He sets up uni to help the poor get degrees

His family's financial problems forced him to give up going to university 34 years ago.

Then 17, Mr Kasmani Dollah had to work to make ends, but he still had hopes of getting a degree.

The training consultant's frequent travelling did not allow him flexibility to take up a course either.

Until November last year, when he found out through the Internet about University of the People (UoPeople), a California-based online university.

Today, he is a business administration undergraduate at UoPeople.

Mr Kasmani, 52, told The New Paper: "At first I had some doubts about its accreditation but after some research, I was surprised to find they worked with big companies such as Microsoft and well-known universities."

Teaching and discussions are done online. Mr Kasmani liked the flexibility as he could do courses at his own pace. Another pull-factor was the affordable fees, he added.

Students do not pay tuition fees, just a US$100 (S$143) administration fee for each examination module - so a bachelor's degree would cost about US$4,000.

The Straits Times reported last month that there were 20 active UoPeople students here, out of the 6,000 in over 200 countries.

Mr Shai Reshef, 61, who has more than 25 years' experience working with for-profit universities, founded UoPeople in 2009.

It also offers bachelor's courses in computer science and health science, and master's in business administration.

Mr Reshef, also the university's president, told TNP he was inspired to set up UoPeople after seeing how many poor people were denied a shot at higher education. Cost of buildings, instructors, textbooks and course materials made going to universities expensive, he added.

"But if you look online, there is a lot of content available for free. So I thought, let's put these together and create a university," he said.

The curriculum is overseen by volunteer academics from respected institutions such as New York University and Yale Law School.

Students can take between four and 10 years to complete the necessary modules, said Mr Reshef.

Exams take place all over the world - at volunteers' homes and offices. UoPeople also offers scholarships.

Human resources experts, however, told TNP that UoPeople was not known in Singapore, which could mean its graduates may struggle to get a job here.

But Mr Kasamani said he chose UoPeople because he wanted to expand his knowledge and skills.

"My main concern was not to get a job. The effectiveness of applying the knowledge is more important than the certification," he said.


This article was first published on Dec 27, 2016. Get The New Paper for more stories.