AUC students demonstration demanding lower fees. (Photo: Gigi Ibrahim)
Students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) began a strike on Sunday, objecting to a rise in tuition fees. Workers demanding higher wages joined the students.
A group of AUC students had proposed the strike on Facebook a week ago.
AUC raises tuition fees by 9% annually and is one of the most expensive private universities in Egypt. Its 2010-2011 fees were LE52, 836 for Egyptians and $11,184 for foreigners per semester.
University bus drivers joined the strike to complain about salaries that do not exceed LE850 per month and working hours that can be up to 16 hours a day without overtime pay. Security workers joined the strike to demand higher wages, an hour break and risk compensation pay.
The Facebook page promoting the strike claims the university wastes money by unevenly distributing money, as some faculty members are paid very high salaries whilst other employees and workers are poorly paid. The page added that tuition fees constitute only 30% of AUC’s budget, so their reduction should not affect workers’ wages, which the students demand should be increased.
Moreover, students complain that despite rising fees the quality of education is not improving and the student to faculty ratio is now 11:1.
Workers also complain that many temporary workers are not having their contracts renewed. According to the AUC Caravan newspaper, a worker who has been with AUC for 13 years is being let go as of January.
University security workers, cleaning workers, staff and students, took part in a demonstration at 1 pm on Sunday. The demonstrators chanted, “Our university is a university of thieves”.
Student strikers want a cap on tuition fees for all returning students, a stop to this year's tuition fee increase, a reduction in tuition fees or adequate quality of services and education in return for increased fees, and more academic scholarships.
The group which initially called for the strike encouraged students to organise a sit-in during the first week of classes and protest in front of the administration building, as they did on Sunday, only pay the first instalment of fees, not attend classes, encourage professors to join the strike, and refuse to talk or negotiate with the administration until their demands are met.
Students have erected tents on campus in preparation for an open-ended strike and released a statement stressing they are part of the Egyptian movement and the national student movement. The Egyptian Student Union has declared solidarity with the strike.