media release

Rising star touts “free” health university

June 29, 2011

Kate Tairyan, 604.671.2919;
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210/9017;

Kate Tairyan
Photo on Flickr

Simon Fraser University senior lecturer Kate Tairyan’s pitch to help create the world’s first free university has made her a Canadian Rising Star.

Tairyan, who teaches in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, is one of 19 Canadian innovators to be chosen in the first phase of Grand Challenges Canada’s Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health initiative. All receive a grant of $100,000 to take their “bold” ideas to the next level.

Innovators from across the country submitted video proposals of their ideas. “The idea behind the world’s first free university is to use existing web-based and mentoring resources and to make them more broadly available to revolutionize health sciences education,” explains Tairyan. “We can educate thousands of trainees at a time, particularly in developing countries, with students remaining in their home environments.

“We address the World Health Organization’s expressed need to use computer-based technologies to create four million more health providers and tackle health millennium development goals (MDGs).”

When Tairyan says free, she means it: no charges at all for students, not even for a degree. Many current degree-granting universities claim to be "free" but, while they don't charge for tuition, do charge administrative or exam fees. And there are many "free" universities that offer courses, but not degrees.

Founding collaborators and funders of the free university include the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, NATO’s Science for Peace Initiative, the World Bank, WHO and the World Medical Association.

The video presentation shows Tairyan and her mentor, Erica Frank (free university founder and Canada Research Chair at UBC) and colleagues in Nairobi, Kenya and Bogota, Colombia describing how they will launch pilot programs this year in a bid to help combat the shortage of trained health workers – more than a million in Africa alone.

Tairyan has a medical degree in preventive medicine from the State Medical University in Armenia and a diploma in health management from Armenia’s National Institute of Health.

She received the Ed Muskie Graduate Fellowship award to obtain a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in global health leadership from Emory University, under Frank’s leadership.

Her public health expertise and work experience includes several positions at the Ministry of Health of Armenia and collaborations with international experts on health policy development and poverty reduction issues at national and local levels.

Tairyan is also the content director for Health Sciences Online.

She has taught both undergraduates and graduates at SFU since 2008 and also worked on research projects focusing on ethics issues in neuroscience at UBC’s National Core for Neuroethics.

Through its Integrated Innovation scheme, ideas that prove to be “robust, effective and proven” may be eligible for a scale-up grant of up to $1 million.

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