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World’s first free virtual university launched by UN

University of the People is a non-profit institution that offers higher education courses in both business and IT

Students can log on to a weekly lecture, discuss themes with peers and take course tests - all online. (Getty Images)
Students can log on to a weekly lecture, discuss themes with peers and take course tests - all online. (Getty Images)

A division of the United Nations has launched the first virtual university in the world that does not charge students tuition fees.

The UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technology and Development (GAID) says the non-profit institution - University of the People – will allow students who are unable to go on for higher education because of limited finances or other personal reasons to continue their studies.

Programmes in business administration or computer science are presently available with the only charge to students being a $15 to $50 admission fee, which depends on their country of origin, and a processing fee for every test ranging from $10 to $100.

Shai Reshef, founder of the University, said costs would be kept at a minimum by using open-source technology, open course materials, e-learning methods and peer-to-peer teaching.

While admission opened just over two weeks ago, nearly 200 students from 52 countries have already registered, with a high school diploma and a sufficient level of English as entry requirements.

Reshef revealed that in order to sustain operations, the University needs 15,000 students and $6 million, to which he has already donated $1 million of his own money. While it has decided to waive all tuition fees presently, the University of the People said that it reserves the right to change its policy in 2010.