What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike
As Lebanese universities spiked fees amid local currency plunge, many students, who risked being out of education, launched legal fight to pay fees at 1,500 Lebanese pounds/dollar rather than 3,900 pounds per greenback used by the universities. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 May 2021

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike
  • Parents are paid in local currency, which has tumbled in value against the dollar due to Lebanon’s financial collapse
  • Students got together, vowed to act and mounted legal action in February to pay fees at the official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds/dollar

BEIRUT: When the American University of Beirut (AUB) said the cost of study at Lebanon’s top school would more than double, 21-year-old Ali Slim felt his dream career in medicine might be over before it had even began.
Like most Lebanese, his parents are paid in local currency, which has tumbled in value against the dollar due to the country’s financial collapse, rendering them wholly unable to meet what is in effect a 160 percent tuition increase for their son.
The AUB has boosted financial aid for students, but it said the crisis had made the hike in fees unavoidable.
Another top school — the Lebanese American University (LAU) — soon followed suit, prompting fears that thousands of students like Slim could be priced out of private higher education in a country with only a single, under-funded, public alternative.
So the students got together and vowed to act.
Along with scores of fellow students, Slim mounted legal action in February to pay fees at the official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds per dollar, rather than the semi-official rate of 3,900 pounds per greenback used by the universities.
“It’s not just a fight for education, it’s a fight for what’s right and to try to get the judicial system to protect the most vulnerable,” Slim told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
When students began paying at the official rate, the AUB rejected their payments and said they would need to pay the new rate — or be dropped from class.
Students then filed two suits: one affirming their right to pay fees at the official exchange rate, the other asking for a stay on all payments until the first case is settled.
An urgent matters court ruled in their favor on the second case, saying the AUB could not exclude the students until there was a final ruling on whether their payment was legal.
The AUB’s office of communications said no students had left due to the hike and that more than 99 percent had paid their fees.
Education Minister Tarek Majzoub did not respond to a request for comment.
As other universities ponder similar hikes, the court’s ruling could have far-reaching implications for tens of thousands of students nationwide.
“We’re basically looking to secure a social safety net that protects students most at risk. That doesn’t exist right now,” said Jad Hani, a 20-year-old economics senior at the AUB.
Following the price hike, annual tuition fees for an arts or sciences degree have risen from about 35 million pounds to about 90 million pounds.
The minimum wage in Lebanon is 675,000 pounds per month, equivalent to 8.1 million pounds per year.
As the crisis decimates household incomes, an unusually large number of students appear to be opting for the publicly funded Lebanese University (LU) over private institutions – a change its president, Fouad Ayoub, linked to “economic factors.”
Some 5,000 students joined this year, after the price hikes were announced, he said, far more than its average intake and swelling the overall student body to 87,000.
The university cannot meet such demand, Ayoub said, since its budget is unchanged but its spending power has crashed in tandem with the local currency.
It has struggled to buy even the basics — lab supplies, electronics and books — as suppliers held off bidding on contracts for fear of the volatile exchange rate, Ayoub said.
“We are rationing the use of paper. The situation is very difficult,” he said.
The LU is not alone in being crippled by issues that are ultimately tied to the increasingly bankrupt Lebanese state.
The AUB said it was owed some $150 million by the state, making its dire situation still worse.
“AUB, like the rest of the country, is having to cope through a crisis not of its own making and without any support,” the university said in written comments.
Still, it has ramped up financial support leading to reductions in tuition costs, helping some 4,000 students — almost one in two — enrolled this academic year.
To ensure it can survive another 150 years, the institution said it had no choice but to up the exchange rate, insisting the new semi-official rate — used for transactions at commercial banks — was anyway still far below the volatile market rate.
With no end in sight to the country’s financial collapse, students said they felt compelled to help each other.
Razane Hishi, a 19-year-old software engineering junior at the AUB, said she chose to join the exchange rate legal fight out of solidarity, rather than need.
“It’s a moral obligation for me to help protect others that may need this now,” Hishi said. “If the trend keeps going, how are any of us supposed to afford an education in the future?”


Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted

Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted
Updated 20 min 15 sec ago

Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted

Israeli military: Attempt to smuggle weapons along Jordanian border thwarted

Israeli military claims it has thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons along the Jordanian border.


At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece
Updated 50 min 34 sec ago

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece

At NATO, Turkey hails its revival of dialogue with Greece
  • Turkish President is holding a series of one-on-one meetings with NATO leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden
  • Erdogan recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country

BRUSSELS: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that a revival of dialogue with fellow NATO member Greece to resolve long-standing disputes will serve “stability and prosperity” in the region.
Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit, Erdogan also lamented what he said was a lack of support by Turkey’s NATO allies in its fight against terrorism.
It was a veiled reference to Turkey’s disappointment with US military support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, who Ankara argues are inextricably linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.
Erdogan, who is vying to mend Turkey’s battered relations with its Western partners, is holding a series of one-on-one meetings with NATO leaders, including US President Joe Biden.
The Turkish strongman has recently toned down his anti-Western rhetoric as he seeks foreign investments for his country, which has been troubled by a currency crisis and an economic downturn made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Turkey is on the frontline in the fight against terrorism in all relevant international platforms, especially NATO,” Erdogan said, adding that some 4,000 Daesh group fighters were “neutralized” in Turkish cross border operations.
“Turkey is the only NATO ally which has fought face-to-face and gave its young sons as martyrs for this cause,” Erdogan said. “Unfortunately, we did not receive the support and solidarity we expected from our allies and partners in our fight against all forms of terrorism.”
Last summer, a long-standing dispute between Turkey and Greece over boundaries and rights to natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean flared anew after Ankara sent research vessels into waters where Greece asserts jurisdiction.
Diplomats from the two countries have held two rounds of talks in recent months for the first time in five years, while the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey also held reciprocal visits.
“I believe that reviving the channels of dialogue between (Turkey) and our neighbor and ally, Greece, and the resolution of bilateral issues will ... serve the stability and prosperity of our region,” Erdogan said, in a video address to a think tank event on the sidelines of the summit.
Erdogan’s talks with Biden are expected to focus on US support for Syrian Kurdish fighters, as well as a dispute over Ankara’s acquisition of a Russian air defense system, which led to Turkey being removed from the F-35 fighter program and sanctions on defense industry officials.
Washington says the S-400 missiles, which Turkey purchased in 2019, pose a threat to NATO’s integrated air defense and has demanded that Ankara abandons the $2.5 billion system.
In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide.” Turkey denies that the deportations and massacres that began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians amounted to genocide.
In Brussels, Erdogan met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
After his meeting with Erdogan, Macron tweeted that he wants to “move forward” with Turkey.
It was their first meeting since a dispute between the two countries reached its peak in October, after Erdogan questioned Macron’s mental health.
Both men discussed Libya and Syria issues, the Elysee said. Macron has accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in jihadi fighters from Syria.
During the discussion with Johnson, the two leaders agreed to “work toward the resumption of travel between the UK and Turkey,” according to a Downing Street statement. Turkey has been pushing for a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions to allow British tourists to come to Turkey this summer.


Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya

Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya
Updated 14 June 2021

Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya

Macron says Turkey’s Erdogan wants foreign mercenaries out of Libya
  • Macron was speaking after his first face-to-face with Erdogan in more than a year

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday said he had received assurances from Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan that he wanted foreign mercenaries to leave Libyan territory as soon as possible.
“We agreed to work on this withdrawal (of foreign mercenaries). It doesn’t just depend on the two of us. But I can tell you President Erdogan confirmed during our meeting his wish that the foreign mercenaries, the foreign militias, operating on Libyan soil leave as soon as possible,” Macron told a news conference at the end of a summit of NATO leaders in Brussels.
Macron was speaking after his first face-to-face with Erdogan in more than a year as tensions between the two NATO allies worsened especially over the conflict in Libya.
Turkey deployed troops to Libya under an accord on military cooperation signed with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), helping it repel an assault by forces from eastern Libya. It also sent thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya.


UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine

UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine
Updated 14 June 2021

UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine

UK Muslim charity steps up humanitarian work in Palestine
  • Penny Appeal’s goal is to ‘break the cycle of poverty at every stage,’ founder tells Arab News
  • CEO: ‘Once again we have had to pivot our efforts from long term sustainable projects to short term emergency response’

LONDON: A British Muslim charity has ramped up its humanitarian work in Palestine, crediting the generosity of communities of all faiths in supporting their emergency humanitarian response to last month’s fighting in Gaza.

Penny Appeal has worked in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank for close to 10 years, and maintains a range of humanitarian projects alongside partner organizations on the ground. 

Following May’s flare-up in violence — which claimed over 250 Palestinian lives, including 66 children — Penny Appeal said: “Once again the slow and painful process of rebuilding has begun.”

By providing cash support, distributed food packs, provisions for babies and women’s hygiene products, Penny Appeal has directly assisted over 77,000 people since last month’s fighting.

Its founder Adeem Younis told Arab News that the charity’s goal is to “break the cycle of poverty at every stage.”

From early-life interventions for mothers and children all the way to the end of life, Penny Appeal runs initiatives that aim to cut poverty and improve quality of life.

However, Younis said the latest round of Israeli attacks on Gaza meant that he and his team have had to focus on providing immediate humanitarian relief and support to victims and their families.

“Sadly, there has been an increase in the number of orphans we’re having to support,” he added, lamenting the cyclical nature of conflict in Gaza.

“We want to provide sustainable solutions that we can empower the community with, but our solutions are sometimes not effective because every year, every two years, it all gets destroyed again, or there’s an emergency situation that takes you back to square one,” he said.

In a statement issued to Arab News, the charity’s CEO Harris Iqbal said: “Sadly, once again we have had to pivot our efforts from long term sustainable projects to short term emergency response. We have been focusing in particular on medical treatment and supplies, working with a network of hospitals and medical organisations, as well as distributing food packs for families displaced by the bombing.”

But while Gazans continue to confront a familiar cycle of progress followed by setback, Younis said he and his team noticed that the external reaction was markedly different this time around.

“We’ve already raised over £500,000 ($705,850) for the most recent emergency. Donations have come from not just Muslims but from all faiths, from all backgrounds. Even today we still have people calling on a daily basis,” he added.

“What we’ve seen is that the compassion and support from the wider community, not just Muslims, has been very, very different.”

He said not only do those donations assist with emergency response on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank, but they also make Palestinians — who are largely cut off from the outside world — realize that they have the support of countless people worldwide.

“The recipients tell us all the time that they’re very grateful for the support they receive. They can’t believe the support they receive. They can’t believe that people are thinking about them as well. It means a lot for them to receive the aid, to have that help,” Younis added.

“That gives them a sense that the world is listening … When they receive outside aid, they don’t just feel the aid but they feel the support — it keeps their spirits high.”


Nato summit statement: 'We call on Iran to stop all ballistic missile activities'

Nato summit statement: 'We call on Iran to stop all ballistic missile activities'
Updated 14 June 2021

Nato summit statement: 'We call on Iran to stop all ballistic missile activities'

Nato summit statement: 'We call on Iran to stop all ballistic missile activities'

BRUSSELS: NATO leaders on Monday agreed to step up their collective defence "against all threats, from all directions," according to their final statement.
NATO said it would adapt to climate-reated security challenges, called on Russia to drop its designation of two allies - the United States and the Czech Republic - as "unfriendly countries" and committed funds to the Kabul airport.
It said it would respond to Russia's growing nuclear arsenal and called on Iran to stop all ballistic missile activities.
In a first for the Western military alliance, it said China was posing "systemic challenges" for the 30-nation pact.