White Paper

TL&DR. The current higher education system is archaic and unjustifiably expensive. Most of the money paid doesn't go to educators. There is no way to objectively measure and compare the merit between two students, and in most cases, it fails to make you competent in a given subject area, thus failing to prepare you for a job. It fails, even crushes, creative people - those that move societies forward - while overpromoting industrious people. Universities have resources to enroll millions of people, yet open their doors only to a select few. Vennbury University attempts to solve all of those problems. We propose to make a new education system that will be (1) open to everyone in the world, yet as rigorous as any Ivy League school; (2) will eliminate grading system and instead be based on mastery of a certain topic - you either know it and can use it practically on a sufficient enough level or you need more theory/practice; (3) topic-based, which means that instead of taking specific classes, you will be mastering topics that you yourself choose; and lastly (4), it will be project-based, because putting your knowledge to real-world practical applications is the only (more or less) objective way to determine whether you mastered something. As a result of the new system, students will have more agency in what they need to learn, less student debt, will finish education faster, have provable competence and a resume of projects, which will make them more employable.

Vennbury University has been greatly inspired by many people and articles, as well as personal experience, but we feel like it is almost impossible to articulate the topic better than has been done by Nassim Taleb in his Incerto series, Peter Thiel in his interviews, and by Rahit's Unbundling Universities article.

The Problem

Unjustifiably Expensive and Notoriously Archaic

Since the 1970's, tuition costs have gone up ~1200%, while the inflation has risen only by ~236%. The ratio of administrators vs professors in the UC system in the 70's used to be 1:1 (~3,000:~3,000); nowadays, it's almost 4:1 (~12,000:~3,000). It tells us a couple of things.

Tuition vs Inflation infographic

First of all, most of the money we pay for tuition goes to administrators and to services that most of the students are likely to never use. Secondly, the quality of education hasn't changed much. Arguably, it's gone worse: grade inflation, abandonment of SATs, the same number of professors, lack of fundamental progress in any given academic area (except computer science), all of which make it very hard to justify the dramatic increase in price. Moreso, knowledge itself has become more accessible than ever, thanks to the Internet, so anyone can become competent just by having access to it (as most of us do) or by paying “$1.50 in late fees at the public library.” And savvier kids do that anyway - they teach themselves some subject area, while officially studying something else. The only potentially worthy aspect of going to a university is a social one. This is a hard point to disprove or deny - as a European living in America, I can definitely see the advantage of co-living with like-minded people and how it would be hard to replicate something like that with the way the US cities are built. However, we might be giving universities a bit too much credit in this regard: if you are social enough on your own, you will be able to meet those people anyway; and if you aren't, no school will help you.

So, the quality of education hasn't changed since the 1970's, and yet, tuition costs skyrocketed. Knowledge is free, and the people aspect might be attributed to schools too much. “But don't universities prepare you for your job?” This is our next point.

Doesn't Make You Employable

Another issue is the one of incompetent people being able to get in and graduate. Our success as students is measured by grades, at least in principle. In order to grade someone against another person, you need to have a set of evaluative criteria. Meaning, as long as you understand these criteria and abide by them, you will get good grades. It doesn't necessarily follow that you are competent to get good grades; it does mean, however, that you are good at following rules. Competence and the ability to follow rules are not correlated. Yes, it's hard to get into Harvard, but the existence of prep schools in and of itself proves that the admissions process is hackable. The same applies to getting through and graduating from university.

There is a spectrum of competence, and students are expected to have a certain level upon graduation. There will generally be two types of people: on the right side of that level and on the left. On the right side are the people disciplined and smart enough to get through, and they would have become successful regardless of whether they went to university or not. On the left side, we have people that aren't competent enough to graduate, and yet they do, for the reasons described above. The main problem is that people who need a central authoritative system (university, with all its rules and regulations), which tells them what to do, when, in what order, for how long, etc., aren't competent enough to get educated in the first place. Usually, it's the people on the left side of the spectrum. Those people will get into positions of decision-making, and the price for their incompetency will be paid by the next generations.

Competence Scale Infographic

That, on a more global, societal level, is a complete, Atlas Shrugged-level of disaster, but this is the state of the current system.

