At British University in Egypt, Students End Protests
CAIRO–Students at the British University in Egypt have ended a sit-in and returned back to their classrooms after the university president resigned.
The protesting students objected to what they felt was a profit motive creeping into the private university’s operations. But administrators say they were only trying to pass on to students costs the university has to cope with.
The crisis began in early March when hundreds of British University students started a sit- in at the university campus protesting the university’s decision to have petroleum engineering and chemistry students pay 5,000 Egyptian Pounds ($734) in extra fees for their diplomas. Also, the protesting students accused the administration of intentionally lowering students’ grades in order to revoke their scholarships. They asked the administration to mark midterm exam papers all over again because they considering the results “arbitrary and unfair.”
“We are against any step that could turn the university into a business affair,” said Omar El-Alfy, British University’s student union president. He added that the students had protested peacefully. El-Alfy said the students are just trying to get the university to return to its founding principle: “Graduate generations of students who could contribute to develop Egyptian society.”
The British University vice president who currently acts as the university’s president, Moustafa Gouda, said that the new decisions came as a result of the university’s interest in making sure that education continues. “Students’ interest is our primary objective,” he said.
The sit-in ended after the university responded to the students’ demands to abolish the extra fee for the petroleum engineering and chemistry students and ordered new grades to be set for exams. Also, the president of the university resigned. Moreover, the university management pledged in a written statement not to “pursue or punish students who organized and participated in the sit-in.”
The British University is accredited in the United Kingdom, but the university was forced to change its partner university. Loughborough University put in new conditions for approving the degrees of petroleum-engineering graduates, Gouda said. “Loughborough University required having one professor for every 20 students, which cannot be achieved, as it’s a new and rare field and there are not a sufficient number of competent professors,” Gouda
Later, the British University contracted with South Bank London University to approve the degrees of petroleum-engineering graduates. However, the new university asked for higher fees. So, British University decided to increase its fees. According to Gouda, the British University has to pay 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,937) for each student to get graduation certificates from South Bank London University, while the university used to pay 7,000 Egyptian pounds ($1027) per student to get the same certificate from Loughborough.
“After the students’ objection, the university decided to keep the old fees; however, we will pay the balance which reaches 13,000 [Egyptian pounds] for each student,” Gouda said, stressing that the main goal is to serve the students, not to get profits as the strikers thought.
Regarding the resignation of the president, Ahmad Hamza, Gouda asserted that “nobody can force the president to resign. He was appointed by the prime minister, however he resigned voluntarily.”
The main demand of the students was the president leaving his post. “We strongly believe that the president’s policy was the main reason for all the problems we face,” El-Alfy said.
At the moment, no one knows who next president will be. According to the Egyptian law governing private universities, the university’s board of trustees has to propose a name for the next president who will then be appointed by the prime minister. That will not happen before June, Gouda said.
In 2012, the graduates of the petroleum-engineering department were not able to get their dual Egyptian-British degree, which would usually be standard for all British University students. After a similar student strike last year the university paid 67,000 Egyptian pounds ($9,838) and offered to pay for a masters’ degree course at any university in Egypt for each student. The university also offered four master’s-degree scholarships in the United Kingdom.
BUE was founded in 1998 as a private university with the sponsorship of both Egyptian and British governments.