State Department Bans Coursera From Educating Underprivileged Foreigners


Coursera, which provides massive open online courses (MOOC), has the noble mission of "connecting people to a great education so that anyone around the world can learn without limits." Unfortunately, the State Department and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) disagree. They recently decided that the company cannot extend such opportunities to a few academically underprivileged countries.

The organization posted a notice to its website on Tuesday explaining that the U.S. government now requires it to block IP addresses in certain sanctioned countries.

Who will miss out on hundreds of free classes, offered in 12 languages, and covering a broad range of fields, including economics, the humanities, and medicine? Cuba, which ranks outside the top 50 education systems in the world, Iran, which is less well off than 40 percent of the world, and Sudan, which is worse than 90 percent.

These three aren't the only ones who will be impacted, though. The announcement notes that, "In rare instances, students with IP addresses bordering on but not geopolitically within the bounds of these countries will be affected."

What's behind this academic censorship? Federal regulations. "United States export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses, such as MOOC providers like Coursera, from offering services to users in sanctioned countries," Coursera explains. The website itself is still be viewable, because it falls under "public information," whereas the departments consider the educational materials to be "services."

Coursera has operated since April 2012, and although the company has been talking with the State Department and OFAC "for quite some time… only very recently were we advised… that the course experience was determined to be a service offering and we have since been working closely with [federal officials] to ensure that Coursera remains in compliance with U.S. law," co-founder Daphne Koller told the Wall Street Journal.

Yet, whether services are allowed in sanctioned countries is not always clear-cut. The OFAC initially included Syria on the list of prohibited nations, but later clarified that educational services are permissible there. Other exceptions have been made for other organizations. According to Inside Higher Ed, "edX, the MOOC provider founded in partnership between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology… has since last May worked with the U.S. State Department and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, and has so far applied for and received company-specific licenses for its MOOCs to enroll students in Cuba and Iran."

Although it may stop some, the government-ordered IP address block cannot prevent all Cubans, Iranians, and Sudanese from educating themselves, thanks to easily accessible proxy servers that disguise one's location.

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  1. We can't let those Haitians find out about algebra, for crying out loud.
    They'll bury us.

    1. If the Arabs learn algebra, the terrorists win.

      1. "Solve for X, where X represents the downfall of the Great Satan."

      2. "If the Arabs learn algebra..."


        1. Henceforth, we should stop using al-jebr and the Hindu numbering system.

          1. Yeah. Effective the kalends of Januarius, this will be the year MMXIV.

            OTOH, it is amusing to think of the US Federal Budget expressed in Roman Numerals.

            1. It would be more appropriately lengthy. I'd also like to see the Federal Reserve forced to do math using Roman numerals. Just try adding or multiplying with them sometime.

              1. I don't think it'd hold them back too much. I mean, how much math does it take to hit the "print" button a few trillion times?

  2. Look you guys, if the people in those shitty countries learn language, math, and productive skills, then America will look even shittier by comparison. Do you really want that? Where's your patriotism?

  3. This is one good example to illustrate why "sanctions" are not good foreign policy. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, our foreign policy should be to export (through voluntary, free-market mechanisms only, of course), our ideas and culture -- especially given that they have a proven ability to remold over time any number of other nations to be more like (or at least more friendly to) us. End the Cuban embargo, for instance, and see how long the little communist stronghold can withstand the temptation to meld, or at least vigorously cooperate with, the US. It is the embargo that kept the Castros in power; after decades of US failure, I am completely convinced of that.

  4. "The website itself is still be viewable,"

    You may want to re-tense that.

  5. They should at least make the course on IP spoofing available to everyone.

    1. You want a IP address? I can get you a IP address, believe me. There are ways, Dude. You don't wanna know about it, believe me. Hell, I can get you a IP address by 3 o'clock this afternoon... with subnet mask. These fucking amateurs...

  6. It makes sense. If people can improve their condition through learning, then how will sanctions starve them out? You don't lay seige to a castle by catapulting in food. On the other hand, is it really learning if certified teachers aren't babysitting them?

  7. If the government doesn't choose our friends for us, who will?


      1. Are you sure?

        I just get a link to I(heart)OBAMA when I try that address.

        1. See? It worked! Obama is now your friend. Like him on Facebook.

  8. So one company is a victim of this federal government "determination" while a second (edX) kisses endless ass to the Govt and they get special dispensation. I've seen this movie before.

  9. my best friend's ex-wife makes $87 an hour on the internet . She has been without a job for 6 months but last month her paycheck was $15058 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read Full Article

    1. Does she or does she not have a job anonbot!?

  10. Seems like Coursera just ran into problems with Minnesota regulation, IIRC.

    I can't help but wonder if the regulators are starting to get worried about all these disruptive companies disrupting their industries, and want to put a stop to them before they get established. Don't let the next uber get going, that kind of thing. Probably over-conspiratorial on it.

  11. If you work at a university you become very familiar with these 'export control' regulations. If you plan to actually go to any of these countries you have to follow strict rules about who you talk to, and what equipment (i.e. laptops, tablets...) you may take with you. And not following the rules can land you in jail.
    And then there's 'deemed export'. If you talk to someone in the United States from one of the dreaded four (Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba) you have to be very careful what you talk about, or what lab you let them in, or what electronic equipment you let them see (e.g. fancy infrared cameras are verboten). In fact, the manuals for the equipment are also controlled.
    This stuff is mind-boggling. AND IT'S THE LAW, and real professors have gone to real jails over it.
    I have to help educate faculty about this as part of my job...

    1. I work at a state university, and we were just whining about export control training today. Everything I do has to go through export control. The hold-ups are staggering.

  12. because education leads to terror?

  13. Ha ha! This will turn Iran around! They'll finally cave to US pressure, when their destitute kids can no longer use Coursera resources.

  14. Dude that makes no sense at all man. None.

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