NYU's Abu Dhabi campus

Lewin, T. (2011) Partnership to Further Global Quest by N.Y.U. New York Times, June 8

New York University, one of the most selective, elite private universities in the world is partnering with the brand new,  ‘free’ online University of the People, which caters primarily for very poor Third World students in places such as refugee camps, emergency tent cities in Haiti, and  sub-Saharan Africa. NYU aims to offer places and scholarships to a small number of the University of the People’s ‘best’ students at NYU’s campus in Abu Dhabi, where the tuition fees are $53,000 a year. Perhaps of even more significance, several of NYU’s top faculty are working with the University of the People, presumably for free and with the support of the NYU administration.

de Vise, D. (2011) University of the People: Tuition-free higher education Washington Post, June 14

This article provides more information about the University of the People, a free online university.

  • founded in 2009 by Shai Reshef, an Israeli entrepreneur, who used some of the money he made from selling a for-profit school to Kaplan
  • has to date about 1,000 students in business and computer science out of 30,000 applicants, and 2,000 volunteer instructors, some from prestigious universities
  • admission requirements: high school completion and English language competency (all courses are in English)
  • not yet accredited anywhere
  • has developed a partnership with New York University.

See also: One year update on the University of the People


The University of the People is an interesting and worthwhile initiative, but it seems to me it needs a stronger financial base or at least a wider base of support. Too much seems to rest on one person, its founder, for it to be sustainable in the long term, and it needs to find some way of getting recognition or accreditation if it is to increase enrollments.

I think NYU is to be commended for giving its support to the University of the People, which is a genuine attempt to provide mass higher education to those who otherwise could not possibly afford it. The gesture of offering a limited number of places to U of the People’s best students is important symbolically, and I really like the fact that staff from NYU are encouraged to work with the U of the People. I would like to see all public universities encouraging this.

However, it still smacks of charity. I’d rather see a sustainable, publicly and internationally funded business model for institutions such as the University of the People, so that they can reach ever more potential learners with high quality online education. In the meantime, though, the partnership with NYU is a valuable way to establish legitimacy and to raise the reputation of the University of the People.


  1. Very interesting. As a proud NYC alumnus. However, I’ll have to seek out more details on this partnership. Are students of University of the People going to be awarded credits by NYU? What kind of degrees/programs are currently offered? Either way, thanks for sharing this info, Tony.

    • Hi, Alex

      My understanding is that NYU is not awarding credits to U of the People students. What it is doing is accepting for admission to its Abu Dhabi campus a very small number of the U of the People’s best students each year and providing them with scholarships/bursaries. Uof the People is currently offering programs only in business and computer studies. More information can be found on their web site: http://www.uopeople.org/

      Best regards

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