Career Moves

University of the People targets SA's tertiary students

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University of the People president Shai Reshef.
University of the People president Shai Reshef.

University of the People (UoPeople) says it has seen strong demand for online higher education from South African students in dire need of affordable and accessible higher education alternatives.

The global online higher learning institution says it is ramping up efforts to break barriers to enable easy access to education and reach more ‘missing middle’ students across the country.

Founded in 2009, UoPeople bills itself as the first non-profit, American-accredited online university dedicated to providing access to higher education globally, to help qualified high school graduates overcome the financial, geographic, political and personal constraints keeping them from university studies.

UoPeople says it is strengthening its partnerships with its support foundations − such as the Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation and Hewlett Foundation − to bring education to more local students at a fraction of the normal price.

The pandemic and the ailing economy have had a devastating impact on SA’s education sector, with local universities being forced to ramp up their digital transformation initiatives to accommodate the increase in online learning.

The pandemic-induced lockdown caused major disruptions to local universities’ 2020/2021 academic calendar, as they continue to grapple with challenges associated with introducing innovative technologies, due to limited budgets.

UoPeople says its total enrolment grew 107% in the past year, to 75 392 students across the globe, and it is on track to surpass 100 000 students from more than 200 countries by the end of the year.

The university’s enrolment in SA has grown from 13 students in 2015 to almost 1 600 students today.

In SA, there are an estimated 1.4 million individuals who have completed secondary education but have been unable to enrol for a bachelor’s degree due to limited seats or financial constraints.

University of Cape Town’s vice-chancellor, professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, who serves on the president’s council of the UoPeople, explains: “I am very proud of the quality of UoPeople and its achievements to date. The university is building a great model that can solve Africa’s higher education crisis, lack of seats and, in many cases, lack of quality.”

UoPeople says its affordability model is ideal for the missing middle students, which includes marginalised students and those who cannot afford to attend university themselves, but are above the income threshold to qualify for governmental funding.

While traditional on-campus bachelor’s degrees can cost approximately R150 000, a bachelor’s degree from UoPeople will cost R36 200 to R71 000 – reducing the total cost by more than 50%, it says.

UoPeople collaborates with Harvard Business School Online, New York University, University of California Berkeley, McGill University and University of Edinburgh, to offer degree programmes in business administration, computer science, health science and education, accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

“UoPeople is the university that makes higher education accessible to local students, removing barriers to their success and empowering them to achieve,” says UoPeople president Shai Reshef.

“We are happy for students who have succeeded in securing seats in local universities; however, UoPeople was created to accommodate all qualified students, not simply the few.”

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