My Third Year at UoPeople: In Retrospect

I’ve spent two days thinking of a clever ‘lede’ to open this story about my journey of three years with UoPeople. Even slept on it. They call it writer’s block. Maybe it’s even because I’m tired after Computer Systems where we covered the building blocks of modern-day computers from combinatorial and sequential gates to understanding how computers interpret high-level programming languages and convert them to binary code. With an absolutely nutty Professor called Mr. Tenenbaum who has years and years of experience in technology… but most importantly, with Red Hat.

82% of Linux jobs request for Red Hat certification

Now, this isn’t some sales pitch. Nor is UoPeople going to give me anything that I haven’t earned already either through community service or by my grades. All that has happened is that I’ve found the work that I’ve waited for a long time to spend time with, thanks to developing my writing skills for these two years. So, before we get down to the brass tacks of how this University works, I’m not even writing this as a part of any student groups that have existed for the better part of these two years. To be honest, I’ve operated as an independent learner all this time in having to attend to the daily responsibilities that some of us have to live up to as adults.

Having said that, let’s look at what the University currently has on offer and why you should consider it if you’ve ever wanted to go back to university.

UoPeople Key Values: Minimalism, Critical Thinking and the Democratisation of Education

Business Administration, Computer Science and Health Studies. Those are the three disciplines that UoPeople offers prospective students. I’m enrolled in Computer Science for the Associate’s Degree. Of course, there’s an option to continue further for the full four years but that’s only for people who want to really master the subject. Given my healthy scepticism, I took the Associate’s Degree three years ago and am on the verge of completing it. Yet again, I’m merely pointing out how unplanned this was — but, in hindsight, it worked out just fine. Better than I expected.

UoPeople Programs Currently Offered

But enough about me: how does UoPeople work? To be honest, the platform that they use is simplistic — no frills — for the reason that it should work on any device. I’ve prepared a weekly Learning Journal on my smartphone and it was effortless even if some of us are way too acclimatised to using a QWERTY keyboard. Sorry, very few videos but plenty of reading material to work on.

The Simple Platform Used For Our Studies

As an Indian student, we’ve always been used to exams that require us to memorise. While that’s slowly changing and things are more about critical thinking and practical learning these days, this is probably the biggest difference between the universities in the Indian education system and UoPeople which is open to students in Third World countries as well. Of course, there’s not only critical thinking but reflection on the week’s assignments in the form of a Learning Journal too. Now, since online students cannot discuss what they’ve learned in groups, the first activity after reading is usually discussing what you have learned in a forum. To be honest, and in having participated in fourteen of these forums, it reminds me of how one question can lead to a whole new set of questions. For example, after learning about the Hack Assembly language for two consecutive weeks, one can’t help but ask how assembly languages work in the real world. Or if Applied Ethics cuts across a number of industries be it in computer science, business, environmental sciences and in the medical profession, how do they help people make better work-related or personal decisions in each of these fields?

Speaking of which, making a choice to study with UoPeople has paid off. First and foremost, they have granted me another scholarship to continue my studies with them for the next three years. It’s been exhausting but truly worth the effort. A lovely journey of questions that is taking me down very strange paths these days since I’ve been reading up a lot on Business and Medical Ethics for the work that I do. All this was possible because of the democratisation of education which believes that education is for everyone — within reasonable limits, of course. How is this possible? Not only are donations from organisations encouraged for deserving students but also from students who are working in well-established jobs. Together, we can help each other succeed, right? It’s very possible and which is why UoPeople now uses crowdfunding — an effort to Pay It Forward once we have broken out of the loop of being too poor to pay for college or not educated enough to get a good job. Like some of us have been for years. These three years would not have been possible if the fees weren’t so economical — even by Indian standards — for the students who met the conditions of being accepted into the university like myself. In stark contrast to the rising costs in education, the university has still kept the fees at a minimal cost.

While an organisation’s value tells you a lot about whether you’d fit right in, there are practical questions that people usually have as prospective students. This is what I will attempt to cover in the next section — not as a university counsellor or even part of any student group that motivates people to join the university but yet again as an independent observer sharing his experience and the benefits he has enjoyed with the University.

5 Common Questions About UoPeople Asked By Prospective Students

Now, since most of us students usually use Facebook Groups and Pages, the University has a strong presence there. There are a number of questions that pop up from time to time about the University and whether or not it seems to be an opportunity that is too good to be true. From experience, there’s a clear path that is set for accepted students to make progress with — much like any other Associate or Bachelor’s degree offered by other universities. In having seen a few questions for the past three years at the official page and group, here are a few that I feel should be addressed:

Question 1: Is this degree free of cost?
While getting to paid to study what you like is like a dream come true, we hardly live in an ideal world. Much like everyone else, you have to earn your way to getting freebies. Either through community service or by obtaining good grades. Yes, we all have financial costs to consider — which is about $100 per course for the undergraduate courses of study at UoPeople — but think about the Professors at the University too. Don’t they have to make a living too? Doesn’t the University have to break even with its costs? So, keeping this in mind, and in comparison to other universities where the costs are pretty high, the university is doing all of us a favour by offering quality education at a lower cost and especially for those who would have no access otherwise. Take a risk. Consider it as an investment. It should pay off in the future, if not now.

An education is the safest investment in yourself, trust me!

