The American University of Beirut (AUB) has changed the exchange rate at which it will accept tuition fees, translating to a 160 percent hike for students next semester. Other top universities are expected to follow suit soon.
AUB will adopt the 3,900 Lebanese pounds to US dollar exchange rate set by the central bank’s new trading platform, according to AUB President Dr. Fadlo Khoury, a semi-official rate for withdrawing from USD accounts in commercial banks.
This change in exchange rate makes Lebanon’s leading educational institutions accessible only to those with access to fresh dollars from abroad or to the country’s elite. Lebanon has been experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis predominantly caused by decades of enriched corruption and mismanagement.
The country currently has other exchange rates. The official rate is still set 1,515 pounds to the dollar, and is used in some bank transactions and for importing subsidized commodities (wheat, gasoline, medical supplies). The so-called black-market rate averaged at 8,300 pounds to the dollar over the past week.
“Lebanon is facing difficult historical challenges that have caused many of us to suffer, and we, along with higher education and other medical institutions, must find ways to go beyond this period to advance stronger in the future. We have seen more than 1,500 of our fellow employees leave the university as a result of layoffs,” Khoury said.
Khoury said the decision was mainly related to the significant widening gap between tuition revenues that AUB receives in Lebanese pounds and the expenditures it pays in dollars.
The exchange rate change would widely affect those who paid in Lebanese pounds, as the tuition would practically double.
At the official rate, tuition for one-semester would approximately have cost around 18 million Lebanese pounds. When the new semi-official rate is applied in 2021, it will hike up to 46.8 million pounds per semester. Lebanon’s minimum wage is just 675,000 Lebanese pounds per month.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia reported in August that over 55 percent of Lebanon’s population is now trapped in poverty and struggling for bare necessities, almost double last year’s rate which stood at 28 percent.
Other institutions likely to follow
Sources confirmed to Al Arabiya English that several other elite universities in Lebanon are likely to pursue a similar change in currency rate policy over the next week.
The independent student front at the Lebanese American University (LAU) has issued a statement condemning AUB’s decision and warning their university administration from taking a similar step.
“We have not heard any confirmation from our administration yet; however, we expect an announcement that is similar very soon. Know that the independent student front at LAU is planning to stand against such decisions, if taken, in all possible means. We will be updating you on any possible outcomes and planned movements. No students must remain silent. It is a right and a duty to stand against this aggression,” the statement read.
The “Change Starts Here” campaign and the Secular Club at AUB, which represent a vast majority of the university’s student body, issued statements condemning this decision.
The Secular Club invited students from all universities for a mega-rally this upcoming Saturday to organize and plan the next steps “in their confrontation against all university administrations colluding to impose such measures on students.”
“The AUB Secular Club expresses its utmost opposition to every step taken to make students pay the cost of the economic crisis. It’s also worth noting that the AUB administration has not been transparent about the process through which such a decision has been taken, especially to student representatives and the AUB community as a whole. We won’t back down until a student contract between university administrations & students is enforced. We won’t back down until all universities are reclaimed in the next coming months”, their statement added.
The “Change Starts Here” campaign issued a similar statement emphasizing that the university has disregarded the various pleas made by their student representatives to prevent this decision from being made.
“As an entity who firmly stands with the anti-dollarization movement present in our university, Change Starts Here does not and will not stand with the university administration’s decision. We will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that every AUB student and family can continue funding their academic years without the fear of being financially incapable of doing so,” Change Starts Here added.
The “Chang Change Starts Here” campaign has begun working alongside other Lebanese universities facing the same threat toward their students’ educational accessibility to protest against this decision.
“With our primary goal being to allow currently enrolled AUB students to continue paying the tuition fee in which they began their academic years. We urge you all to stand with us as we charge forward with our efforts to prevent next semester’s tuition fees from rising and will continue to update you all on new developments taking place along the way,” the statement added.