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Lebanon’s Only Public University Seeks Financial Support to Survive

Bassam Badran, president of the Lebanese University, says he is on a mission to save the institution from collapse.

“The deficit to cover the university’s operating expenses threatens the continuity of education,” he told Al-Fanar Media.

According to the World Bank, Lebanon is suffering one of the most severe global crises episodes since the mid-nineteenth century.

The Lebanese University, founded in 1951, faces the biggest financial crisis in its history, Badran said in a telephone call. The country’s only public university, it has about 5,200 academic staff, 2,600 other employees, and 87,000 students.

The Full-Time Professors’ Association says salaries have fallen by 95 percent in purchasing power, while the university’s budget for this academic year is about $12 million, compared to the $265 million needed to meet its overheads.

Mojtaba Mortada, an executive member of the association, told Al-Fanar Media that there was not even enough money to keep the university buildings running.

Three-Month Strike

In recent months, the university has suffered several closures as well as a three-month-long teachers’ strike in protest against the decline in the value of their salaries. Many other academics left the country after the collapse of the value of the Lebanese pound.

“I consider myself on a mission to rescue the university. We have great obligations, and the deficit to cover the university’s operating expenses threatens the continuity of education.”

Bassam Badran
President of the Lebanese University

Badran said one of his priorities was “securing financial raises for professors through external projects, in light of the limited government financial support to the university.”

He added: “I consider myself on a mission to rescue the university.”

The devaluation of the Lebanese pound led to a fall in university professors’ salary from the equivalent of $3,500 per month to less than $200, Mortada said.

Mortada, a professor at the university’s Faculty of Law, Political and Administrative Sciences, said many colleagues had turned to online teaching in order to save on transportation costs, which have risen to record rates.

“Everyone has become unable to keep doing their academic duties. This has delayed the start of the university year,” he said.

“Donors must intervene to preserve this national institution that provides semi-free education for Lebanese and Arab students in Lebanon, especially the Palestinians and the Syrians.”

Part-Time Teachers Hit Hardest

The university’s nearly 3,500 teachers working on part-time contracts seem to be hit more severely than full-time staff. One of them, Ali Ataya, is currently working as a lawyer, since his wages dropped to about $1,120. Moreover, he receives them only every year or two, without any university commitment to cover his health, social, or pension insurance.

Ataya told Al-Fanar Media that university teachers feel “trapped because of the difficult working conditions.” He added: “They are the cheapest thing in Lebanon, after their salary has become much lower than the salaries of other professionals.”

Worst off, however, are the students at the Lebanese University. In addition to the economic difficulties, they face problems such as power cuts that interrupt distance education.

Khadija Barakat, 22, a dentistry student at the university, said students at practical colleges are the most affected.

“Everyone has become unable to keep doing their academic duties. This has delayed the start of the university year. Donors must intervene to preserve this national institution that provides semi-free education.”

Mojtaba Mortada
A professor at the Lebanese University’s Faculty of Law, Political, and Administrative Sciences.

She told Al-Fanar Media: “We have not had any practical training due to the lack of the necessary materials and the ill-equipped training places.” She added that “most students had to drop out after the university stopped providing financial grants.”

Academic Exodus 

The crisis has forced dozens of academics to leave the country, in search of better working conditions. Most of them were contract professors at the Lebanese University.

One professor, who asked to be identified only by the initials S.A., went to France a few months ago because he felt that working at the Lebanese University “is morally or materially useless”. He left without telling the university, but continues to  teach remotely.

“The majority of contracted professors moved to France because they hold French nationality,” S.A. explained. “Gulf countries and other European countries have attracted a smaller number.”

Contract lecturers have no legal or administrative obligation and are “the weakest link in the Lebanese University,” he said.

To help confront the crisis, former students have joined the Full-Time Professors’ Association and university officials in asking international donor organisations to support the university.

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One of the graduates, Jihad Al-Mallah, who teaches at the American University of Beirut, said supporting the Lebanese University “is a matter of national security at the highest levels.”

Describing the university as a “great national asset,” Al-Mallah said it “constitutes a direct means to keep tens of thousands of students and teachers in the country, and most importantly, it presents an opportunity to confront the collapse of Lebanon.”

He added: “When countries face crises and collapse, they are supposed to search for a big institutional entity that can be pushed to be a lever to confront the collapse, by supporting it socially, financially, and economically.”

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