“University in a Box”: American University Opens Gates to 500 Syrian Refugees


University of the People to offer tuition-free degrees to Syria’s lost generation

(Pasadena, CA. Sunday, September 8, 2015.) University of the People (UoPeople) has announced that it will accept 500 Syrian refugees to study tuition-free toward bachelor degrees in Business Administration or Computer Science at the university’s virtual campus.

“Looking at the intolerable situation today, it is clear that the hardships these people have experienced cannot be reversed; through education, however, their futures can be transformed,” said President Shai Reshef. The ambitious project builds on UoPeople’s previous experience with providing refugee assistance programs with UNHCR, whereby a special policy, approved by the university’s US accrediting agency, DEAC, has been established in order to admit refugees and asylum seekers in cases where official transcripts and documents cannot be obtained.

The university has established a special scholarship fund for refugees who can’t afford the university’s modest $100 examination fees ($4,000 for a full four-year degree). The first major donation has been received yet the university is seeking immediate further funding to accommodate the need.

UoPeople has been described as a “university in a box,” wherein education can be tapped into, picked up and taken with students wherever they go. In spite of their transitory circumstances, whether refugee students remain in their host countries, relocate again or return home, students can pursue coveted higher education, provided they have a qualified level of English, high school diploma and access to computers with internet.

The non-profit, tuition-free, accredited American online university is reaching out to the least upwardly mobile population who are most in line with the institution’s mission, to open the gates to higher education to qualified students and those most in need of education in order to overcome other barriers.

“We all care about the immediate needs of these people, such as health, shelter and food, but the only way to make a lasting difference in the future lives of the individuals, their families, communities and host countries, is through education. This is even more so if they are ever able to return to rebuild Syria.” Said Reshef.

“After three months of studying at Yarmouk University in Damascus, Syria, my life was turned upside down and my family and I were forced to flee in 2012, leaving everything I knew behind,” said Omar A., 21, a refugee student currently residing in Turkey and studying at UoPeople towards a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. “Unlike most of my countrymen, I was fortunate to find work with a nongovernmental organization, with an income to support my family, but if I want a better position or career, I have to have a degree. When I found UoPeople, I knew it would change my life. I felt like I was the very person the university was created for, with its belief in the right of education and its belief in people just like me.”

According to Emeritus Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University Prof. Sir Colin Lucas, a UoPeople President’s Council member and head of its Syrian Refugees Initiative, “UoPeople was created to serve the most qualified people who don’t have access to higher education. History will not forgive us for forsaking Syria’s lost generation if we don’t do something now to stand up and save them – we’re talking about not only their future, but all our collective future as well. The key to change is education.”

About University of the People:

University of the People (UoPeople) is the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited online university dedicated to opening access to higher education globally. Using open-source technology, Open Educational Resources and the assistance of academic volunteers, UoPeople is designed to provide access to college studies for qualified high school graduates, despite financial, geographic, societal or personal constraints.

UoPeople offers Associate and Bachelor’s degree programs in Business Administration and Computer Science.

Founded in 2009 by educational entrepreneur Shai Reshef, UoPeople has partnered with New York University (NYU) to accept students; Microsoft for scholarships and employment opportunities and Hewlett-Packard for general support and scholarships for women. The University has enrolled students from 170 different countries and is supported by a network of over 4,000 dedicated volunteers.

The institution has gained the widespread support of leading academics from leading universities around the world. Its President’s Council, chaired by New York University President John Sexton, includes Emeritus Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University Prof. Sir Colin Lucas, former U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter and UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, among others. UoPeople is supported by The Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Hewlett Foundation, and companies such as HP, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Western Union, Estee Lauder and many more.

About UoPeople President Shai Reshef:

President of University of the People, Shai Reshef is an educational entrepreneur, with over 25 years of experience in the international education market. President Reshef has been widely recognized for his work with UoPeople. In 2010, the Huffington Post named him the ‘Ultimate Game Changer in Education,’ and WIRED included him in its list of the 50 people who will change the world. He was named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business as well as a Top Global Thinker by Foreign Policy Magazine. Before founding University of the People, Reshef directed KIT e-learning, the first online university in Europe. Shai Reshef’s TED Talk: “An Ultra-Low-Cost College Degree” has been viewed by over 2 million people. More at

Contact: Sarah Vanunu
USA: 626-219-8402
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