects.
If you want to apply, volunteer or donate, visit http://www.uopeople.org