#BZUprotest – West Bank universities struggle to stem strikes

Action Alert ▶ Bethlehem University students go on hunger strike  #BZUprotest

Maan News Agency | Jan 21, 2012

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — Protests in two West Bank universities have shut down classes in recent days, as students call for easing of tuition fees amid financial crisis in Palestine.

As a new semester starts, Bethlehem University and Birzeit University in Ramallah have closed after their student councils launched hunger strikes and sit-ins on campus.

Birzeit’s administration is close to resolving the crisis, vice-president for community affairs Muneer Qazzaz said on Saturday.

Since Wednesday evening, 15 students have occupied the presidential building at the university, joined by 30 supporters in the outside courtyard. Many students went on hunger strike, and four were hospitalized, student council president Majdi Hafi said.

The protestors are demanding the university let students pay on basis of their financial ability, and amend academic rules the students say are unfair, including barriers to transferring majors, he told Ma’an.

Qazzaz said the university has agreed to allow tuition payments in installments, and to provide scholarships to needy students.

The Birzeit administration is aware of the economic problems Palestinian people face, and no student will be deprived of his right to education because they can’t afford to pay tuition, he vowed.

However he said any change to academic procedures would have to go through the university’s academic council, and would not accept any demands which could harm the university’s academic ranking.

No demands could be discussed before the students evacuate campus, he said, adding that university staff had provided the protestors with food and blankets, as well as medical attention.

The student council president said the protest was peaceful, and no student should be punished for involvement. A crisis only emerged when security guards locked protestors inside the presidential building on Wednesday night, attracting wide condemnation from the students, he said.

Meanwhile in Bethlehem University, ten students are on hunger strike to protest rising tuition fees and fines for late payment.

The administration suspended classes on Tuesday, saying it could not ensure students’ safety on campus because of the protests, which have included all-night sit-ins.

The student senate, which is leading the protest, said it had tried to end the crisis by offering the university 40,000 Jordanian dinars ($56,400) from the Fatah movement to exempt students from tuition fee increases. It said the university had not responded to the initiative.

In mid-December, university staff in the West Bank held a strike to protest the government’s failure to abolish taxes on their end-of-service pay.

Their union also demanded the payment of university budgets approved by the government, noting that delays in the payment caused late salaries.

Source and more at the Maan News Agency

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