The future of hundreds of students at the Beirut Arab University (BAU) is now threatened by increasing tuition fees, following the university administration’s sudden decision to up the dollar exchange rate.
The administration announced earlier this week that university credits will be calculated at LBP 5,500 per US dollar and that operating expenses will be fixed at 600 dollars to be paid in US dollars exclusively.
Students fight back with campaign
The sudden decision led students to launch a social media campaign (#علمي_مش_فرق_عملة) that translates to “my education is not a currency exchange.” The campaign calls on the administration to relinquish its latest decision, considering it an injustice against every student at the university—more so in facilities where tuition fees were already costly.
Students also submitted a letter to the president of the university, Amr Galal El-Adawi, rejecting the exchange rate increase, and explaining their inability to pay in light of the great economic and financial crisis that Lebanon is experiencing.
“We expected the dollar exchange rate at the university to increase, but seeing it triple has been a disappointment,” said Khalil Kanna, a first-year marketing student at BAU.
A staged sit-in demands justice
Believing it’s the best way to be heard, BAU students from all facilities staged a sit-in on Monday, January 24 to convey their anger at the administration. The students protested in front of two of the university’s campuses, in Tripoli and Beirut.
“The demonstration started with a call from the BAU Secular Club to Beirut Arab University students and all other students in Lebanon,” said Ziad Yamout, a member of the BAU Secular Club.
“Our demands are as follows: The immediate reversal of the decision, the provision of financial transparency with students— such as the disclosure of the university’s expenses and profits—and the achievement of a culture of participatory governance through the presence of legitimately elected student councils and imposing a “student contract” that governs the student’s relationship with the university,” explained Yamout.
Kanna also stressed the dangers of the university not reversing its decision.
BAU Secular Club threatens to escalate
“If the university doesn’t go back on its decisions, we’re going to escalate,” said Yamout. He clarified that the escalation will take place on multiple levels, from street protests to boycotting lectures.
The BAU Secular Club denounced the administration’s decisions as a legal violation of the Higher Education Act in Lebanon, which stipulates that the exchange rate is set by the Central Bank.
Some students are looking into pressuring the administration and demanding justice by refusing to continue with the semester and dropping the courses they had registered for before the decision was issued.
It remains to be seen whether the BAU administration’s decision is an isolated incident or the beginning of a series of similar decisions by Lebanon’s private universities.
If the decision is not reversed, many of the students will not be able to complete their education at BAU anyway. Instead, they will be faced with two options: Stopping their education entirely or moving to the crisis-struck Lebanese University, the country’s only public university and one that is already well over its capacity to welcome more new students.