As the numbers of online university students continue to rise and more resources become available for free online, the idea of opening up a tuition-free university appears to have come at an appropriate time.

The UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID) together with entrepreneur Shai Reshef, have created the world’s first tuition-free online university that relies solely on social networking, self-directed learning, and self-forming online communities.

“For hundreds of millions of people around the world higher education is no more than a dream,” said Shai Reshef, the founder of the University of the People.

Reshef said it’s able to be a free institution as it cuts costs by using open-source technology and course material, as well as volunteers for both its academic and admin departments.

There is a great tendency to put free educational material online. All MIT courseware and other universities are making it available and I believe this is the tendency and will continue into the future, Reshef said in an interview.

Reshef noted that universities cannot control how their material is distributed so it’s easier for them to put it up online and allow legal distribution of it, while still maintaining control over how it’s used.

The material we are going to write ourselves (using volunteer professors), we are also going to put it up for free for other universities to use, added Reshef, who is featured in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business.

By using courseware from recognized universities, Reshef noted it does not imply they plan to compete with those universities.

If people can go to an Ivy League school, then they should go. We are there for the others who can't. We are not competing with them, we are completing them, he noted.

Admission opened up in the beginning of May and some 200 students from 52 countries have already registered for its two undergraduate programs in business administration and computer science in English.

Although the tuition is free, students still need to pay a $15 to $50 admission fee, depending on their country of origin, and a processing fee for every exam ranging from $10 to $100.

Students are required to pass an orientation course in English and computer skills in order to continue on to do their major, which would require 40 courses, similar to most undergraduate degrees.

Each virtual classroom will hold 20 students from around the world, he said. They would read the same “lecture” at the beginning of each week, hold discussions in a kind of chat room and help each other understand the material.

Reshef began his career in online education as chairman of the Kidum Group in 1989, an Israeli test preparation company, which he sold in 2005 to Kaplan, Inc.

While living in the Netherlands in 2001 and 2004, he created the first university online outside of the U.S called KIT eLearning, a subsidiary of Kidum. KIT was later sold to Laureate, another large for-profit education company, in 2004.

Reshef is now the chairman of, an online study community offering homework help to college students.

On the Net:

Official website of the University of the People