Court obliges AUC to receive tuition fees only in Egyptian pounds

The Administrative Court has ordered the American University in Cairo (AUC) to receive its tuition fees from Egyptian students only in local currency, instead of US dollars, based on protocol No. 146 of 1976, promulgated as a presidential decree, which stated that the AUC operates as a "non-profit cultural institute" within the framework of the 1962 Egyptian-American Cultural Cooperation Agreement.

The protocol gives the Ministry of Higher Education (MHE) supervisory authority over the AUC, leading the court to accuse the MHE of failure to carry out its watchdog functions over the university payment system, starting 2014.

A group of 60 students’ parents had filled a lawsuit complaining about the unprecedented increase in tuition fees after the flotation of the Egyptian pound last year; the lawsuit was filed against the prime minister, the head of the House of Representatives (parliament), the Minister of Higher Education, and the university’s president.

The parents legal complaint stated that over the 95 years since the AUC has been established, the tuition fees have always been paid in Egyptian pounds; but in 2014, the university released a new decision to change the system and to calculate 50 % of the fees in local currency and the other 50% in dollars, with an exchange rate determined according to the Central Bank of Egypt or the Commercial International Bank (CIB) prevailing rate.

The parents' complaint pointed that they were forced to accept the fees system change in 2014, in order to preserve their children's future in the outstanding education provided by the university, bearing in mind that the exchange rate at time was LE 7.5 but surprisingly the price was shifted to LE8.88 last year.

The situation took a turn for the worse after the Egyptian government's decision to float the local currency, when the fees soared to unprecedented levels, becoming a huge burden, with many families unable to pay even 50 % of the tuition fees.

The AUC official Facebook page released yesterday a statement saying: “According to news reports, the State Council [court] issued a verdict today in a lawsuit regarding tuition. The University will await communication of the court's written decision before responding to the court or commenting in public.”

"The verdict is very satisfying but we have concerns over the implementation," Amr Al-Alfy the head of the AUC's Student Union told Egypt Independent.

After the Central Bank’s decision to float the Egyptian pound in November 2016, AUC students protested for over a week against the increase in tuition fees. Several meetings were then held with AUC president, Francis Ricciardone, and the university set up an emergency fund that allowed students facing hardship to pay up to 100 percent of the dollar portion of fees at the old exchange rate of LE8.88.

Moreover the university said that it had allocated nearly LE5 million from the current budget to launch an emergency scholarship program to contribute to the cost of college fees which had surged following the flotation.

In the spring semester, which started in February 2017, AUC collected the tuition fees at the market rate for the US dollar, which reached on Monday LE17.75. However, the university announced that around 1,833 undergraduate students had received the emergency grants for the spring semester.

"The grants are useless because they will only benefit students who are cannot afford to pay the tuition fees; but this would not give any legitimacy to payment decisions by the university," the court statement said.

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