Lebanese crisis leaves students struggling to pay fees

Lebanon's worst economic crisis ever has thrown many students' futures into doubt, after a collapse in the Lebanese pound almost tripled their tuition fees.

Undergraduates took to the streets in December, and some are threatening a tuition strike, after two top private universities, the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU), adopted a new exchange rate to the U.S. dollar.

That left students who pay in the devastated local currency struggling. Mohammad El Sahily was close to graduating in computer science when he received the blow.

"Fear, stress, despair. Personally, I don't know what I will do, I can't afford to paying for the Spring semester full-time, so I will have to either take two courses only or none at all. This is the case for many, for around 80% of the people I know."

But the universities say they had no choice.

The economic crisis and a strict coronavirus lockdown have forced them to increase the exchange rate to the bank's stipulated rate, while leaving their tuition fees in dollars unchanged.

They both also increased financial aid to students by significant amounts.

This is Lebanese American University President Michel Mawad.

"We are suffering from this situation as an institution just as much as the students or the parents are suffering, this actually has been imposed on us, this financial situation. We are trying to deal with it as best we can."

Lebanon has traditionally prided itself on its education system, which was set up in the 19th century by American and French missionaries. It produces a steady stream of graduates who land top jobs in the Middle East and beyond.

But the crisis means those without dollars can no longer afford to study, whether abroad or at home.

Video Transcript

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

- Lebanon's worst economic crisis ever has thrown many students' futures into doubt, after a collapse in the Lebanese pound, almost tripled their tuition fees. Undergraduates took to the streets in December, and some are threatening a tuition strike, after two top private universities, the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University, adopted a new exchange rate to the US dollar. That left students who pay in the devastated local currency struggling. Mohamed El Sahily was close to graduating in computer science when he received the blow.

MOHAMMED EL SAHILY: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

INTERPRETER: Fear, stress, despair. Personally, I don't know what I'll do.

MOHAMMED EL SAHILY: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

INTERPRETER: I can't afford to pay for the spring semester full term. So I'll either take two courses only or none at all.

MOHAMMED EL SAHILY: [SPEAKING ARABIC]

INTERPRETER: This is the case for many, for around 80% of the people I know.

- But the universities say they had no choice. The economic crisis and strict coronavirus lockdown have forced them to increase the exchange rate to the bank's stipulated rate, while leaving their tuition fees in dollars unchanged.

[SINGING IN ARABIC]

They both also increased financial aid to students by significant amounts. This is Lebanese American University President Michel Mawad

MICHEL MAWAD: We are suffering from this situation as an institution just as much as the students or the parents are suffering. This actually has been imposed on us, this financial situation. We are trying to deal with it as best we can.

- Lebanon has traditionally prided itself on its education system, which was set up in the 19th century by American and French missionaries. It produces a steady stream of graduates who land top jobs in the Middle East and beyond. But the crisis means those without dollars can no longer afford to study, whether abroad or at home.