Pressure mounts as universities hike residence fees

Egyptian authorities have announced an increase in accommodation fees for students living in university dormitories, putting mounting pressure on students and their families living through the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

The increase was announced by the Supreme Council of Universities, a statutory agency responsible for higher education. However, it has given state-run academic institutions the option to implement the increase or not.

The decision hikes up fees for students staying in residences from EGP165 (US$9.3) to EGP350 per month.

Helwan University in south Cairo is one of several public universities that have announced that it will be enforcing the increase starting from the new academic year, which started on 16 September.

Price rises

“The increase in dorm fees is due to rises in prices of everything else and the necessity of providing resources for regular maintenance of these hostels,” Deputy President for Student Affairs Gamal Shukri said.

He added that despite the increase in fees, which covers accommodation and meals in the dormitories, the real cost of the services is EGP1,800 per student.

“Even with this rise, the student will pay around 20% of the actual cost,” Shukri told the media.

In November last year, Egypt floated its local pound and cut the state subsidy on fuel, moves that secured it a bailout loan of US$12 billion over three years from the International Monetary Fund in a move aimed at healing the country’s ailing economy.

The measures have stripped the local currency of more than half of its value and unleashed a wave of price rises in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country of about 95 million people.

Inflation surge

Egypt’s inflation surged to a record 34.2% in July, according to official figures.

Administrators of some public universities have said the economic conditions have added to their financial woes, as institutions bear most of the real cost of students’ accommodation in dorms. The state subsidises the cost of accommodation by approximately 15% of the actual cost.

“The rise in dorm fees is not that big,” said Mawad Al Khuly, president of the provincial Kafrelsheikh University, which has confirmed that it will implement the increase. Al Khuly said his institution will exempt those students who cannot afford the increase after their social backgrounds are examined.

There are no official figures on how many students are accommodated in the residences of Egypt’s 20 public universities.

‘Too much for families’

Some lecturers have criticised the decision to raise the fees.

“When a parent applies for a place for his son in a university dorm, this means he cannot afford to rent an apartment for him outside the university,” Hani Al Husseini, a professor at Cairo University’s science school, said.

“Increasing the fees to EGP350 per month is too much for families, especially those who have more than one student at the university. Before the state increases fees, it should first increase salaries,” Al Husseini told private newspaper Al Shorouk.

Abdullah Sorour, a co-founder of the independent academic union known as Egypt’s Scholars Syndicate, has also criticised the move, accusing the government of violating the constitution that enshrines free education.

“Talk about free education is a lie. Presidents of universities say they will drop fees for students who cannot afford them. But this implies cancellation of free education,” he said.

Opening the door to private and foreign universities

“The state and the higher education ministry are opening the door wide to the establishment of foreign and private universities that charge high fees and at the same time restricting the development of government-owned universities,” Sorour said.

Khaled Samir, a professor of medicine at Ain Shams University in Cairo, sees the situation differently.

“Some people want to get everything for free. Students in most countries of the world work in order to earn money to spend on their studies,” Samir said.

“Top students should be granted free accommodation in dorms. But other students have to pay the real cost of the service in order to ensure there is enough money to properly maintain these dorms and upgrade their standards.”