BEIRUT — Around a hundred students protested Tuesday against anticipated tuition fee increases at the American University of Beirut.
The demonstration started on AUB’s campus in Hamra outside the College Hall building, which houses the administration and the office of the university’s president, Fadlo Khuri. The protesters then marched on to different spots on campus, including outside Khuri's residence and one of the main classroom buildings.
Students could be heard chanting “we want to study in our country, education is our right” and “yala price it in lira,” referring to tuition fees which are priced in dollars but are presently collected in lira at an exchange rate of LL3,900 to the dollar.
Jad Hani, president of the AUB Secular Club and a graduate student in public policy and international affairs, told L’Orient Today that “secular and other student clubs called for this protest today to express their rage against the university policies that are being implemented without any consultation with the student council.”
He added, “The administration decided to increase the exchange rate of tuition fees from LL3,900 per dollar to LL8,000 per dollar … We emailed the president and the administration and they replied that they couldn’t sustain the LL3,900 rate.”
So far, however, AUB has not publicly announced tuition fee increases or change in the dollar exchange rate applied to these fees. As of spring 2022, AUB is still accepting payments at a rate of LL3,900 to the US dollar, as it has done since spring 2020.
However, many students at the protest told L’Orient Today that starting last week they began noticing that their statement of fees on AUB’s online student information system shows their tuition for summer and fall terms calculated at the rate of LL8,000 to the dollar.
Khuri sent an internal email, seen by L’Orient Today, in response to questions by student body representatives requesting clarification for why summer courses were priced at the LL8,000 rate and why they had not received prior notice. In it, Khuri states that AUB had deferred on enforcing the LL8,000 rate, since the central bank changed the exchange rate at which withdrawals could be made from dollar denominated bank accounts to LL8,000 in December, but that “the Summer semester will be unaffordable for AUB to conduct at the 3,900 [rate].”
A town hall meeting with Khuri and open to all students is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday next week.
Speaking at the protest on Tuesday, Hala, a media and communications major, who preferred not to share her full name, said, “It’s not fair that people’s tuition fees are suddenly changed.”
Also at the protest, Hikmat Kassir, a software engineering student and a member of AUB’s student council, told L’Orient Today, “Any tuition increase is unacceptable amidst this difficult time. The student body was not consulted and it was bypassed, we were not part of the decision-making process.” Kassir asked, “What’s the point of student representation if we’re going to be bypassed?”
The protest comes just weeks after the launch of AUB’s new overseas twin campus in the Cypriot city of Paphos. The 29 million euro project is partly being funded through public and private sector partners.
In an email to the AUB community on April 14, Khruri stated that funding for the campus was sourced from savings from “already completed capital projects over the last six years — designated exclusively for capital projects — as well as additional and anticipated gifts to this effort. These funds do not flow from operating revenues generated by tuition and medical fees.”
Earlier this month students at the Lebanese American University protested against that institution’s decision to collect tuition fees completely in US dollars starting in fall of 2022. The university administration has not changed its decision; however, LAU promised to increase financial aid in tandem with the dollarization decision.