Guest Post: The Revolt Against AUC’s Tuition Hike

Guest post by Mr X, a resident in Cairo 

The scenes of the blockade of the American University in Cairo by a group of students angry about proposed tuition hikes are hard to watch without cringing.

What should be a legitimate grievance aired by intelligent students is beginning to look like a mutation of the revolutionary spirit that helped bring down the regime of Hosni Mubarak into a hideous display of self-interest and disrespect for the majority of students and faculty who are now being prevented from entering campus.

The rising cost of higher education – especially at private institutions – is a problem across the world, caused by a combination of increased demand, rising inflation and university administrations hiring “star professors” to raise their rankings.

AUC’s vast, new campus in New Cairo has made it even more pressing for the administration to raise fees to pay back the debt it took out to build the satellite campus. Another reason for rising costs? The awarding of scholarships to highly qualified students without the means to pay the full price tag of four years at AUC.

In fact, AUC’s planned 7% tuition hike is in line with the global trend of private universities, especially in the US.

However, just because something is part of a global phenomenon doesn’t mean you have to like it or sit idly.

Of all the protestors’ demands, the calls for transparency and tuition caps are the most important. Students and their families have the right to know why costs are rising in more detail and they should be given forewarning about major increases on the horizon. It is also would not be fair for a student to have to leave the university mid-way through because it has suddenly become much more expensive than it was when they entered.

But the ends don’t always justify the means.

The blockade at the gates of the university is a thuggish move and counter-productive because it has created a poisonous environment on campus. (It also prevents emergency vehicles from entering the campus, which is a major security and health risk). AUC has responded by suspending classes until further notice.

There are presumably some intelligent students who have thought long and hard about their grievances, but they have been quickly overshadowed by anarchist layabouts with fancy cars.

This video shows one such misguided organiser.

The unidentified strike leader first of all shows a stark lack of understanding of how the university works, complaining that the tuition of the university is being used to “keep their deficit away”.

If the university did not have a campus, then it would not be paying back debt. But where would he go to classes if there were no classrooms? Tuition goes toward many expenses: faculty and staff, science labs and sports facilities, services and scholarships.

Indeed, more than 60 per cent of students at AUC receive some form of financial aid. Cut tuition costs unilaterally and you may well reduce the scholarship funds available to needier students.

Transcript of video: “The student movement will not stop. The gates are closed until further notice, or in other words, until our demands are met. We are not going to stop what we are doing. They are stealing our money. They are telling us that the 7% increase is only about the inflation of the country. And, in fact, it is about the deficit they are having. They want to collect our money to keep their deficit away. This is not accepted. The dictatorship is no longer available in Egypt. We are bringing the revolution inside the constitution and we are going to get this corrupt system down. Us the student movement are being beaten up, we are being suspended, just because we are calling for our rights.”

The greatest risk for the Occupy AUC movement is that they completely de-legitimize the good part of their cause: transparency and tuition relief. A good portion of students and alumni are against the blockade and professors – some sympathetic to the root cause of the strike – are becoming increasingly angry because of the impact on their livelihoods.

An AUC Alumni meeting has been arranged to discuss the crisis.

Escalation of tactics should not come lightly. When a major union deliberates over holding a strike, they hold a vote among union members. What portion of the student body really wanted to block the entrances to the campus? Is this act convincing sceptics?

The Occupy AUC movement has largely skipped consensus building, fact-finding, and dialogue with members of the board. The end result is they have possibly torpedoed their cause before it could properly get started and created ill will against them from the very population they needed to convince about their grievances.


  • Posted September 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    If the University is taking there money and Raising there already paid tuition these students have a damn well right to be pissed off. If there not getting the Education there paying for to the fullest. Again they have the right to Protest against what is being done wrong to them. If these students are being harmed physically or dismissed for protesting 100% percent wrong as a American Uni and what us Americans Call Freedom to Speech and Freedom of expression. Give them Hell Ladies and Gents stand up for your Rights. Many Students in the USA at any American University would do the same.

    • AUCian
      Posted September 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      I’m a US citizen and I did my undergraduate degree at an American university, and I can vouch that if students at a school in the States tried to pull something like this, they would have been arrested within hours for infringing on the rights of the campus community. Students have a right to protest, but not when that protest infringes on the freedom of others.

      Free speech is encouraged, expected, called for, but when it infringes on the rights of others to express themselves freely, it is no longer free speech; it becomes bullying and thuggery. This is what the student activists have done. They have put themselves above the rest of the campus community, saying that their opinion is more important than the opinions of any other group or person on campus. Free speech puts all voices on the same level and allows us to hear them all. These protestors are forcing their voices to the top of the pack and trampling on all the other voices in the campus community, by forcing the entire campus to abide by their choices, the choices of a small group (and a choice, by the by, which was not made in a democratic way – that’s about as un-American as you can get!)

      These students are protesting an increase after it was discussed, debated, and put into place, and AFTER THEY PAID IT. Every student who has paid their fees for this semester has paid that 7% increase! If they disagreed so strongly with the increase, they had no business paying it to begin with. And when they close the uni down, NO ONE get the education for which they’ve paid.

