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AUC calms down
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 22 - 09 - 2011

A surprising nine-day strike at the American University in Cairo ended after protesters and the administration reached a compromise. Nevine El-Aref reports
Revolutionary fervor is apparently catching. Last week, more than eight months after the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, the spirit of the Egyptian revolution eventually reached the American University in Cairo.
After nine days of sentiments swinging anywhere from between hope and despair, the 3,000-strong AUC students, workers and security personnel, protesting against high tuition increases, low salaries and ill treatment respectively, ended their strike, a novelty in the elite institution whose mostly upscale students rarely question where their money -- a bundle compared to the country's other universities -- goes.
On Monday afternoon the university's administration and representatives of the demonstrators reached a compromise agreement that more or less met a large part of the demands.
According to the agreements, obtained by Al-Ahram Weekly, the administration agreed to involve students more in the budget process and to be more transparent about the university's financial status.
"Students will be able to see detailed disclosures of the university's budget and its distribution, as well as the budget allocated for all committees related to student life on campus and how the university's yearly endowment is spent," Ashraf El-Fiqi, vice president for student affairs, said. El-Fiqi said students' representatives would be assigned in every section of the administration.
The administration agreed to give security personnel a minimum salary of LE1,500 and will also review all workers' salaries in an attempt to spot any unfairness in distributing the money. Workers are to have two Saturdays and one month off while a committee will be formed to provide a mechanism to reach such a deal. Mid-November is the deadline for the committee's report.
Better transportation will be provided by the university to workers who take public buses from home to work and back. Two sets of what was described as comfortable uniforms, for winter and summer, will be provided to workers of the Desert Development Centre. Training courses will also be given to them by professional companies starting in January next year.
Economics student Mohamed Ashraf, a strike organiser, told the Weekly that 10 cases of workers who had their contracts terminated without prior notice or reason will be investigated.
Although students were satisfied that the deal met some of the workers' and security demands, they were also in agreement that the accord came up short concerning AUC's annual nine per cent tuition increase. The university did not agree to cancel the hike but suggested it put the issue on the negotiating table in an attempt to reach a compromise in the future.
Ashraf said the Student Union (SU) suggested a mechanism to ensure that tuition caps will be placed for returning students with a tuition increase being implemented only on new students.
The SU and the Conferences and Clubs Committee (CCC) proposed a plan suggesting a budget readjustment ensuring that student activities will receive 50 per cent of their own activity fees instead of the current 30 per cent.
According to Amr Nour, former service president, the current 30 per cent is allocated for student clubs, from which SU takes about 70 per cent and the CCC divides the rest among student activities. An initial percentage given from student fees will reportedly greatly help student clubs.
El-Fiqi said that while tuition caps may be realised, they needed "special calculations and a mechanism that guarantees that the fixed tuition could meet a student's educational services until graduation.
"The tuition increase percentage is not made haphazardly," El-Fiqi said, adding that it is decided through discussed mechanisms.
Abroad, El Fiqi pointed out, the increase rate is calculated according to the market's rate of inflation, but that here in Egypt "we cannot apply such a mechanism as an individual's monthly or annual income cannot meet such a rate.
"Therefore," he said, "we decided on a special increase rate every year, then take an average of the total amount of money paid including the increase for the eight semesters a student spends at the university. That is what he or she pays in the two middle years." By the end of the last year, he added, the student will find himself paying a lesser amount than what he paid during his first year at AUC.
The nine percent tuition increase is not the highest tuition increase in AUC, El-Fiqi said. In 2008, when the university moved to the New Cairo campus, tuition increased from 10 per cent to 12 per cent.
Would that mean future debates on tuition could lead to another increase, perhaps next year? "No way," El-Fiqi replied. "This year was exceptional." He asserted that the university was keen on seeing that every student has a better education and that AUC never "dispenses with its students".
El-Fiqi said that financial aid is always an option provided by the university to its students who are unable to pay full fees. Reconciliation for those who already have financial aid is also another option if they have financial problems. This year, he said, several students whose parents work in business and tourism have had their fees re-evaluated after their businesses were hit by the country's revolution.
Demonstrator Ashraf said that, "even though we did not succeeded to immediately decrease or cancel the nine per cent tuition increase, we got several educational and other monetary gains."
The administration agreed to increase the number of student representatives in decision-making bodies on campus. For example, he said, the number of student representatives in the university senate might increase to seven from two pending the approval of the Board of Trustees. El-Fiqi said that he was "pretty sure" that student representatives in the senate will rise to three next year, but that for the number to increase to seven would depend on the decision taken by the Board of Trustees according to their own rules. "So I hope so," he said.
El-Fiqi said the students' demands were divided into long- and short-term goals to be implemented starting this week.
For example, car parking fees within the AUC campus were reduced to half for the time being and negotiations are being conducted to possibly make it for free. Students can now park their cars for LE5 instead of LE10.
A compromise was also reached concerning the buses. AUC does not have a fleet of its own and the university agreed not to renew the contracts of the transportation service whose contract ends in November. The same thing will be applied to the food and beverage service that supervises the university food outlets on campus. The complaint was that the service had monopolised food prices that were exceptionally high, 40 per cent higher than the usual market cost.
Seoudi Supermarket will open soon for dorm students instead of Quick 24 which closed in August. At the same time, Ashraf asserted, the university promised to provide shuttle busses free of charge to take students from the dorm to the nearby city of Al-Rehab.
On the educational level, he said, students will for the first time be able to see their professor's evaluations submitted by students every semester. This, Ashraf said, will enable the university to drop teachers deemed unqualified. The problem of some classes being closed by professors on the first day of registration, too early according to the complaint, will be reviewed.
El-Fiqi was asked about a swirling campus rumour alleging that Anderson had created a new department for sustainable development in AUC and had made her husband as its head, going against AUC rules which prohibit first degree relatives from being appointed.
"Truly I don't know anything about such a department," El-Fiqi said, adding that "if so, it for sure has gone through legal procedures." He explained that people who are "efficient" and whose relatives are AUC staff members can be appointed at the university provided they get the approval of a higher position or the head of the section.


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