Costly education

Reem Leila , Saturday 18 Feb 2023

The depreciation of the pound is putting at stake the schooling of some students.

Costly education
Tuitions doubled in some private education institutions


Egyptian middle class families are facing difficulties in paying the tuition fees of children studying at some already expensive private universities and schools. The parents who are not necessarily rich strive to invest in the education of their children to guarantee them a better future.

Students in the American University in Cairo (AUC) staged a protest at the beginning of the second semester which kicked off on 1 February complaining about the rise in tuition fees due to the depreciation of the Egyptian pound. This was a common problem in other international universities and schools where tuition is equivalent to a fixed sum in dollars or other foreign currencies. While the sum did not change, what the parents are paying was hiked because of the depreciation of the pound.

The Central Bank of Egypt first floated the Egyptian pound in March of last year, and did it again in October, and a third time in January of this year. Today the dollar equals around LE30 compared to LE15 prior to the March devaluation.

AUC students were demonstrating against the increase in tuition demanding that the university administration fix the exchange rate of the dollar. “I joined the university when the US dollar was worth LE15 and now it is worth LE30. I do not know if my parents will be able to provide for me during the next five semesters as they must pay an extra LE300,000 if not more per semester,” Aya Tarek, a student, said.

Mohamed Afifi, a father of a student at Coventry University in the New Administrative Capital, faces a similar problem. Afifi paid LE130,000 for the first semester in September last year. And while the norm was that he pay a smaller instalment for the second semester, this year it came at LE170,000.

Rehab Saad, senior director of media relations and AUC spokesperson, told Al-Ahram Weekly the university did not increase its tuition fees (which are calculated in US dollars and paid by Egyptian students in Egyptian pounds according to the exchange rate) this year. Instead, the decision to float the Egyptian pound led to the increase in tuition fees paid by students for the spring semester.

According to Saad, the university decided after the floatation to create the Tuition Emergency Fund to help students who cannot pay tuition at the new exchange rate, and to grant a 10 per cent discount on university tuition fees for the spring semester for students who paid tuition before 9 February.

Saad noted that the university grants many financial aids and scholarships to students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, with an estimated budget of $39 million annually. “This budget was increased after the recent floatation decisions by 15 per cent to become $45 million,” she said. According to Saad, about 3,000 students (40 per cent of the university) do not pay full tuition fees, including 850 students who receive full scholarships. “No student will be forced to leave the university because of an inability to pay tuition,” added Saad.

In a relevant context, many middle class families who enrolled their children at private and international schools whose fees are pegged to hard currencies such as the dollar and sterling are worried about the depreciation of the Egyptian pound.

“I am an ordinary mother, not a millionaire, not even rich, but my children’s education is my highest priority,” TV announcer Dalia Darwish said. “I am a single mother of two children at an international school. I work two jobs to afford paying the tuition fees of my children’s school.” She said that if the Egyptian pound depreciates further, she would not know what to do.

According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education, 10.6 per cent of the total number of students in Egypt — which reached an estimated 23.3 million students in the 2019-20 academic year — are enrolled in private and international schools. The annual tuition in private schools ranges between less than $1,000 and up to a whopping $10,000 for American and international schools. It is estimated that there are more than 7,000 private schools in Egypt, over 100 of which are described as American or international schools.

Parents like Darwish have good reason to be worried, as all of them expect that private schools will request the Education Ministry that they be allowed to increase their tuition fees by 15 to 20 per cent next year to accommodate rising costs. Also, schools will demand an increase in bus fees starting this year.

“My wife and I were considering having another child, but after the recent price hikes, we’ll forget about it,” said Mohannad Ahmed whose child is studying at an international school.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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