      Student activists are welcome to protest as much as they wish, but I’ll thank them to allow me to go to class, rather than penalizing me for disagreeing with them. That penalization is not free speech – it’s totalitarianism.

      • Posted September 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        I am also a American in the USA at the present time. I would have to disagree with your statement of a persons right to Freedom of Speech becoming bullying or thuggery. I did not see these student’s acting in a thuggish way. Believe me I am from Detroit I know what Thuggish is. Not happening at AUC from what I see. However I do see many students who was cheering on the protest in agreement in another video I also seen. Rather there right or wrong they have the right to protest. There have been many protest here in the USA where students have done the same thing I have seen happening here. arrested or not . It is sad to say that one persons right sometimes fringes on other rights as the we go round and round. I support them acting on there right to protest what they see is wrong. Does not make them Thugs… There not destroying anything they locked a gate.

  • AUCian
    Posted September 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m here – at AUC, in Cairo. I’ve been to campus every day that it’s been closed, except today. I’m seeing it unfold in front of me. If you aren’t here to see it, forgive me, but I think your perspective is maybe a little flawed.

    What’s happening here is that the entire campus is locked. Not just closed, not just crowds of students in front of the gates that you have to push through to get in and professors canceling classes due to the inconvenience – locked. That means that even students who don’t support the protest are being forced to stay home. It means that faculty who need access to their offices and labs in order to fulfill professional obligations, whether related to AUC or not (meet publishing deadlines, prepare for conferences, even host conferences on campus!) can’t do so. It means that researchers in the sciences are risking losing months of research because they can’t go into their labs and monitor their experiments. It means that staffers aren’t getting paid because the people who process their paychecks can’t get on campus. (Plenty of those staffers live paycheck-to-paycheck. This is not an idle concern.) And it means that the students who live on campus are trapped there, and have to climb the gates or fences to get out. Rumors are starting to go around on Facebook that they’re running low on food. God help them if they need an ambulance or fire truck on campus. And access has been cut off to the medical clinic on campus, where a large majority of the AUC community (including faculty and their families) get medical treatment if they need it and pick up their medications if they have prescriptions.

    Protesting in a manner that still allows others to go about their day-to-day lives, even if those outside the protest are somewhat inconvenienced, is reasonable. But this protest, this shut-down, is forcing the entire campus community to abide by the undemocratic and totalitarian decision of a few, and it’s putting the professional reputations of the faculty, the livehoods of the staff, the quality of life of the dorm residents, and in a few extreme circumstances the health of AUCians at risk. (It’s also in direct violation of the AUC code of conduct and Egyptian law.)

    Again, I say: this is not a demonstration of free speech. This is bullying and this is thuggery. It may not involve open violence or the wielding of weapons, but it is thuggery nevertheless.

    • Posted September 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      With what you have just stated is happening I can not disagree is wrong for the people on suffering as a innocent people effected by this protest. And you raise a very valid point that I can not debate with. Because with your last statements you are correct. I have only been back to the USA from Egypt for 5 months now. I have also seen for myself how it is. I have seen much worse there in a line of protest. My hopes are it does not go there and things can be resolved.

    • Posted September 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      Thank you ‘AUCian’ for this eloquent response. AUC is in a dire situation.

      One comment for the author of this blog post as it relates to this sentence:

      “It is also would not be fair for a student to have to leave the university mid-way through because it has suddenly become much more expensive than it was when they entered.”

      It’s not unusual for students to transfer from one university to another for financial (or other) reasons. It’s not an ideal situation and it may not be fair, but it happens.

      AUC’s a private institution. If students think they can obtain a better education at a lesser cost somewhere else, they should give it a try.

      Additionally, it seems the striking students are blocking the campus instead of holding demonstrations on campus because the student support in the first weeks of the strike was low.

      At any rate, let’s hope that there’s a resolution soon.

  • PY
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    One thing for certain, not many people really understand or know much about AUC’s financial model and its’ mission.

    As a private (business? NPO?) in an under-supplied regional market, AUC can continue to charge escalating, premium prices while delivering the level of services it sees fit, and still find students who need to enroll. Correct?

    Solutions such as: ‘if you can’t afford it, go elsewhere…’ seems reckless and extreme – for the university’s future position and towards the local community who have specific needs. It also implies a lack of adaptability as an “international” organization.

    The US and UK can increase the cost of education indefinitely and tackle accompanying consequences. The fact that AUC is located in Egypt poses an opportunity to integrate local realities (other schools leverage such uniqueness more sustainably).

    While, the university is free to follow its’ own strategy, it then also raises the question of whether Egypt can afford to host such institutions (how many and why?) given the country’s scarce resources and people’s purchase power; and whether it suits national interests and development.

    Even within its’ own community, many support the demands of the current protest. The atmosphere created as a result of being non-transparent and non-proactive is the administration’s on-going failure. Now an entire community has to endure the consequences of how ‘reckless (in)action begets reckless action’

    What is most shockingly irresponsible is how professionals and leaders blame their students for today’s stagnation!

    My first visit to AUC back in 1992 witnessed an SU strike against tuition hikes ‘with no justification’. The admin has a history of ignoring the voice of the community and this new generation of students won’t stand for it.

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