News & Reports

Rising Fees at Private Arab Universities End Many Students’ Prospects

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.”

The number of private universities in Egypt hit 25 with the addition of four new private institutions this year. Al-Fanar Media checked the tuition costs for the new academic year at six private universities and compared them to last year’s fees. It found increases ranging from 19 to 25 percent in faculties of medicine, pharmacy and dentistry, and rises as high as 36 percent for some majors like engineering.

“The increase in tuition fees at private universities is unjustified. They are commercial institutions aimed at profit only. They should have to take into account the crisis everyone is witnessing.”

Hany El-Hosseini
 A professor of mathematics at Cairo University

Tuition fees at the Faculty of Dentistry at Badr University in Cairo increased from 105,000 Egyptian pounds (about $6,700) in 2019 to 130,000 Egyptian pounds ($8,300) for the current year, an increase of 23.8 percent. Meanwhile, tuition fees at the British University in Egypt’s College of Engineering increased from 91,000 Egyptian pounds ($5,800) to 124,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,900), an increase of 36 percent.

The cost of tuition at medical schools in private universities is about 120,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,640) per year on average, and more than 220,000 Egyptian pounds ($14,000) at some universities such as the Delta University for Science and Technology, in Dakahlia, 120 miles northeast of Cairo. Meanwhile, the average annual household income in Egypt is about 59,000 pounds ($3,760), according to figures for 2018 from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. 

[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]

El-Hosseini, the mathematics professor at Cairo University, believes it would have been better to reduce some fees this year, taking into account the general economic situation, especially since private universities raised tuition fees after the decision to float the Egyptian pound in 2016. (See two related articles, “How Egypt’s Currency Plunge Trapped a University, and “Rising Fees Make Students Quit Master’s Degrees in Egypt.”) 

“In the past, the increase was justified,” he said. “But today, with the shift to online education, many private universities have dispensed with assistant professors and students are not attending the campuses, the operating expenses are definitely lower.” He acknowledged that universities faced additional costs in moving courses online, but said the increase in fees exceeded those costs, especially given the reduced operating costs.

Mustafa Kemal, president of Badr University in Cairo, however, says operating costs have actually increased.

“We used to buy a dentist’s chair to train students for 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,200). Now, it costs 120,000 pounds,” he said. “The prices of water and electricity increased greatly; we were paying 750,000 pounds annually ($47,800) in 2019. Today we pay 2.5 million pounds ($159,000) for electricity.”

Palestine’s public and private universities suffer from constant financial crises due to government delays in paying public universities’ allocations and employees’ wages. Above, teachers march to protest their low pay (Photo: From Twitter).
Palestine’s public and private universities suffer from constant financial crises due to government delays in paying public universities’ allocations and employees’ wages. Above, teachers march to protest their low pay (Photo: From Twitter).

According to the Universities Licensing Law, the Ministry of Higher Education or any government agency cannot interfere with determining fees at private universities. This matter is left to the discretion of the universities, with directions for them “to take into account the conditions of the surrounding community,” according to Kemal. 

Last spring, after classrooms closed and courses went online, many students demanded a refund of some of the fees they had previously paid, but their attempt did not work.

“My colleagues and I tried to ask for a refund of part of the fees, but the minister’s decision to return to the contracts concluded between the student and the university that did not provide for the return of fees did not help us,” said Sameh Ibrahim, a second-year dentistry student at Al-Nahda University in Beni Suef, 90 miles south of Cairo. He argued that universities are asking students to pay for services and activities that will not be held due to the transition to e-learning. “Management has the upper word,” he added. “We don’t have any options but complying or leaving school.”

Protests of Fees and Policies in Jordan

Last month, social media in Jordan was abuzz with the news of the death of a student in his last year at a private university who set himself on fire in protest against his university’s policy regarding payment of tuition fees. The student, who has been enrolled at Al-Isra University, near Amman, since 2012, tried to meet with the university president to reach a settlement that would allow him to sit for final exams despite his inability to pay the fees, but his request was rejected. He then set his body on fire in the university presidency building, and later died at a hospital, according to a local newspaper.

