Lebanon's AUB overseas expansion plans draw fire after cuts

Students express anger at plans after recent staff cuts

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The American University of Beirut’s plans to expand with two international campuses has sparked anger among students months after it imposed widespread cuts and hiked fees as a result of Lebanon’s economic crisis.

The plans were announced by university president Fadlo Khuri in his speech at the 156th opening day ceremony on Monday.

“To further diversify, over the course of the next 12 to 24 months we hope to launch new AUB campuses, one to the west and one to the east of our eternal home in Beirut,” Mr Khuri told students.

“These campuses will allow the interchange of ideas, knowledge and purpose with our campus in Beirut and spread the unique culture of our magnificent university, enhancing both AUB’s diversity and its excellence simultaneously.”

A clarification from the university said the new campuses would be “one to the west and one to the east of Lebanon to reach students who can no longer come here”.

It stressed that the university would “remain strongly anchored in Beirut”.

But students said they were angry at the move months after financial issues caused the university to lay off staff.

“They kicked out people last year,” Bashar, an industrial engineering student, told The National. "Opening new campuses now is a very stupid move from them. They said they didn’t have enough funding.

“They let go so many employees in such a terrible way. All together they kicked out 850 employees, so we don’t support what they are doing at all. I hope they don’t get to open the campuses.”

Another student, Yara, took to Twitter to announce her frustrations after faculty from her department were among those fired last year.

“Department of psychology at AUB: 7 out of 12 faculty members have left, extreme shortage of courses, psych students rejected from grad school because of weak curriculum, threatened to close down," Yara tweeted.

“AUB: Let’s spend our money on building new campuses instead of funding our psych dept."

A philosophy student told The National: "The management is as bad as the country's politicians. They have no care for the people who make up the institution.

"We are the first to get punished and the last ones to be rewarded. I don't trust them for one second."

In May, Mr Khuri warned that the school was facing the worst crisis in its history as Lebanon’s economic crisis slashed revenues.

Last June the university, widely regarded as among the most prestigious in the region, fired about 850 members of staff as part of cost-cutting measures, while more cuts followed in May.

The university did not respond to requests for further information about the expansion.

Updated: September 08, 2021, 7:02 AM