This article was first published by the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs.
The impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, combined with the economic distress caused by Lebanon’s financial crisis and months of protests, will have a long-term fallout on the country’s higher-education institutions. The cumulative effect of the many challenges that the higher education sector in Lebanon currently faces raises some critical questions. What does the future hold for higher education in Lebanon? Will we see more universities close? Merge? Expand? How will universities reach their students when access to campuses is forcibly halted? These are all questions that institutions of higher education in Lebanon have started facing, in light of the coronavirus crisis and economic distress affecting everyone in the country.
The higher-education sector in many countries has suffered from economic crises. Universities in Venezuela, East Asia, and the United States all endured the impact of the 2008 economic downturn which pressed higher-education institutions into taking different forms of actions based on their circumstances. The novel coronavirus pandemic has also hit hard all institutions of higher education globally, leaving over 700 million learners at home.
Lebanon has been enduring financial strains since 2015, with a drastic deterioration as of October 2019. More recently, Lebanon has quickly become one of the countries hit hard by the novel coronavirus. These crises have severely affected middle-income groups who are the traditional clientele for local higher education. In general, the crisis has a negative impact on the ability of households to spend money, particularly on health and education, and primarily due to reduced incomes. The recent health crisis has rendered vulnerable families even more at risk due to its impact on the economy. It is expected that households will reconsider investing in education because they are more concerned with filling basic needs. However, household response to the crisis may be delayed, particularly given that families in Lebanon are highly committed to education. This is evidenced in the high private expenditure on education in the country estimated at 1.45 percent of GDP (World Bank, Lebanon: Education Public Expenditure Review, 2017).