The research examines how the economic crisis has affected universities in Lebanon, including the challenges they have faced, the impact of international factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the efforts made to overcome these challenges, and the overall effects on Lebanon’s higher education system. The economic constraints that colleges confront are investigated in the paper, including lower financing, limited resources, and declining enrollments. Additionally, it talks on the difficulties that students, teachers, and society as a whole face as a result of limited resources, unaffordable tuition costs, and reduced educational opportunities. The underlying causes of the current economic crisis are examined, as well as how banking restrictions, hyperinflation, and the devaluation of the Lebanese currency have affected university finances. In Lebanon, where colleges have experienced several challenges, including the “August 4 explosion”, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crisis, it is vital to dive deeply into these challenges and know more about students’ struggles regarding financial implications for educational institutions, and the decline in the number of international pupils registering. The study looks into various actions taken by institutions to get beyond obstacles, such as cost-cutting initiatives, partnerships and collaborations, and online learning adaptation. Students’ efforts to learn in spite of the economic crisis are revealed through interviews with university students. In summarizing the main conclusions, the study emphasizes the importance of collaboration among stakeholders in revitalizing Lebanon’s higher education system.
In this study, we aim to explore how social and economic factors influence community development and engagement in Lebanon. While we consider the entire country in our research, we have specifically chosen to focus on a particular locality. This locality, Beqaa (Rashaya district), has not been previously studied in this context, making our research unique and innovative. A notable strength of this study arises from the limited existing research on this specific topic within this specific region. By examining both Lebanon as a whole and Rashaya district in detail, we hope to gain a comprehensive understanding of community dynamics in the region.
Keywords: economic crisis, Lebanese universities, higher education, financial constraints, COVID-19 pandemic, online learning, international student enrollment
This research paper investigates the profound impact of Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis on the higher education sector. Lebanese universities, historically recognized for their academic excellence0 and multicultural environment, have faced numerous barriers due to the country’s economic turmoil. These barriers, compounded by international factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to significant challenges for universities and stakeholders. Understanding the implications of this crisis on the higher education system is of great importance to various stakeholders, including educators, policymakers, and international organizations. By examining the barriers faced, the factors contributing to their creation and continuation, the influence of global events, the efforts made to overcome these challenges, and the overall implications, this research paper aims to shed light on a critical issue that affects not only Lebanon but also other countries facing economic crises. The findings will provide valuable insights for professionals, policymakers, and researchers in addressing similar challenges and devising strategies to sustain academic excellence in the face of economic adversity.
The Precarious State of Lebanese Higher Education: Navigating Economic Barriers and Ensuring Sustainability
Lebanon’s prestigious universities, renowned for their academic brilliance and diverse student body, find themselves grappling with formidable barriers amidst the country’s enduring economic crisis. These esteemed institutions, including the likes of the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University, have long played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s higher education landscape (About LAU | LAU). However, the financial constraints inflicted by reduced funding, dwindling resources, and plummeting enrollments have cast a dark shadow over their esteemed reputation. As the economic crisis takes its toll, students, faculty members, and the broader society bear the brunt of its impact. Students, burdened by exorbitant tuition fees and scarce financial aid, are denied the transformative power of education. Faculty members, the intellectual heartbeat of these universities, are disheartened by delayed salaries, diminished research opportunities, and an exodus of talent seeking greener pastures abroad.
The higher education sector in Lebanon, consisting of the Lebanese University and 31 private universities, has been crucial in professionalizing the country’s human capital and producing knowledge for sustainable living. However, the economic and political crises since 2019 have revealed vulnerabilities that threaten the survival of these institutions (Akar, 2022). The depreciation of the Lebanese pound (LBP) has had a detrimental impact on university operations. The official exchange rate set by the Banque du Liban (BDL) was 1,508 LBP/USD, but the black-market trading significantly devalued the currency to 9,000 LBP/USD by July 2020, and further to 22,000 LBP/USD by summer 2021 (Atallah, 2023). The situation worsened, surpassing 100,000 LBP/USD in early 2023 (Jack, 2023). The economic crises in Lebanon have severely impacted the salaries of faculty and staff in the higher education sector (Jack, 2023). With salaries paid in Lebanese pounds (LBP), the value of a monthly salary of 4 million LBP, equivalent to 2,600 USD at the official exchange rate of 1,508 LBP/USD, plummeted to only 500 USD by the end of summer 2020. The value continued to decline, exacerbating the financial challenges faced by university employees. Faculty members have expressed concerns that the raises do not adequately match the hyperinflated cost of living (Kadi, 2023). Many have struggled with basic living costs and additional expenses related to online teaching and learning, such as internet fees, electricity bills, and hardware maintenance. Even for those residing on campus to reduce transportation costs, some full-time faculty members have seen their monthly salaries reduced to zero due to deductions for electricity and heating based on the inflated prices (France, 2022). Moreover, the societal ramifications are far-reaching, as the decline in educational quality undermines Lebanon’s human capital development, stifles economic growth, and fuels social unrest. Unraveling the intricacies of these barriers and the plight of the stakeholders involved holds paramount importance, spurring policymakers, educators, and international organizations to rally together and devise innovative strategies to salvage the cherished legacy of Lebanese higher education.
