Coursera, the popular online education platform founded by two Stanford University computer science professors, recently blocked access to users in Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria in order to comply with federal regulations that prohibit massive open online courses (MOOCs) in sanctioned countries.
Coursera became aware of the regulations in January and soon thereafter instituted the restrictions. Certain U.S. export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses from offering services to users in countries subject to economic and trade sanctions.
"Since Coursera came to the understanding that aspects of the course experience might be considered services (and could therefore subject be to export sanctions) we have blocked access to students in sanctioned countries," Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng wrote in an email.
He said that previously, the company "did not have a clear answer" on whether online course offerings would be categorized as services and treated as such.
Since then, the company has been "working closely" with the Office of Foreign Assets Control to secure permissions to permanently reinstate site access, Ng said.
Syrian users' access was fully restored after the state department alerted Coursera that the company falls under an exception that permits certain services in support of nongovernmental organizations' activities in Syria, particularly those that increase educational access.
To comply with the export regulations, Coursera implemented an IP address block that prevents users in sanctioned countries from logging into their accounts. A message will pop up explaining the blockage.
A blog post on Coursera's website on the topic says that in "rare instances," users with IP addresses bordering on but not geopolitically within the boundaries of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria have also been affected. Coursera engineers are working to mitigate this issue, the post reads.
"We have been moved by the stories we've heard from students in the affected countries and others around the world whose lives have been impacted by Coursera," Ng said. "Providing access to education everywhere is at the core of our mission, and we are very sorry to have had to block access to some of the students who face the greatest challenges in pursuing an education."
Ng launched Coursera with Daphne Koller, also a Stanford graduate, in 2012.