Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to education. However, there are still millions of people in the world being denied this right because of either accessibility issues or money.
A recent agreement between New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and the University of the People (UoPeople) will see impoverished students get a chance to access world-class higher education. The agreement will see talented students from UoPeople join NYUAD with full sponsorship from the institution.
"We have an agreement with New York University (NYU) where our students, after studying with us for a year, are able to apply to NYUAD," said Shai Reshef, president and founder of the UoPeople — a tuition-free online global university. Speaking to Gulf News over the phone last week, he added, "Those students who are accepted will be generously supported by NYUAD with tuition, housing and travel."
He emphasised the value of the agreement, explaining how impoverished UoPeople students, over a year ago, would not have dreamt of getting university education.
"For our students, a year ago, thinking about any university was a dream, which they realised by studying with us," he said. "To have another dream of actually thinking about gaining world-class education at NYUAD is a big deal in itself."
He added, "Excellent students living in tents in Haiti can't afford anything whatsoever, so acceptance to NYUAD means nothing to them unless someone promises to help them."
There is no set date as to when the first UoPeople students will transfer to NYUAD, however, Reshef said the process will be a slow one as it is a learning curve for all parties involved.
What is the UoPeople?
The UoPeople is one of the world's first tuition-free universities with an aim to provide free higher education to those who cannot access it. It began operation in 2009 and has accepted 1,400 students from 130 countries through its virtual doors. It is endorsed by the likes of Yale University Law School, the United Nations and Hewlett-Packard and boasts donors like the Kauffman Foundation to contribute to its $350,000 (Dh1.29 million) scholarship fund.
"We admire that UoPeople is seeking to bring higher education to so many of the world's disadvantaged," John Sexton, the president of NYU, said. "We anticipate a productive collaboration between them and NYU in identifying exceptionally bright and ambitious young people worldwide who could join our Abu Dhabi campus."
The UoPeople was founded on the principle of harnessing open source software as well as open source educational and online community-based learning tools.
Therefore, it is able to offer undergraduate degrees in business administration and computer science.
"There are millions of people who finish school and are prevented from going to college because of cultural reasons, because they can't afford it or due to other circumstances," Reshef said.
"For all these people, I decided to create a university of the people."
He added that the university has no plans to expand its programme offerings. The reason for the choice of the two disciplines is due to their universal applicability.
Despite the fact that the university is tuition-free, students are required to pay minimal application processing fees of up to $50, depending on the gross domestic product of their home country.
"Students from low-income developing countries need to pay $10 to apply but if they don't have it, we waive the fee," Reshef said. "In future, we will ask students to pay up to $100 to take exams because this small fee will make us sustainable when we have 15,000 students in 2015."
The university, although virtual, is registered to an office in Pasadena, California in the US. It relies on a pool of 2,000 volunteer professors from some of the world's most reputable institutions to put together course material, tutor courses and proctor virtual exams.
Reshef said, "Our curriculum is written using open source educational material and is a regular American programme where students will graduate with a bachelor's in four years."
UoPeople students access an online system to view and download their course material, discuss ideas with their classmates in a virtual classroom.
"Although we are a great university, we are not Harvard, so those who can afford to go to Harvard should. I didn't set up UoPeople for people with alternatives; it is for those with no options or alternatives at all," Reshef said.