MOOCs could be revolutionary, but US foreign policy is preventing that

Recently, Coursera, the online university course provider, began blocking students from Iran, Cuba and Sudan from using its services, The Guardian reports.

Coursera, which boasts more than 21.5 million student enrollments from 190 countries, is one of the most popular MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platforms out there. But unlike other MOOCs (like MIT OpenCourseWare or edX), Coursera is a for-profit business, which means it can’t serve students in countries against which the US government has imposed economic sanctions. Students trying to access Coursera from Iran are out of luck.

According to the US treasury, trade in “information and informational materials” is permitted between the US and countries like Iran, which is why online newspapers and some search engines can provide content to people living in those countries.

In reality, almost all the courses offered by Coursera are free. It generates its profits from certification fees and charging potential employers for introducing them to students. And therein lies the problem – under US law, Coursera is now seen as providing a service.

The export control regulations governing MOOCs are unclear. Coursera’s original interpretation of the regulations allowed them to provide access to information to students from sanction-hit countries.

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