Shai Reshef, President and Founder, of University of the People, is the recipient of the 2023 Yidan Prize.
The Yidan Prize comes from the Yidan Prize Foundation, a Hong-Kong based philanthropy founded by Charles Chen Yidan. Recipients of the prize receive $3.9 million, half as a personal award and half to scale up their work. The award recognizes their innovative solutions which help learners reach their full potential, by advancing the quality of teaching and learning and breaking down barriers to higher education globally.
Reshef founded the online, tuition-free University of the People, which now has 137,000 students globally. The purpose of the university is to respond to the needs of learners with an innovative, scalable solution.
"The global challenge of access to higher education means that its life-changing impact in terms of opening minds, improving employment and earnings remain out of reach for many. Shai's model reimagines higher education, opening the doors for those who have previously been excluded," said Dorothy K. Gordon, head of the Yidan Prize for Education Development judging panel and Board Member of the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education.
Shai plans to use the Yidan Prize project funds to continue to grow the University of the People and support more students and populations, providing a comprehensive solution to issues of accessibility and affordability in higher education.
In an interview with Diverse, Reshef said that he was honored to have been selected for the prestigious award several weeks ago.
"For me personally, it is a recognition that the work I've done over the years," said Reshef, an Israeli businessman who founded the online university in 2009 with the goal of providing access to higher education.
Reshef was a leader in for-profit education for more than two decades and is credited, for example, of starting the first online university in Europe.
"That's where I saw how powerful online learning could be," said Reshef, adding that the flexibility of online learning allowed individuals to work full-time, raise their families, while also pursuing a college degree. "When you educate one person, you can change a life but when you educate many, you can change the world."
The university relies heavily on open resource materials and tuition is free, creating a model that demonstrates that "higher education can be accessible, affordable and provide quality."
In 2017, a partnership was forged between the University of the People and the University of Edinburgh. This collaboration allowed Health Science graduates of the University of the People to further their education by completing a bachelor's degree at the prestigious University of Edinburgh. In 2018, the University of the People unveiled a new online Master of Education in Advanced Teaching, developed in partnership with the International Baccalaureate. The inaugural class of this program commenced in 2019. The following year, in 2020, the International Baccalaureate began providing 80 scholarships for qualifying M.Ed. students.
"Winning the most important award in education means that someone checked you out and thought you deserved it, which is so nice,” Reshef said in an interview with Diverse. "On a personal level – for the last 15 years, for 16 hours a day, I have been doing nothing but working on University of the People – to get this recognition, it pretty much says that I was probably right thinking this was the right thing to do."