This brings us to the main point of this section, employability. It is virtually impossible to differentiate the merit between two students: both can have similar grades, take similar classes, do similar activities, and get similar degrees - what's the difference? We definitely want to bring competent people up in the system, but how are we to filter them if the university system is designed against it? There is only one way - to see a proof of action (practical experience), but since our universities are mostly designed to simply transfer information, students are left with theory, but no action. The system precludes students from getting skin in the game, from suffering through the practical application of their newly aqcuired knowledge, from taking ownership for the result, however good or bad. The issue is not that students are unemployable after graduation, but that companies can't differentiate between applicants. And you're very unlikely to be chosen among thousands of undifferentiated contestants.

Time Inefficiency

And do we really need to spend 2 years taking general education classes? It is our philosophy in Western countries that we want to educate our kids holistically; supposedly, the more one learns, the more one learns how to learn. However, we know that education doesn't cause people to become smarter. We know that smart and conscientious people will rise to the tops of the hierarchies, and those that aren't are less likely to do so. We are giving credit to universities for “making” people, but, as the Russian saying goes, places don't make people - people make places. Universities are good at filtering out non-industrious people, so the ones that get in are already impressive kids, perhaps without resume. Those, who get in, would have become successful anyway, with or without a degree, it just happened that they went through a university system, and so we attribute their greatness to their alma-maters. This is a cause-effect fallacy. Coming back to the general education classes issue, we think that they make people smarter and more educated, but in reality, they don't. So why do we keep making kids waste a rough equivalent of 2 years if it doesn't have the promised benefit? Besides, why are we dictating what subjects to learn instead of letting people choose on their own? We are not advocating against studying other subjects for a holistic worldview, but we want to bring more agency to students over their education and interests.

Only Accept a Select Few

The value of universities comes from the admissions process. That is the reason why if you are a university president and, for some reason, you would like to be lynched, the only thing you need to do is to announce that the enrollment is going to increase by 3-4 times. In general, universities have resources to educate millions more, yet they select only a few. We believe that it is pernicious to our society. We always need the best, the most competent people in the positions of power to “exploit” them (in a good way) for the betterment of humanity. And yet, we keep our gates closed for virtually everyone - everyone not affluent, not English-speaking, unimpressive on paper, not likable by admissions departments, and not US-based. Why not make opportunity equal for everyone? Why not open it up for all and let the best of the best naturally rise to the top and make the world a better place for all of us and our kids?

The Solution


Instead of taking classes, we propose a topic-based learning: statistical reasoning, writing, web development, music, psychology, philosophy, etc. - and any student will have agency over what he would like to learn, whether for a current/future job or as a hobby. As a consequence, no one is required to spend a rough equivalent of 2 years taking general education classes that bear negligible influence over one's future, and will instead be able to learn only what one deems truly necessary.


We believe that the grading system is subjective, too restraining, and unnecessarily detrimental to one's self-esteem. Instead, we propose to adopt a mastery-based system. Under it, a student is either able to use the newly acquired knowledge and able to show it (which is what we mean by “mastery”) or he needs more time to study and practice.


The way to prove mastery (and, by extension, competence) is to use one's knowledge in real-life applications - projects. Each topic will have enough practical and incrementally more difficult projects, which will test your understanding of the material, so that by the end of the course, you will be able to objectively show your competence in a particular topic. Ideally, it also means a great resume to enter a desired industry.

Open and Free for Everyone

We deeply believe that humanity deserves to move forward. For that to happen, we need to give everyone an equal opportunity to rise and work on progress. Therefore, our system will be free and open to everyone in the world. As was already mentioned, it will also not have restraints of a typical education system, which will help creative people.

Our Plan


Our first course will be on Python programming language. We recognize an almost infinite number of opportunities in building useful courses, but our current resources (mainly, brainpower and only 4 hands) restrict us from doing so. Python is a popular point of entry into software development, and yet, there are less than a handful of resources that properly teach you the bare minimum. (By “properly” we mean that those resources were able to find balance between letting students learn and practice on their own and understandability/difficulty of the course, all while guiding the general direction of studying.) Soon, we will start releasing materials on required installations, git, command line interface, basics of the language and its more advanced features. After that, we will start building tracks - directions for further studying (data science, financial applications, networking, etc.).

Expanding into Other Areas

While, as was mentioned above, we have limited resources to expand into other areas, we are looking for people that will help us construct project-based courses in other areas, such as computer science, statistics, philosophy, writing, psychology, engineering, music, finance, economics, political science, and others. If you're interested in leaving a mark on our current education system, please sign up for updates below or contact us directly via Discord, Email, or Telegram.