Question 2: Will a UoPeople degree help me get a job?
Quite frankly, there are no promises made by the University since it involves students across a wide variety of cultures and nationalities. It would be unwise and insincere to do so since there are no guarantees in Life. Just like any other course of education apart from the big names. However, if you’d like to do something different — like perhaps work from home — this might be something that you could consider given that one can study and work at the same time. The University does a lot to source part-time and full-time jobs for those who have the skill-sets. I check these updates on Yammer every other day. One thing is for sure: studying at an online university requires you to work twice as hard compared to a traditional brick-and-mortar university. If you’re willing to work hard — and you will have to — then this is the university for you. Moreover, if you don’t have the time to study at a full-time university, this should be an easier option too. You don’t need me to state the obvious in saying that investing in an education always pays dividends. But I’d like to reiterate this as I recently recovered my investment in a matter of five months.

An enduring question, really!

Question 3: What are the commitments that one has to fulfil each Term? How long does a Term last for? How many hours should one commit to each course? Are the courses easy? 
As soon as you gain admission, the university assigns two courses for you to begin with. Once you complete these two foundation courses, how you plan your studies henceforth is really left up to you. You can take one course at a time or even two or three each Term.

Speaking of which, a Term lasts roughly two months where you submit assignments each and every week. I’ve spent roughly 10–15 hours for non-Computer Science related courses while the Computer Science related ones require a lot of research and self-study to complete the assignments. It’s pretty intense but is very achievable even if you have an endless list of tasks to complete like I do.

As for being a walk in the park, you’re in the wrong place if you think any of these courses are easy. Even the non-Computer Science courses are very difficult and require much reading and understanding on your part. Two examples of this are Introduction to Environmental Sciences and Ethics and Social Responsibility.

Taking Environmental Sciences at UoPeople has been a life-changing experience!

Question 4: Is the university accredited? Why does it have such a funny name? Will employers even take it seriously?
Of course, it is and is backed by a board of very reputed members and more details about its accreditation can be found at this link. The scholarships that you can apply for come from generous contributions made by tech firms to well wishers of the founder of the university. If it sounds to good to be true, that’s just how it is.

As for the mirth that its name offers, it is an institution that lives by its ideology and that is best expressed through its name. The intention is not entertain people or to come off as quirky but to clearly state what the University stands for — yes, people from all over the globe.

As for employers taking the university seriously, a growing trend suggests that big names are not what all employers are looking for but people with skills and a high curiosity quotient, which is now considered just as important. And given the extensive work out that your brain will get once you graduate, this will become evident to the right people sooner or later. Not only will they take you seriously but the university you graduated from as well. In any case, it’s not fair to set such unrealistic expectations either even before you have started your studies given that the costs are so low while the curriculum itself is life-changing, in terms of your personal habits and how you view the world around you. Hopefully, into a well-rounded and informed individual who wants an education to have a profound impact not only in the financial sense but also in other parts of his or her life. Yet again, this isn’t philosophical gibberish — it actually happens with students at UoPeople.

Question 5: Who is the founder? What’s his background? Should we take him at his word? Has he appeared at any popular events?
I had the privilege of meeting Shai Reshef at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai in 2015. As real as it can get. A simple, practical individual who loves what he is doing and means every word of it. Since some of us are used to aloofness from Presidents and leaders, it’s a refreshing change from first-hand experience.

President Reshef At the Victor Menezes Convention Center (IIT-Mumbai)

As for his background, online education has been his thing for a couple of decades now — yes, even before the Internet Era has ushered in a new age of education replete with MOOCs, self-paced courses and online universities.

In answering the final question, there’s one TEDx Talk that he has given — as you all know, an event that promotes progressive thought and varied perspectives from different people across the globe. One thing is for sure: he’s a man who puts his money where his mouth is. Nothing less, nothing more.

President Reshef’s TEDx Talk about “Finding Einstein”

In Closing: Parting Advice For Prospective Students

Now, if this surge of information about the university has got you thinking about enrolling but you aren’t quite sure, the first thing that you should consider doing is looking them up on Facebook — both their page and group. To be honest, I spent a year keeping track of the university’s progress until I signed up in July 2014. So, if I did not make a hurried decision, it’s not fair to expect anyone else to either since our interests and needs can be varied. Trust me, no one’s pushing you to sign much less this post.

Now, once you have done this, talk to at least 4–5 students about their experiences related to the degree that you are taking while also improving your basic English skills if you are from a Third World country like myself. After this, if you are still in two minds — take a call based on what your gut tells you.

Last but not the least, if you’re worried about the costs, there’s no need to. Just take it two months at a time and it won’t be long before you’re almost done with your Associate’s degree. There are always ways to make things work through creative thinking if you want something badly enough and even if it seems like a challenge to make this investment. Your money will never be wasted on an education but only if you have the patience to wait for it to work its magic. Look for more information at this link related to general admission requirements.

Having said that, and for those who have that incurable bout of cynicism about whether an online education can improve your prospects in Life: be gracious enough to not insult the university’s and the students’ intelligence without trying a course or two for yourself. Don’t worry — some of us students will be happy to make a few suggestions — it’s been mentally harrowing but a lot of fun too. Exactly, as a course of education should be. Then and now. Follow this link to learn more about the students that are currently enrolled at the University of the People.

Still, in being realistic that not everyone would like what UoPeople has to offer, it would still be wonderful for you to take a good look before making any rash judgements or snarky comments. In closing, I just wish for every student to have the best at UoPeople as I have after all these years. Nothing less, nothing more.

A new offering from UoPeople that offers the same benefits