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Lebanese University in Crisis: 10 Takeaways from Its President’s Remarks

Amid an unresolved financial crisis and months of repeated sit-ins by faculty members and employees, the Lebanese University recently observed its 71st anniversary as the country’s only public university.

Bassam Badran, president of the university, and Abbas Halabi, Lebanon’s minister of education and higher education, marked the occasion at a joint press conference  last week during which they urged government leaders not to allow the institution to collapse.

Halabi called on university teachers and employees to end their strikes, saying that “donors who are expected to allocate $35 million to the university will not pay employees who do not go to work.” He also said that he will never accept the fall of the Lebanese University under his mandate.

Badran called on the political authority, municipalities, and civil society organisations to save the university before it is forced to halt its services.

Following are 10 takeaways from Badran’s comments at the news conference.

  • Badran said the struggle of political and non-political actors over the university was obstructing its vital functions. He urged restoring the university council’s powers and confronting the state’s abandonment of its duty to support the university’s rights and issues.

“I will never accept the fall of the Lebanese University under my mandate.”

Abbas Halabi Lebanon’s Minister of Education and Higher Education.

  • Badran wondered: “How can a university, with 80,000 students, operate with a budget of 366 billion Lebanese pounds (worth about $12.6 million at recent daily exchange rates)? That means an annual expenditure of $160 for each student.”
  • Badran called on authorities to assist the university in collecting $50 million it says it is owed by airlines in exchange for the PCR tests conducted by the university’s laboratories during the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that the university, after negotiations with the concerned parties, had been offered 10 percent of the value in cash and the rest by checks, which the university did not accept.
  • He chastised political leaders for failing to make good on a promise to enable the university to pay fair salaries to faculty members and employees, to contribute to resuming the academic process. The failure to achieve those promises has led to comprehensive strikes, he said.
  • Badran complained of outside interference in the university’s academic work. He said the university wants to meet the needs of its teaching staff and develop its academic and research programmes, and asked: “Is it reasonable that political and non-political actors interfere … in these matters?” He also complained of outside interventions in nominating deans of the university’s faculties and institutes. “This does not happen in universities around the world,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is a painful reality at the Lebanese University.”
  • In a desperate tone, Badran also wondered: “How can a university professor, who does not have the minimum to secure his daily life and the price of medicine, produce knowledge? How can a teacher educate the children of his community, when he/she is forced to sell his possessions to pay the school fees of their own children?”

“If those concerned do not come forward to secure the university’s budget to meet its needs … an entire generation of Lebanese will drop out and remain uneducated.”

Bassam Badran President of the Lebanese University.

  • Increasing the university’s budget and the salaries of full-time professors, and giving it authority to approve the contracts of its trainers and appoint deans, contributes to its stability, Badran said. It is also in the interest of its students, he said, who choose the university for two main reasons: its academic standards, and the low cost of education.
  • The university has asked the concerned state institutions to fund the minimum operational budget of colleges and institutes. It is also trying, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, to obtain additional funding from donors and several parties to secure sufficient support to start the next academic year normally. However, so far, the promises have not turned into tangible results.
  • The Lebanese University has 5,000 professors in staffing, full-time, and contracted faculty, representing scientific and research expertise that came from 460 prestigious international universities in Europe and America. The university has begun to lose some of these competencies. Badran said he receives dozens of requests from teaching staff and workers for leaves or to end their appointment. Some of them leave Lebanon without any administrative procedure, he said.
  • The university president described the current situation as catastrophic. “If those concerned do not come forward to secure the university’s budget to meet its needs, embrace its professors and various employees, and secure sufficient support for the education of more than 80,000 students, the vast majority of an entire generation of Lebanese will drop out and remain uneducated,” he said.

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