The Court of Administrative Justice held a hearing on Sunday to review a lawsuit filed by parents of American University in Cairo (AUC) students that challenges the university’s 2014 decision to collect 50 percent of tuition fees in US dollars.
The parents decided to resort to litigation after discussions with university administrators over the 30-percent tuition increase and new payment regulations came to a “dead end,” according to Mona al-Namoury, one of the parents who signed the suit, and whose son is an AUC sophomore studying psychology.
The parents’ lawyers contended that the tuition hike violates a previous decision issued by the Council of Private and Nonprofit Universities — a body under the Higher Education Ministry — that caps tuition increases at a maximum of five percent and is only applicable to newly enrolled students at private and nonprofit universities. The decision also prohibited universities from increasing the tuition for continuing students and from collecting fees in foreign currencies.
AUC has, however, defended its decision to increase tuition by up to 30 percent by pointing to the government’s November decision to liberalize the foreign currency exchange rate. Students have decried the hike and the administration’s insistence on collecting half the tuition in US dollars, or its equivalent in Egyptian pounds, measures that many students say they cannot afford.
As a result of mounting pressure, the university decided last semester to collect the latest tuition installment according to the previous exchange rate. It followed this decision by initiating an emergency grant scheme this semester for students unable to pay their tuition. According to an email the administration sent earlier this semester, at least half of the students enrolled at the university have benefited from the new grant system.
Lawyers representing the university’s administration said during Sunday’s hearing that a number of the students whose parents have filed the lawsuit have already benefited from the grant scheme, presenting copies of the students’ applications to the court to substantiate this. Lawyers representing the parents criticized the move, calling it a direct violation of the students privacy, as financial applications should remain confidential and not be exposed without consent.
AUC’s lawyers argued that the decision to collect part of the tuition in the equivalent of US dollars is an attempt to prevent a possible budget deficit as a result of Egypt’s economic situation, clarifying that the money is not actually paid in dollars, but at the equivalent market rate.
But a parent who addressed the court asserted that he had just paid half of his child’s tuition in US dollars, presenting the receipt to prove his contention.
Lawyers stressed that the university has never collected tuition fees in dollars, and that it only pays for foreign faculty members in dollars.
Namoury told Mada Masr that her son’s tuition jumped from LE70,000 last year to LE150,000 as a result of the sudden increases. “I had to sell all of my jewelry, and his father is now selling his car. The university administration thinks that we are the rich people, but this is not true. We are selling all that we own for our son’s education.”
In a previous interview with Al-Fanar Media, Brian MacDougall, AUC’s vice president for financial and administrative affairs, explained that the decision to collect part of the tuition in US dollars was the university’s way to hedge the risk of a volatile foreign currency exchange rate. MacDougall stated that, in 2014, a devaluation of 25 piasters cost the university millions of dollars.
“As we were building the budget for the year 2015 in consultation with the Parents Association, the Student Union and the University Senate budgetary committee, everyone agreed that we should share the risk. How best to share the risk, but to look inside the formula for the expression of tuition, and denominate the tuition half in pounds and half in dollars, which basically mirrors the realization of both currencies where you are in a situation that will be self-correction. The university will have to deal with half of the devaluation, and others will deal with the other half.”
The court is due to release a verdict on the matter on March 12.