I chose to develop my discussion on a fascinating TED talk: “Shai Reshef: An ultra-low-cost college degree.” Since my timeline focuses not only on the history of college per se, but also on the struggles that college imposes on students, this video was particularly interesting as it stresses the inaccessibility of higher education nowadays.
There is a brief introduction for the TED talk: “At the online University of the People, anyone with a high school diploma can take classes toward a degree in business administration or computer science — without standard tuition fees (though exams cost money). Founder Shai Reshef hopes that higher education is changing ‘from being a privilege for the few to a basic right, affordable and accessible for all’.” The quote from Reshef’s speech is very important as it suggests his intention to revolutionize the modern system of higher education and help disadvantaged students realize their dreams. For this reasons, Reshef has been named the “Ultimate Game Changer in education” by the Huffington Post and had made an appearance in the list of the 50 people who will change the world in WIRED.
According to what Reshef says in the video, he created a virtual, tuition-free institution offering to help people all over the world, a model that has recently been accredited by DETC. He begins his speech by giving the examples of three young people who strongly wanted to pursue an academic career after graduating from high-school but were unable to enroll in college because of financial reasons. These are stories of creative individuals whose intelligence was denied by the classic academic model, but could be expended by his new online program. Reshef pinpoints three reasons for which the young generation is denied an education: financial reasons (college becomes a privilege instead of being of a natural right), cultural reasons (in some countries women are not allowed to go to college), and capacity (there are not enough seats or places to accommodate everybody). In contrast, being a virtual college, the University of the People is affordable and does not pose a problem in terms of capacity. Students don’t need to buy textbooks because the professors put their materials online, and the professors themselves are volunteers who don’t want a salary. “If the Internet has made us a global village, this model can develop its future leadership,” says Reshef towards the end of the video.
Certainly, it is beautiful that the University of the People opens its doors to everybody, no matter where they live or what their social position is. It is also brilliant that Reshef identifies what is wrong in modern education and uses the power of the Internet to change it. However, there are some issues raised by the academic model he introduces that are not fully examined. For instance, there are only two possible fields of study: business administration or computer science. It is true that these are currently the main areas of interest in college education as they give the possibility to find a job in the world market more easily than other fields. However, this is something that may be considered a limitation since there are disadvantaged students who are certainly interested in other areas of study as well. Another limitation is probably due to the virtual character of the program: Reshef highlights the importance of “peer to peer learning,” which means that students are encouraged to interact and study together online. The problem is that online. Having a conversation online is different from having a conversation in person and influences the quality of the discourse. This is especially true if the students are from different countries and have different time zones. Also, the University of the People does not offer a full college life: libraries, social events, trips, workshops, etc., are not available through the digital system. Finally, women who are denied an education because of their gender would not have easy access to a virtual college, since they do not have access to an actual college in the first place.
Now, it’s your turn. What do you think of the Universtiy of the People? Is it an useful and effective institution worldwide? Is this virtual college a step forward into a brighter future? Do you believe that virtual colleges are better than actual colleges? Is Shai Reshef a great thinker, even a genius? Or is Shai Reshef’s vision a little too simplistic?