Strained Finances, Brain Drain, and Reduced Accessibility in Lebanese Higher Education
The creation and continuation of barriers stemming from Lebanon’s economic crisis have profoundly impacted the higher education sector. A complex interplay of factors has contributed to this crisis, including political instability, corruption, mismanagement, and external shocks like Beirut Seaport Blast in August 2020. These elements have eroded the country’s economic foundation, setting the stage for the challenges faced by universities today. The devaluation of the Lebanese currency, hyperinflation, and banking restrictions have dealt a severe blow to university finances, straining their financial stability. Budget cuts, salary delays, and difficulties in maintaining infrastructure have become the harsh reality for these institutions. Moreover, the reduction in government funding for higher education and the financial hardships faced by students in paying tuition fees have compounded the difficulties faced by universities. The unified impact of these factors has put the future of Lebanese universities at stake, threatening their ability to provide quality education and contribute to societal development. Moreover, the higher education sector in Lebanon is facing an unprecedented wave of emigration among faculty members, driven by depreciated salaries (Perry, 2020). This exodus includes leading researchers and developers who are seeking better opportunities abroad. The situation has been described as a “terminal brain drain” for the country (Vohra, 2021). In private universities, it is estimated that around half of the faculty members have either resigned or taken leaves of absence in order to secure positions in other countries. The departure of these experienced professionals has created challenges in filling the vacant positions. Many universities have implemented a freeze on new faculty hiring, leading administrators to recruit early career scholars to replace the professors who have left and maintain the continuity of their programs.
The crises have resulted in a decrease in the accessibility and availability of higher education. Although the majority of families’ household incomes have remained relatively stable, the devaluation of the currency in an import-dependent economy has severely impacted purchasing power. Essential items like fuel and stationery are now only accessible to those who possess foreign currency, leaving many faculty members and students in public Lebanese Universities unable to afford transportation costs due to soaring petrol prices (France, 2022). Additionally, even students in private universities have resorted to starting their own businesses or working long hours to cover tuition expenses and provide support to their parents (Kadi, 2023). Consequently, some students have had to relocate to campus housing due to financial constraints related to transportation expenses.
Navigating Dual Challenges: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Decreased International Student Enrollments on Lebanese Universities
The international influence on the barriers facing Lebanese universities has been palpable, with the COVID-19 pandemic acting as a catalyst for further challenges. The pandemic has triggered a series of disruptions, forcing universities to close their campuses and rapidly transition to online learning. This sudden shift has posed significant financial implications, requiring substantial investments in technology infrastructure, faculty training, and student support services. Lebanese universities have had to adapt swiftly to ensure the continuity of education amidst the uncertainties of the pandemic. Furthermore, the economic crisis and the pandemic’s impact on global mobility have caused a decline in international student enrollments. Travel restrictions, safety concerns, and financial constraints have deterred prospective international students, leading to a reduction in universities’ revenue streams. The convergence of these factors has exacerbated the financial strain on Lebanese universities, hindering their ability to maintain academic excellence and international engagement. Overcoming these challenges requires concerted efforts, innovative approaches to online education, and targeted strategies to attract and support international students in a post-pandemic era.
Resilience and Adaptation: Overcoming Barriers in Lebanese Higher Education through Innovation and Collaboration
Efforts to overcome the barriers imposed by Lebanon’s economic crisis have been underway within the higher education sector, showcasing resilience and adaptability. Universities have implemented various cost-cutting measures to navigate the financial constraints, striving to optimize resource allocation, streamline administrative processes, and implement austerity measures without compromising academic quality. Moreover, recognizing the importance of collaboration, universities have actively sought partnerships with international institutions to foster research collaborations, share resources, and attract funding for joint initiatives. These collaborations serve as a lifeline, enabling universities to tap into a global network of expertise and support. Additionally, the shift to online learning, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has spurred remarkable innovation. Faculty members have embraced digital tools, developing interactive platforms, virtual laboratories, and remote learning tools to ensure the delivery of quality education in the virtual realm. These efforts not only enable continuity in education but also pave the way for future advancements in pedagogy and technology integration.
