US Coursera bans impact Swiss universities

Internet courses offered by Swiss universities through the Coursera online learning platform that were supposed to be accessible anywhere in the world have been blocked in four countries by American government sanctions.

US Coursera bans impact Swiss universities
Aerial view of EPFL. Photo: Alain Herzog

The University of Geneva, Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) and University of Zurich are among the dozens of universities offering the free courses through Coursera, launched in California a couple of years ago.

But this week Coursera indicated that its hundreds of courses would be unavailable to students in Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

The platform posted an update on Thursday, saying that it had received notice from the US State Department that it could provide services in support of non-governmental organization activities in Syria.

“Providing access to education for everyone has always been at the core of Coursera’s mission, and it is with deep regret that we have had to make a change to our accessibility in some countries,” the online platform said.

Coursera explained that US export control regulations ban American businesses, such as Coursera, from offering services in snactioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

It said that under the law, “certain aspects of Coursera’s course offerings are considered services and are therefore subject to restrictions.”

This is a new interpretation of the law which until this week had not not previously prevented Coursera from offering its learning programs to students in all the countries now affected.

in July 2012, EPFL became the first Swiss university to join Coursera, created by two Stanford University academics.

Of the 180,000 students registered in the 12 courses offered by EPFL under Coursera, almost 1,300 are affected by the American sanctions, spokesman Jerôme Gosse told 20 MInutes.

Pablo Achard, coordinator of online courses for the University of Geneva, told the newspaper he was concerned by the American action, which has affected 19 students enrolled there.

“This blockage runs counter to the mission of Coursera, which is to offer an education to everybody,” he told 20 MInutes.

More than 80 universities around the world now offer almost 600 courses through the programme which claims to have attracted a total of 6.5 million-plus students.

The “massive open online courses” or MOOCs were supposed to be open to anyone in the world with no limit to the number of students enrolled.

Coursera said it is negotiating with the US State Department to have the bans removed from the affected countries.

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