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An Israeli entrepreneur who has started what is believed to be the world's first tuition-free online university said Saturday he hopes the effort will expand education to less fortunate people around the world.

Shai Reshef said University of the People has about 150 students from 35 countries who have enrolled since the school began last week. He hopes to expand the program to include 15,000 students in four years.

"It's a simple idea. Take social networking and apply it to academia," said Reshef, who helped develop several other Internet-based education businesses in Europe.

"There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who graduated high school and couldn't make it to university either because they didn't have money, or there aren't universities where they live or they couldn't relocate," said Reshef, the university's founder and president.

He spoke on the sidelines of an international economic meeting in Jordan sponsored by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

Reshef said he funded the Pasadena, California-based institution with an initial $1 million and was hoping to raise another $5 million from private donors. He said some of the professors are volunteering their time.

Students must pay a nominal application fee up to $50 and examination fees up to $100, he said. Students in poorer countries pay less than those in more developed countries.

The university, which is seeking accreditation in the United States, offers two undergraduate programs in business administration and computer science in English.

University of the People: www.UoPeople.org