AUC force reopening after students protest rising fees

Yasmine Wali, Sunday 16 Sep 2012

University management unchain campus gates after disgruntled students escalate their protest against tuition hikes by blocking access early Sunday morning

American University in Cairo Gates
American University in Cairo )AUC) group of Students banning entrance of other students and faculty members from AUC gates on Thursday morning (Photo by: Moshira El Zawahry)

The American University in Cairo (AUC) administration reopened campus gates at 11:30am, after a group of students had forced a temporary closure in protest at rising tuition fees.

A campus newsletter, sent Sunday morning, included a statement condemning the students' actions and called for the university emergency management team to open access to campus immediately.

AUC students had escalated their protest against fee hikes, by chaining the gates and blocking campus entrances with vehicles at around 8:00am Sunday morning, preventing faculty, students and staff from entering.

"We've been protesting for two consecutive weeks and we've been protesting all last year, trying all possible peaceful means. We staged a sit-in and met with the vice president of financial affairs who didn’t provide any assistance or help," complained Hossam Mohsen, a final year student in the Petroleum Engineering Department. 

Mohsen added: "We (the students) reached an agreement last year with the administration of financial affairs that included along with other demands that the increase in tuition fees would only be applied to freshman, and this agreement was approved through a [written] contract. The university, however, ignored the agreement and breached the contract."

"This sit-in has already been going on for two weeks since the semester started. Meanwhile, Lisa Anderson, the [AUC] president, travelled two or three days ago, taking the situation lightly. This is why we took this step," stated Mohsen.

Taher El-Moetazbellah, AUC's Student Union president, also stated to Ahram Online that the recent escalation is the fault of the administration for not cooperating with students or acting on their concerns. However, he rejected the means by which the students expressed their protest, blocking campus entrances.

"You cannot gain rights by violating the rights of others," stated El-Moetazbellah, adding: "We are all against the commercialisation of education."

An AUC statement sent to students by email on Thursday denounced the student action. "The attempt to close the campus is in direct violation of university policy and will not be tolerated. Swift action will be taken against all perpetrators."

"The university's Freedom of Expression Policy protects the rights of all members of the community to express their views without infringing on the rights of others. The rights of all students, faculty and staff to enter their university and study, teach and work must be safeguarded and respected," the statement added.

Striking AUC students have been threatening since last Thursday to shut down the campus by blocking the gates if their demands — mainly the cancellation of fee increases — go unheeded.

Others students, however, expressed their disapproval of the recent escalation.

"I like the movement and I respect that it is for a great cause, but I don’t like that someone forces me not to enter the campus to attend my classes. We also cannot take anything by force. If AUC administration does not approve of the demands, these acts will not force it … [The administration] will do what it wants at the end," said Hossam Abdel-Gelil, a senior in engineering.

Mohsen, on the other hand, argued that the protests were not only about tuition fees but also about the quality of education students get in return.

"We can afford the tuition increase, but we are not receiving anything in return. We have a shortage in faculty members. We have two or three labs only. They send us to audit in the labs of the British University in Cairo. Professors in petroleum engineering don’t know how to speak English. By 2015, AUC tuition will be LE250,000, which is too much. If I travel to study abroad I will pay less. McGill, for their citizens, offers tuition at $12,000; AUC now is offering tuition at $25,000," Mohsen explained furiously.

Mohsen added: "The chair contracted three years ago the multinational Schlumberger to provide us with labs. Where did the money go? We didn’t see any labs."

Mohsen highlighted indignantly: "The AUC Board of Trustees are all either businessman, weapons dealers, taking AUC as a business, which is not what it is operating for a non-profit organisation. All lies!"

Gigi Ibrahim, AUC alumni and member of the Revolutionary Socialists, wrote on Twitter: "AUC admin is just like the Egyptian government = CORRUPTED and students are fighting for their rights of transparency & accountability."

Last year saw similar student protests at AUC against rising tuition fees. At the time, students also demanded better wages for campus workers.

AUC is not the only campus witnessing strikes. A wave of strikes has hit Egyptian higher educational institutions starting on the first days of the new academic year. State university workers started a strike Saturday demanding better working conditions.

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