By Carl Straumsheim
Massive open online course providers have identified global expansion as one of the key goals of 2014, but a recent directive from the federal government has forced some of them to cut off access to students in certain countries.
Federal regulations prohibit U.S. businesses from offering services to countries subject to economic sanctions — a list that includes Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan — but as recently as this month, students in those countries were still able to access Coursera’s MOOCs. When a student last week attempted to log in from a Syrian IP address, the website produced an error message:
“Our system indicates that you are attempting to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subject to U.S. economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with U.S. export controls, we cannot allow you access to the site.”
Syrian students aren’t the only ones locked out of Coursera. At least one Iranian student protested the change on Facebook, saying the ban helps “hardliners in Iran … impose their ideology and beliefs in the absence of a widespread, free higher education system.”
The news was first reported by the website Wamda, an online community for entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa.
Coursera explained the change in its online help center:
“The interpretation of export control regulations as they related to MOOCs was unclear for a period of time, and Coursera had been operating under one interpretation of the law,” the website reads. “Recently, Coursera received a clear answer indicating that certain aspects of the Coursera MOOC experience are considered ‘services’ (and all services are highly restricted by export controls). While many students from these countries were previously able to access Coursera, this change means that we will no longer be able to provide students in sanctioned countries with access to Coursera moving forward.”
[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/28/state-dept-blocks-access-moocs-countries-economic-sanctions ]