Tuition fee hike out of touch with economic reality

Plans to raise tuition fees in Armenia up to 30% could have devastating consequences for Armenian society, as it would severely limit students’ chances of gaining access to higher education.

Tuition fees were already increased by 15% on average in May at many public and private universities. This is out of proportion with the country’s socioeconomic development given that students have to pay US$1,048 in tuition fees on average a year when nominal salaries are only about $260 a month.

Armenian graduates have already been hit hard by the economic crisis and high unemployment, with students facing a grim image of their future.

European students are very concerned about the recent developments in Armenia and have supported the fight of the Armenian National Students’ Association, or ANSA, against this policy. On 21 June, the European Students’ Union sent a letter of support for ANSA to all of the main stakeholders in the higher education field in Armenia.

The union believes that education is a prerequisite for building a knowledge-based society, where the role of higher education is vital in developing an active civil society and a stronger economy and providing equal opportunities for all.

A high level of education results in lower unemployment rates, better quality of health, lower crime rates, more societal involvement and higher tax returns.

“Raising tuition fees hinders individuals from accessing higher education, thus making education a privilege of the elite and for those that can afford to pay the fees. In the economic situation of Armenia, where the amount of fees exceeds the average salary by far, the effects of raising the fees are hazardous both for the individual and society at large,” the letter stated.

More than 10,000 national unions of students in Europe have also sent their letters of support to ANSA to show their solidarity against increased tuition fees in Armenia. In the past few weeks, the Armenian students’ association has also actively organised public hearings and meetings with more than 10 local student unions, and these meetings have attracted more than 1,000 students.

ANSA has made an official statement on this issue and distributed it to the main stakeholders in Armenia, at the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe offices in Yerevan, the European Union-Armenia office and the Ombudsman in Armenia. That statement was also sent to the rectors of Armenian universities who took the decision to raise tuition fees as well as rectors of other higher education institutions in the country.

The European Students’ Union has given its full support to ANSA’s efforts and has appealed to the authorities responsible for changing the fees to reconsider that policy because of the impact it will have.

“Young people are the future of a society, and everyone deserves the right to receive an education, regardless of their socioeconomic background and their ability to pay,” the union’s letter said.

* Rok Primozic is vice-chairperson of the European Students’ Union.