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The People Have Spoken: Tuition-Free Online MBA Launches

University of the People launches a tuition-free online MBA program

Academics attached to big-name business schools, NYU Stern, INSEAD and Oxford Saïd, have had a hand in creating a new online MBA program designed for those who feel priced out of business education and which comes with an ‘all-in’ price tag of just US$2,450.


The program, offered by the US-based University of the People (UoPeople), will have no tuition costs and rests on open access in the same way as MOOCs. Instead, it will ask US$200 of its participants for end-of-course assessments for each one of the program’s 12 components as well as a US$50 application fee. While pursuing enough MOOCs to package them together into a complete MBA degree is something that’s already been tried both by an individual and (in the Spanish language) by Peru’s CENTRUM Católica, UoPeople is heralding this online MBA as the world’s most cost-effective.

NYU Stern professor to head up new program

The program is to be headed up by a marketing professor at NYU Stern, Russell Winer, who knows a thing or two about consumer choice and can be found commenting on Taco Bell’s branding tactics in a recent Washington Post report.

UoPeople, meanwhile, is a nonprofit university founded in 2009 on the principle of providing accredited education for those without the financial resources to meet higher education’s ever-increasing tuition costs. As such, it relies on open-source technology, Open Educational Resources (OER) and, crucially, the voluntary contributions of academics attached to established universities and business schools.

Its new program has already received help from faculty attached to some notable names in the world of business education, with NYU Stern’s Winer noting, in a press release, his excitement in a program that simply wouldn’t have been possible but for the contribution of “esteemed volunteers.”

Those volunteers include the former dean of INSEAD, Gabriel Hawawini, the former director of the Oxford Saïd MBA, Stephan Chambers, and another NYU Stern professor, Alex Tuzhilin, who developed and teaches an MBA course at NYU on emerging technologies and business innovation.

The online MBA joins UoPeople’s existing portfolio of associate and bachelor’s programs in business administration and computer science on which there are said to be over 3,000 students from 180 different countries currently enrolled, with support provided by as many 4,000 volunteers.

“UoPeople was set up to open the gates to higher education and to give an opportunity to those who don’t have it. Launching the world’s most cost-effective MBA was a natural progression for the university,” said the institution’s founder and president, Shai Reshef, adding that the decision was based on demand among those who, while qualified to undertake an MBA, cannot afford it.

Prior to founding UoPeople, Reshef chaired an online education provider in Europe, the Amsterdam-based K.I.T. eLearning which was subsequently acquired by Laureate Education, a group that had been in talks to partner with Thunderbird School of Global Management before Thunderbird’s takeover by Arizona State University.  

UoPeople program is about access rather than comparison to world’s best

Much of UoPeople’s announcement centers on its acquisition of accreditation from a national body in the US that has been in existence since 1926, the Distance Education and Accreditation Commission (DEAC). However, this is not an accreditation body that specializes solely in business education and DEAC currently accredits a wide variety of education providers from US high schools to an institute which offers professional training in hypnosis and hypnotherapy. (QS’s online MBA rankings look for accreditation from AACSB, AMBA, EQUIS and EPAS, incidentally.)

Even so, with costs set to a minimum – the average cost of the 30 online MBA programs in QS’s 2016 rankings is US$41,000, about 16 times higher than UoPeople’s offering – the course is likely to be an attractive consideration for many. While these are perhaps unfair comparisons to make, given UoPeople’s stated aim of targeting those who are priced out of any fee-paying format of the degree, the program does come with admissions criteria – applicants must have a prior undergraduate degree and possess at least two years’ prior work experience. They’ll also have to take up to eight foundation courses if their academic backgrounds don’t cover the basics deemed essential for the online MBA.


If taken full time, students can complete the program in as little as 15 months or, when taken part time, over as much as five years. Its 12 required components break down into eight core courses, three electives (from a list of four currently advertised) and one capstone project which culminates in a live video presentation on a business case study. The first students admitted can start in the fall, when their number will be limited to 100, although there are plans to enroll more in the future.

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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