To cope with the increase in the Liban Lira, universities utilized BDL circular 151, which allowed USD account holders to withdraw funds in LBP at a rate of 3,900 instead of the official rate. This adjustment influenced salaries and tuition fees (Kadi, 2023). Through these collective endeavors, Lebanese universities are striving to surmount the barriers posed by the economic crisis, adapting, and forging new paths towards sustainable academic excellence. Private universities responded to the crisis in two phases. First, between the spring and fall semesters of 2021, they increased salaries in LBP by 35-50% (Jack, 2023). In the subsequent semester, spring 2022, approximately 10% of the monthly salary was paid in USD cash (Atallah, 2023). Some private universities with established endowments, such as the Lebanese American University, were able to secure payments of at least 20% of salaries in USD currency by the summer of 2020. Faculty members at the American University of Beirut (AUB) reported receiving an annual rescue salary of 20,000 USD, as the institution utilized its endowment to transfer 100 million USD in spring 2021 to ensure payments in USD to faculty and staff (Atallah, 2023).
The departure of these experienced professionals has created challenges in filling the vacant positions. Many universities have implemented a freeze on new faculty hiring, leading administrators to recruit early career scholars to replace the professors who have left and maintain the continuity of their programs. Notably, one private university ( Lebanese American University LAU) stands out by providing mental health support measures for students, while other universities primarily communicate updates on matters such as tuition fees, payment methods, assessment and registration dates, as well as online learning and teaching platforms (Ramadan, 2022).
Voices from the Crisis: Navigating the Impact of Lebanon’s Economic Downturn on Students, Faculty
In interviews conducted with various stakeholders, including students and faculty members in Rashaya district, the impact of the economic crisis on Lebanese universities became evident. Students highlighted the financial hardships they faced, with many having to take on part-time or full-time jobs to afford tuition fees and cover basic living expenses (Higher education student, interview by Aya Derbieh, Hasbaya, May 26, 2023). Students have encountered difficulties in effectively navigating the multiple crises they are currently facing and psychologically deal with problems in this situation (Salim Ab, interview by Aya Derbieh, Rachaya, May 20, 2023). Based on informal conversations with students, a prevalent issue revolves around the emotional distress stemming from the uncertainty surrounding the completion of their studies and the university’s future decisions (Racha SH, interview by Aya Derbieh, Ain Jarfa, May 10, 2023). The limited resources and outdated facilities resulting from reduced funding have also affected the overall learning environment. Faculty members expressed concerns about the financial constraints, including budget cuts and delayed salaries, which have impacted their ability to engage in research projects and maintain the quality of education. However, they have adapted by seeking external funding, collaborating with international institutions, and embracing online learning. Additionally, the economic crisis has led to a decline in international student enrollments due to travel restrictions, safety concerns, and the economic downturn. Universities have responded by promoting their academic programs, ensuring safety measures are in place, and exploring scholarship opportunities and partnerships to attract and retain international students. These interviews shed light on the struggles faced by students and faculty members and the efforts made by universities to navigate the challenges posed by the economic crisis in Lebanon.
The economic crisis in Lebanon has had a profound impact on the higher education sector, presenting significant challenges to universities and stakeholders. This research paper has examined the barriers faced by Lebanese universities, including reduced funding, limited resources, and declining enrollments, and the implications of these challenges on students, faculty members, and society as a whole. The economic crisis, coupled with international factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, has further exacerbated these challenges, leading to strained finances, brain drain, reduced accessibility, and decreased international student enrollments. However, the road to revitalizing Lebanon’s higher education system requires collaboration among stakeholders. Policymakers, educators, international organizations, and the private sector must come together to support universities in their efforts to sustain academic excellence and contribute to societal development. The findings of this research paper hold implications beyond Lebanon, as other countries facing economic crises can learn from the challenges and strategies employed by Lebanese universities. By understanding the complexities of the economic crisis and its impact on higher education, stakeholders can develop innovative approaches to address similar challenges and ensure the resilience and sustainability of their own higher education systems. In conclusion, the economic crisis in Lebanon has presented formidable barriers to universities, but through resilience, adaptation, and collaboration, the higher education sector can navigate these challenges and work towards revitalizing Lebanon’s academic landscape. The lessons learned from this crisis can serve as a guide for other countries facing similar economic adversities, emphasizing the importance of investing in higher education as a catalyst for social and economic development.
AI Assistance: Portions of this paper were generated with the assistance of an AI language model
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