Clashes as Beirut police push back student protests over exchange-rate increase

American University of Beirut changes the exchange rate for tuition fees, effectively more than doubling costs

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Students scuffled with riot police on Tuesday as hundreds gathered in front of the American University of Beirut to protest against a rise in tuition fees against the backdrop of a depreciating national currency.

Police dispersed protesters as they tried to storm the university’s campus in the second large demonstration of its kind this month.

Students organised a Day of Anger on December 20 after AUB, one of the country’s most prestigious universities, changed the exchange rate for tuition fees from the official rate of 1,500 lira to 3,900 lira a dollar – effectively multiplying future fees by 2.6.

While the government officially maintains the 1,500 exchange rate, banks limited withdrawals of dollars and new US currency is trading at much higher rates on the black market.

The lira has lost 80 per cent of its value since the country's worst economic and financial crisis unravelled late last year with the World Bank warning that more than half the country's population would plunge into poverty by 2021.

The university’s president, Fadlo Khuri, said the increase was necessary for the “financial survival of AUB” but student representatives said that it will deny many the right to education.

The university faces bankruptcy, the president said. In July, AUB fired 850 staff and Mr Khuri said entire departments could be mothballed with at least 25 per cent of the 6,000 staff unless the institution is able to plug the financial gap.

The university’s revenue for 2020-2021 will be 60 per cent below its target of $249 million.

Also in June, the US announced a $20 million package to support 1,800 students at AUB and the Lebanese American University.