That’s good news for Eliwi but bad news for the university, which is banned from raising fees for continuing students. Additional factors putting a financial squeeze on Syria’s private universities include rising inflation and the free fall of the Syrian pound against the U.S. dollar, which have steeply increased their operating costs.
“I don’t think there is any private university that made a notable profit in the past two years,” said Hala Alchach, a human resources director at the Arab International University, a private institution near Damascus.
Rising Costs for Universities
The university also has various expenses to cover, such as restoring buildings and infrastructure that were damaged during a decade of civil war and generating electricity to deal with long power cuts, Alchach said. (See two related articles, “Syrian Higher Education Faces a Long Recovery” and “Displaced Syrian Private Universities Struggle to Educate Their Students.”)
The value of the Syrian pound has dropped sharply since the start of the war in 2011, especially in the aftermath of international sanctions imposed on the Syrian government and the economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon. Before 2011, one U.S. dollar traded for about 47 Syrian pounds, but it has a street value of more than 3,000 Syrian pounds today, according to recent news reports.
Syria’s private universities can raise the fees they charge new students to partially cope with inflation, but once a student is registered, the fee cannot be raised in their following years.
“Universities lose money on older students and it’s in their benefit to graduate them quickly and to take new ones,” Alchach added.
To ease the burden on universities, the Ministry of Higher Education raised the number of students allocated to each professor or lecturer to around 35 students, up from 20, said Abdul Ghani Maa Bared, vice president for international affairs and scientific research at the Arab International University and a former president of Damascus University.
Growth in Student Numbers
The number of students attending private universities in Syria rose by 56 percent in recent years, from around 32,000 in 2017 to around 50,000 in 2019, semi-official sources indicate. But private universities still account for only 5 percent of total university students in Syria. (See a related article, “Syrian Universities Struggle to Survive After a Decade of War.”)