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Strong plans to face numerous challenges at USJ

An uphill struggle remains for Lebanon’s education sector

by Salim Daccache

In fact, the year 2023 for Saint Joseph University of Beirut (USJ) is a continuation of the implementation of a financial and social plan decided in 2022. It consists of a three-year partial recovery plan (up to 80 percent if it is possible) of the value of schooling of the 2018/2019 academic year, which is the bare minimum to make the university function properly.

This is considering that the average in 2018/19 was about $12-13,000 per year with some 12,000 students. Some students, in light of the crisis, have not been taking the maximum credits because of commitments like jobs, or others do not have the means to pay the full tuition. This policy was decided by the Board of Trustees together with the university’s Financial and Academic Management. 

In addition to the financial measures, the plan has the following objectives:

1. To retain teaching and administrative staff by paying a portion of salaries in US dollars. In addition, the entire community was offered benefits in the form of medical insurance and transportation bonuses, either by increasing their allowances or by offering vouchers. 

2. Retain students who are willing and able to study at USJ. This will help deter emigration and grow confidence in the higher education system, and by enrolling those who lack financial means through social or academic scholarships. More than half of the students are financially assisted by the university.

3. This plan includes an important component for the granting of scholarships. It also includes an activation of the USJ/Hôtel-Dieu de France Foundation projects in charge of fund raising and collecting cash scholarships for students of the university, as well as for patients of the Hôtel-Dieu de France hospital who are not able to honor the required payments. If 5,500 students benefited from $3.5 million “fresh” in 2021-22, this figure will be multiplied nearly three times in 2022-23:  a budget of $11 million will be devoted to financial aid.

2023 Expectations against the past two years 

It should be noted that USJ practiced a modest policy of collecting tuition fees for the year 2022. We have taken 20 percent of the tuition fees in US dollars, and the other 80 percent at a rate of 6,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, which has handicapped our real financial possibilities. We do not have an endowment like other quality universities, nor do we have the possibility of getting money from embassies. Our reserve assets in Lebanese pounds and US dollars, for assisting students, are blocked in Lebanese banks and it is unlikely that we can get anything from them. The cost of fuel oil to generate electricity for 24 hours a day to serve students and teachers has easily quadrupled over the last year, and with it the price of internet. We have timidly resumed the budgets of scientific research and the movement of our laboratories, but this is very expensive. All of this made 2022 a difficult year to balance – vital otherwise a deficit will be declared by our external auditor. 

Forecasting and aligning strategies

Looking at our future plan, there is a main priority to ensure a good presence alongside the activity of our faculty, especially young teachers, administrative staff at USJ and at the hospital, so that the level of our academic training and our diplomas handed over to the students will always have the same value and level as always. 

Wherever I go in the world, I meet USJ alumni and we are really proud of them; they are good ambassadors of USJ in their professional skills and moral values.  We want to preserve this aspect of our mission. On the other hand, in order to carry out our academic policy, we need to raise our tuition from the 2022 level (average tuition of $5,000 to a global level of $8,500 tuition to balance the 2023 budget, and allow the replacement of some computer and technological equipment for the laboratories). Continuous professional and psychological training plans are set in motion to help our teams to face realities with will and foresight. This applies equally to the Hôtel-Dieu de France hospital, knowing that their budget is completely separate. It should also be known that USJ, in addition to the Hôtel-Dieu de France, manages three hospitals: Saint Charles in Fayadieh 120 beds, with 100 beds under construction, Bishop Cortbawi with 85 beds and school and university buildings, and the Tel Chiha Hospital in Zahle. Today the challenges are numerous as we know and it will be a real test to succeed.

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Salim Daccache

The rector of Saint Joseph University of Beirut and the President of the Association of Universities in Lebanon

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