Students Take Charge of their Future in Lebanon
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Picture Credit: TRT World
Accessibility to Education in Economically Challenging Times
Lebanese student representatives have made their message clear in response to the recent fee hikes produced in the two top Beirut Universities amidst a majority of the youth student population facing financial woes and expressed deep interest in the Government Considering their futures. The struggles of the average student being voiced in a recent statement announcing that, “this is a declaration of war on 70 percent of students who cannot afford the new fees,’’ stated Jad El Hani of the American University Beirut’s Secular Club. With students across Lebanon uniting in order to stand for their right to education which has become highly expensive in a nation acclaimed for its quality academic institutions. This situation became a result due to the country being governed for thirty years by sectarian parties since the civil wars and have been known for their immense corruption and poor leadership.
During the past year, a financial crisis became the heart of Lebanon’s story as a lack of foreign investments has sent the Lebanese Lira’s value to ruin. The Lebanese pound has lost nearly 80 percent of its original price over the previous year with the nation facing the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The series of protests directly took place as the Lebanese American University, the second university to do so, increased their annual fee to a rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the Dollar. The event seeing hundreds of students gathering in the Hamra region in a day students declared as ,’’a student day of rage.’’
Ultimately, the Lebanese security forces have reacted to the demands of the students with push and shove tactics taking centrefold to discourage the students' efforts. This followed with the forces preventing students from entering the campus with a combination of tear gas, explosive devices and steel batons in attempts to end the student led revolt. In turn this stirred tensions and students expressed their retaliation and chucked various solid objects at riot police forces with numerous students setting garbage containers alite to mirror what the forces had done to them.
Reports have recorded that a few students met with violent reaction by police forces, have experienced minor injuries and various non listed accounts and social media posts highlighting a few students arrests. Lebanon has also seen a massive spike in the average unemployment rate, and the poverty rate reaching an alarming 55%.
Lebanese government’s lack of strong leadership
The current president, Michel Aoun despite his weak policy development insists on keeping the Foreign Minister, his son-in-law, one of the main personnel who the students are protesting to rebuke University policymaking in a prominent position.
While organisations such as the World Bank have requested that Lebanon drafted a new government soon, highlighting an economic downfall likely in a nation that has more than a third of its nation in poverty.
The decisions by the American University of Beirut (AUB) as well as the Lebanese American University (LAU) added additional economic turmoil and negatively impacting foreign investments from Commercial banks restricting dollar transactions and withdrawals of the Lebanese Pound, with half of the population losing their savings. Though Lebanon has previously been a nation praised for its high educational institutions, with a majority of its curriculum being based around American and French systems established by missionaries during the 19th century which became a gateway for Lebanese students to study abroad. Though, many students due to the effects of Covid 19 leading to many businesses' formal closure as well as overwhelming job losses, going abroad has become largely financially impossible and only accessible to the wealthiest Lebanese families that have earned incomes overseas.
Picture Credit: Gulf Today
Economic Crisis of Lebanon
Due to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar, a year of economic and political crises and a worsening buying power left Lebanese banks paralysed and private universities unable to survive, while the Beirut Port explosion demolished several hospitals and medical centers on 4 August. In June, the American University of Beirut (AUB) announced that it would be forced to dismiss around 25 percent of its workforce, affecting mostly those in administrative positions. Without advance warning, 800 staff from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and its associated hospital, the AUB Medical Centre, were laid off in July. In October, AUBMC decided to increase the prices of some of its medical services in line with the LBP3,900 mark, citing skyrocketing supply and equipment costs. As per university statistics ranked 220 by the 2021 QS World University Rankings, 250 out of 9,400 AUB students stopped their studies, while 600 incoming students eventually chose not to start. It is likely that the higher tuition rates will cause more students to make the painful decision to leave their studies. Over the last year, the Lebanese pound has lost up to 80 percent of its value, as the country is mired in the worst economic recession since the civil war of 1975-1990.
Picture Credit: Times of Israel
The students shouted anti-government slogans and demanded free education in a "student day of rage" Students later vandalized banks and set dumpsters on fire before security forces were forced back. Security forces launched tear gas outside the entrance of the American University of Beirut (AUB) in the city's Hamra district to disperse demonstrators who were attempting to enter the main gate. By throwing water bottles and other items at riot police blocking their way, students replied.
As rates nationally have risen, universities have failed to respond to the de facto devaluation. In measures that have starved millions of their deposits, commercial banks have suspended dollar transfers and reduced withdrawals of Lebanese pounds. More than half of the population of Lebanon now remains in poverty, according to the United Nations. The move of the universities to price their tuition based on an exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar was a blow to students and parents who are still suffering with the multiple crises triggered by years of political instability and weak regimes, now combined with a pandemic and a looming food shortage due to the recent food crisis.
Lebanse Youth Movement
Picture Credit: Times of Israel
Following his resignation, on 22 October 2020, PM Saad Hariri was reinstated into office to form a new Cabinet. However, because of disagreements between him and Lebanese President Michel Aoun, his nomination has been postponed. Ever since then, lawmakers have been unable to decide on a new administration. Lebanon's residents are actually leaderless, slipping alongside stea stea into a deeper economic recession. The country’s deep financial crisis is exacerbated by the COVID pandemic and aftermath of the massive Beirut port blast in August, which wrecked large parts of the city, killing 200 and injuring more than 6,000 people.
By Richardt Schoonraad and Srijita Chakrabarti