In a number of Arab countries, private university students are facing a difficult new academic year with the continuing spread of Covid-19, shrinking economies and rising university costs. Despite the shift toward online learning imposed by the pandemic, some private universities in Egypt, Jordan and Palestine have increased their tuition fees, a decision that critics say is unwarranted.
“The increase in tuition fees at private universities is unjustified,” said Hany El-Hosseini, a professor of mathematics at Cairo University. “They are commercial institutions aimed at profit only. They should have to take into account the crisis everyone is witnessing.”
The coronavirus has caused the economies of most Arab countries to contract. The Arab Monetary Fund has predicted that GDP will shrink by about 4 percent in Arab countries this year due to the pandemic. A report issued by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in March said that the Arab region could lose more than 1.7 million jobs during the current year, which will increase the pressure on middle- and low-income families and affect decisions about the education of their children.
The cost of online education is a burden on many families that do not have the financial means to provide computers for their children, in addition to the cost of Internet access. (See a related article, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)
In some Gulf countries, there are official efforts to reduce university fees. In Kuwait, where the school year began on October 4, Saud Al-Harbi, the minister of education and higher education, announced a 20 percent reduction in tuition fees at private universities after adopting online education. In Bahrain, which approved a shift to online education on October 11, five members of Parliament submitted a proposal to the government to oblige private universities to reduce tuition fees by 20 percent in view of the coronavirus-related burdens on Bahraini families.
Yet the situation is different in other countries, such as Egypt, Palestine and Jordan.
Rising Fees in Egypt
In Egypt, Mahmoud Nabeel scored 97.8 percent on his high school exit exams, high enough to qualify him to study in a private university medical college, but the higher fees this year prevented him from doing that.
“I always wished to become a physician and excelled in my studies,” he said. He was not admitted at a public university, however, “and it is difficult for me to enroll at a private university because of the high tuition fees.”