The article was originally published in Al-Hayat newspaper. It is translated from the original Arabic with some modifications and reprinted here with the newspaper’s permission.
AMMAN—“If the universities remain dependent on tuition as their main source of income, education will become exclusively for wealthy people, and will not be affordable for the general public,” said Ibrahim Obaidat, a student at the Hashemite University who was suspended for four semesters last November for organizing opposition to the university’s decision to increase tuition.
Obaidat, a fourth-year electrical engineering student, led a student movement which held a series of sit-ins and vigils to oppose the fee increase. The movement was asking for moderation of tuition, extending the period for paying these fees and ending the requirement of payment before registration.
The university said its disciplinary committee suspended Obaidat after repeated violations of university regulations.
Obaidat does not believe he deserved suspension. He has submitted two appeals to the university requesting reinstatement so that he can resume his studies, but has received no official response.
The Hashemite University—located in Al-Zarqa, about 18 miles north-east of the capital—is not alone in trying to halt the student movement by expelling its leadership and intimidating others, as part of an effort to implement new administrative and financial policies without opposition.
For example, the University of Jordan recently disciplined two of its students—Mohammed Abu Rumman and Bashir al-Khatib—who had lead a Dabke (a Levantine folk dance) celebrating the end of a student activity. The dance included slogans about al-Aqsa Mosque and condemning the repeated Israeli raids on it.
Obaidat is now a public figure in Jordan, and has become a role model for many students, while others think that the Hashemite University’s action against him gave his cause free publicity.
“In addition to my student work, I have been an activist for four years,” Obaidat says. “I was a member of the engineering club and the head of the students affairs committee of the student council. I am also a founding member of many academic and volunteer committees.”
Obaidat believes strongly that education is a right for all and that universities should meet their responsibility to society by guaranteeing a number of places for students in need; by providing scholarships and awards to outstanding students; and by keeping fees as they are, without any increase or change in payment dates. The proposed changes to tuition would multiply the economic hardship borne by citizens, he said.
“If universities continue this approach of depending on students’ fees as a main part of their income, the quality of education will decline,” Obaidat said. “In addition to that, the repression of activists—and marginalizing and weakening the role of student councils in calling for quality education—will allow administrative policies to be made without any opposition or criticism.”
Fakher Da’as, coordinator of the National Campaign for Students’ Rights—its Arabic name Thabahtoona, means you are killing us!—believes that disciplinary action by universities coincides with a government policy of raising university tuition and imposing that decision by force. Disciplinary action, by complete or partial expulsion and warnings to student activists, is used to control opposition to these policies, Da’as said.
Da’as criticized the arbitrary use of disciplinary regulations by university administrations as a way to suppress student activism. Any violation can lead to a complete or partial expulsion, a warning, or no punishment at all; it all depends on the university administration’s mood, he said. Da’as confessed that Thabahtoona’s campaign does not keep a count of the number of students who have been affected by these punishments, but emphasized that statistics of this kind underestimate the reality, as the majority of students who experience such disciplinary procedures tend to keep silent for fear of more severe punishments being taken against them.