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Lebanese University Students Protest ‘Dollarisation’ of Tuition Fees

/ 24 Jun 2022

Lebanese University Students Protest ‘Dollarisation’ of Tuition Fees

BEIRUT—Lebanese university students are protesting the “dollarisation” of tuition fees, which raises their costs and, for some, may threaten access to higher education.

More than 100 students joined in a recent protest at the Lebanese American University after its administration announced a new policy requiring tuition to be paid in U.S. dollars starting in the fall of 2022.

While tuition fees were previously paid by check and in Lebanese pounds, they will now have to be paid in dollars or at the informal daily exchange rate.

Mohammad Ghadieh, 18, a first-year economics student at LAU, is worried about the decision’s effect on his and his classmates’ future studies at the university.

“Many students do not work, and their parents still receive their salary at the old rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar,” Ghadieh said. “I expect that many students will drop out next semester because they can no longer afford to study. Some are even considering studying abroad because the tuition fees would be cheaper.”

Before this decision, LAU students paid 35 percent of tuition at the so-called “lollar” exchange rate set last December of 8,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, and 65 percent at the previous exchange rate of 3,900 pounds to the dollar. “Lollars,” or “local dollars,” are money that was deposited into Lebanese banks as U.S. dollars but is now redeemable only as Lebanese pounds at a rate set by the central Banque du Liban.

Starting in the fall of 2022, students will have to pay tuition at the daily exchange rate, which is now about 28,000 pounds to the dollar, or directly in dollars.

More Student Financial Aid

Ghadieh said the decision meant tuition would cost about $10,000, depending on the student’s master’s or bachelor’s degree programme.

In a country where the monthly minimum wage is set at 675,000 Lebanese pounds (equivalent to $24 at the daily exchange rate), this new policy could limit access to higher education for many students.

“I expect that many students will drop out next semester because they can no longer afford to study. Some are even considering studying abroad because the tuition fees would be cheaper.”

Mohammad Ghadieh   A first-year economics student at the Lebanese American University

To address this problem, the Lebanese American University has increased its student financial-aid budget to $100 million and pledged to help students in need, said Teya Abou Zour, a business management student and vice president of the LAU student council.

“Since the decision was made, there have been many protests calling on the university to reverse its decision,” Abou Zour said. The student council called for these protests “to make our voice heard,” she added.

She said the university president had “promised to do everything possible to keep students at LAU and to support them with financial aid.”

In the past, 30 to 35 percent of students were receiving financial aid, Abou Zour said. “We expect that number to increase dramatically with this new decision.”

Abou Zour said the student council had also negotiated other measures to ease the financial burden on students, including a four-installment payment plan and year-round financial aid that allows students to focus on their studies.

An Increasingly Dollarised Economy

Nevertheless, the dollarisation of Lebanon’s economy seems inevitable in order to cope with the country’s deep economic crisis, says Layal Mansour, a professor of economics at LAU.

“A country in the process of dollarisation means that we have different currencies in circulation, which is not normal,” said Layal, who specialises in monetary crises in dollarised countries.

“When we have two currencies and they are interchangeable, it means we can use both, and if both are our currency, it has very bad consequences,” she said.

“When the foreign currency becomes our local currency, it means that the central bank becomes weak or inefficient … and its policies become ineffective,” she added. “When we reach a stage of high dollarisation, we can’t go back, and we can’t solve the problem.”

Why Universities Need Dollars

The Lebanese American University, like all other universities in Lebanon, has to pay maintenance fees in dollars, which results in huge losses when it receives income in Lebanese pounds on older exchange rates.

LAU cited the increase in the price of fuel to generate electricity and the need to increase professors’ salaries to avoid brain drain among its reasons for the decision to make tuition payable in U.S. dollars.

“In my opinion, Lebanese students are heroes. They manage to face everything that happens around them while doing their best. Many of them continue to study very hard because it is their only way to escape what is happening.”

Teya Abou Zour   Vice president of the student council at the Lebanese American University

Recently, the American University of Beirut also decided to change its tuition fees to dollars for the same reasons. “It has become necessary for AUB to collect tuition fees in the same currency in which it must pay its expenses,” the university said in a news release last month.

Mansour noted that, unlike other economies that are also going through dollarisation, Lebanon has a double problem because of money blocked in the banks. In this case, public services such as education or health become limited services for the population.

“We are already subsidising everything at the university, even the quality of food,” Mansour said.

“Under such crisis circumstances, we have two choices: either we lower the level of education and keep our students, or we maintain our very high standards and in return, tuition will be high, and we should expect fewer students. With the crisis, the reputation of all universities in the country is at stake,” she added.

Effects on Students

Even before the tuition decisions, the country’s economic crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic were making it difficult for students to focus on their studies.

Ghadieh, the first-year economics student at LAU, said he had had to deal with many Internet connection problems during online classes when schools were closed because of the pandemic.

“We did not have a good Internet connection or even electricity to be able to follow our courses,” he said.

“Moreover, there is only one hour of electricity that reaches our home per day. How can a student manage his or her studies under these conditions?  Everyone faces problems that affect their studies, but also their personal lives,” he said.

For all these reasons, Abou Zour, the LAU student council officer, gives a lot of credit to the students who struggle every day to learn and progress in their studies.

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“In my opinion, Lebanese students are heroes. They manage to face everything that happens around them while doing their best. Many of them continue to study very hard because it is their only way to escape what is happening.”

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام