The U.S. education company Coursera, which offers free Internet-based classes in subjects ranging from Medicine and Mathematics to Business and Social Sciences, says it 'regretably had to make changes' to its accessibility in some countries.
Writing on its online blog, Coursera says that under certain U.S. export control regulations, it is prohibited from offering services to students in countries such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, because of U.S. sanctions. It explains that as of this week, students from those countries will have restricted access to course pages.
Coursera's classes are prepared in partnership with many of the world's top universities and organizations, offering lectures by renowned scholars.
In an e-mail to VOA, a U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman says the agency's Office of Foreign Assets Control requires Coursera - and any U.S. entity involved in certain exchange programs - to seek a license in order to provide programs that benefit people in sanctioned countries.
OFAC says it will consider such requests in consultation with the U.S. State Department.
In its blog, Coursera says it is 'working very closely' with the State Department and the OFAC to reinstate access for students in countries under sanctions.
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.
Certain United States export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses, such as MOOC providers like Coursera, from offering services to users in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Under the law, certain aspects of Coursera's course offerings are considered services and are therefore subject to restrictions in sanctioned countries, with the exception of Syria (see below).
Our global community is incredibly valuable to us and we remain committed to providing quality to education to all. During this time, we empathize with the frustrations of students who are affected by this change and we have made it a top priority to make rapid progress toward a solution.
What will happen to students attempting to access Coursera from sanctioned countries?
As of this week, students attempting to log into course pages on our site or create new accounts will be restricted from access to these resources. It will still be possible to browse the course catalog and explore the Coursera website and blog, which are considered public information rather than services and therefore not subject to restrictions.
What is Coursera doing to address this issue?
Coursera is working very closely with the U.S. Department of State and Office of Foreign Assets Control to secure permissions to reinstate site access for students in sanctioned countries. The Department of State and Coursera are aligned in our goals and we are working tirelessly to ensure that blockage is not permanent.
Why has this not been an issue in the past?
Until now the interpretation of export control regulations as they relate to MOOCs has been unclear and Coursera has been operating under the interpretation that MOOCs would not be restricted. We recently received information that has led to the understanding that the services offered on Coursera are not in compliance with the law as it stands. Accordingly we have instituted a restriction in compliance with the current export controls to ensure that our business remains in good standing with the law.
How is Coursera identifying students in sanctioned countries?
Coursera has implemented an IP address block that prevents users in sanctioned countries from logging into a Coursera account. When attempting to sign in, these users will see a message explaining that we cannot allow them to access the site due to U.S. export control restrictions. In rare instances, students with IP addresses bordering on but not geopolitically within the bounds of these countries will be affected. Our engineers are working to mitigate this issue while pursuing a broader solution to the restrictions.
What is being blocked in Syria?
Coursera has received notice from the Department of State that the services we provide fall under an exception (according to OFAC's Syria General License No. 11A), which authorizes certain services in support of nongovernmental organizations' activities in Syria, particularly as they pertain to increasing access to education. This came to our attention after we initiated the blockage, however since learning about the exception, we have restored full access to students in Syria.
During this difficult time, we thank the Coursera community for your patience and continued support as we work to ensure that students worldwide have access to a great education.
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