Wednesday, 7 October 2009

University of the People


Having set out on a personal path of working for some of the UK's most prestigious working class adult education institutions (WEA, Ruskin College, Northern College etc.) I was intrigued with the news of the launch of The University of the People:

In a clip from the web-site the founder is quoted as:

"Education, just like democracy, should be a right, not a privilege,” said Shai Reshef, Founder and President, University of the People. “With a few keystrokes, UoPeople takes the concept of social networking and applies it to academia, providing a global chalkboard for all students.”

In an article earlier this week in The Guardian the University was pitched as the antidote to elite, high-cost higher education provision that is largely out of the reach of potential learners from developing countries. This ethos is also underpinned by the notion of education as a democratising and liberating tool.

The attraction of the University is that all courses are online - supported by social networking platforms and that, for the moment at least, there are no course fees.

As such the University is attracting critical political, pedagogic and educational acclaim:

"The concept is great, and one we'll see more and more," says Peter Scott, director of the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University, which itself gives free access to course materials through the OpenLearn website. He says so much high-quality material now exists on the web that traditional university models can no longer be seen as the only arbiters of quality.

Daniel Greenwood, professor of law at the Hofstra University school of law, New York, has volunteered a day a week, as well as to serve on the advisory committee. He wanted to help make education more widely available and liked the idea of being in on something new and potentially huge: "the notion that you can create something that can be expanded to serve tens of thousands of students who otherwise wouldn't be able to access education".

All being well the University (or UoPeople as it's referred) isn't just a flash in the pan as it appears, even in its infancy, to combine features of an educational offer that is not combine a political raison d'etre but a practical method of addressing access to HE provision.

A key test however, will be the backlash (or not) from the 'old world' (my term) universities - particularly in the way that they acknowledge (or not) awards given by the UoPeople when their alumni attempt to move on to further study with them.

I'd be very interested in your views of the UoPeople's approach to offering higher education study and am asking that you visit the web-site, review the material and provide some feedback.




ShopSteward85 said...

Had a look at the web-site and this seems an interesting idea. Could only see two course on offer tho - is that right?

WOuld like to see millions using this and bringing down the elite universities so that we can change the world order!

Also be good to use this for trade union teaching and not have to sit in front of boring gits like you!

Ian Manborde said...

Thanks the positive comments regarding the UoPeople web-site and its future prospects.

And as to the latter comment, all I can say is that when we next meet on a UNITE course, I'll be proposing that, with certain students, the idea of having to engage with them purely online (as with the blog), would be welcome relief!



guy said...

The idea is a positive move, albeit one that accepts the status-quo of students paying for their studies. Anything that improves access to and availability of education to those less able to pay is a laudable move.

i am concerned, however, that no matter how positive an on-line community can be, it does not and can not replace actual communities where people meet and can learn and develop in mutuially supportive real social environments.

Another plan that needs careful consideration is one outlined recently on the BBC website [ ] - whereby students could have their fees waived if they stay at home and study at their local HE provider.

i agree with other comments that would like to see the 'ivory towers' pulled down. However, if the net result is to increase the cost of an education that is part of a life-journey not just a means to an end (getting a qualification) and so price all but the super-rich out of traditional instiution-based study all the work to open out 'university' provision to wider to all (?) social groups and audiences over the past 50 years or so would have been in vain.

Jas said...

I support your comment about the need for a diversity of provision not least as a large proportion of the trade union students I meet much prefer a taught mode as this more resembles the way in which their day-today activism occurs.

At the same time, it's important to maintain the pace of developmens within broader HE in the context of alternative, democratically-run, options which is why I think the UoPeople idea is a great contemporary example of the maintenance of that radical tradition.

Jas Singh

ToadBoy said...

Interesting idea and I wish it well.

Its primary challenge will be when/if employers see this new thing as offering a premium product in the form of qualifications - and thats unlikely at the moment.

The rush is on amongst universities to grab money from foreign students, not provide free routes into education.

I see that certain certain from some universities are giving their time freely to this project - nice idea- but it isonly beacuse they have tenure at well-established Ivy League and Oxbridge-like universities - would they have chosen this new university as the start _ or middle - of their careers had it been around then - probably not.

They like it beacuse it offers a bot of distraction and intrigue in a global industry.

Sorry to be so cynical.

Ian Manborde said...

Many thanks for the contribution and yes, I do think you are being overly cynical in your assessment of the future of the UoPeople.

Whilst indeed it may not become one of the leading HE institutions globally - and it is clearly too soon to tell, my immediate thought on reading your post was how poor your judgement in denouncing those who wish to support the University's launch and expansion.

In particular I thought of how inspirational was the launch of Ruskin College, a college of which I was proud to be a student, and now work part-time, which was established in Ruskin in 1899 in direct political and physical opposition to the elitism of Oxford University.

The College grew in strength not just because of support from the trade union and labour movement but because of the contribution made by eminent teaching staff for example Raphael Samuel (my history tutor at Ruskin)who could easily have found themselves a positiot at a leading university but chose insted to support the principles and ethos of Ruskin by staying at Ruskin for the bulk of his teaching career.

I for one wish the UoPeople the very best as I see it carrying on -albeit in a modern day format - a great tradition of breaking conventions to extend opportunity and access to those who might not normally have it.

Best wishes


Jenni said...


Think I'll sign up for a course if its free and I'll let you know how I get on.

Pity the current government isnt that interested in getting working class women and men into university.


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