The tragic incident coincides with the decision by public and private universities decision in the kingdom to increase their tuition fees for the new academic year by a rate that hit around 100 percent in some universities, according to a statement issued by the National Campaign for Defending Students’ Rights, “Thabahtoona.” According to the statement, the increases were allowed to happen because of changes to the Universities Law, which it says has been amended to serve profits at the expense of the educational process. “When the educational process becomes based on financial and profit aspects first and foremost, we must expect reaching this stage,” it said. 

“My colleagues and I tried to ask for a refund of part of the fees, but the minister’s decision to return to the contracts concluded between the student and the university that did not provide for the return of fees did not help us.”

Sameh Ibrahim
 A second-year dentistry student at Al-Nahda University in Beni Suef, Egypt

As is the case in Egypt, Jordan’s Ministry of Higher Education does not impose any control over the financial affairs of private universities, according to Fakher Daas, coordinator of the Thabahtoona campaign. He explained in a phone call that private universities can raise tuition and set additional fees as they wish without any supervision or control. Universities do not “need to submit a request or even inform the Ministry in the event of raising fees or imposing fines on students,” he said.

In emails to students, administrators at the public Al-Bayt University justified that institution’s recent increases in tuition fees, saying that the university needs for funds for updating and raising the efficiency of the educational process, and that the current fees do not cover the operational cost.

In a phone call, Mohammed al-Fiqi, a third-year computer science student at the private University of Petra, in Amman, said that the majority of students work and pay their fee installments from their own pocket. “The continuous increase in fees and the failure of universities to cooperate with students in facilitating installment payments hinders many students’ graduation,” he said. “A number of students left school for their inability to continue paying the exorbitant costs of fees.”

Increased Burdens in Palestine

Raising university fees in Palestine seems more complicated, as it comes with the continued Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, which deprives many students from joining the university. (See a related article, “Gaza’s University Students Drop Out at an Accelerating Rate Due to the Pandemic.”)

On the other hand, Palestine’s public and private universities suffer from constant financial crises, as the Palestinian National Authority often delays in paying public universities allocations and handing over the wages of their employees. Private universities also experience critical financial conditions due to students’ inability to pay fees and late installments.

Public universities’ fees amount to $700 a year, while private universities’ reach $4,000 in specialties like medicine, pharmacy and dentistry.

“Higher education in Palestine is very expensive, and it depends mainly on the fees students pay,” said Ahmed Othman, director of planning and quality at the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education. He explained that the economic crisis for universities began 20 years ago, and the coronavirus pandemic is further exacerbating the economic conditions for students and their families.

“The employee gets only 50 percent of his salary, and most of the students are children of employees and day laborers who largely depend on salaries, and they already have difficulties in paying the installments and fees,” he said.

Ayman Al-Yazouri, assistant under secretary for higher education affairs at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Gaza, agrees with Othman. “Some students’ families strive to provide the tuition for the first semester, but they are unable to continue paying these fees,” he said. “This drives students in subsequent semesters to drop out or postpone studying for a certain period.”

Salma Farraj is waiting for a scholarship to be able to attend university. Despite her excellent grades, she is unable to afford the cost of studying at the university. “I just have to wait,” she said. “I registered for the Faculty of Engineering to get the 50 percent scholarship, but it’s not my wish, I wished to study medicine.”

A breakthrough does not seem possible soon, especially in light of the talk of a second wave of Covid-19 during the coming winter.

“This year will be the worst for students’ ability to join the educational process,” said Ibrahim Al-Ghandour, the coordinator of the National Campaign to Demand Fees Reduction, a civil campaign to support the right of Palestinian students to complete their higher education in light of the difficult economic conditions the Palestinian community suffers from. “I think many will be forced, even if temporarily, to drop out. I hope that won’t last long.”

Amr El-Tohamy reported from Cairo and Tarek Abd El-Galil reported from Assiut.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button