Illustration by Kinza Ghanchi. (Instagram: @kinza_ghanchi)
An overview of the impact of the LUMS Fee Hike
by Zoha Ahmed and Syed Irtiza Hussain
On May 5th, the Finance office at LUMS sent out a unanimous email to the entire student body announcing the restructuring of LUMS’ fee system. This email outlined how the incoming fee vouchers would be calculated on a per credit hour basis, replacing the current flat fee system.
With looming global uncertainties, the decision to remodel the fee structure was immediately met with mass resistance. Online groups such as the LUMS Discussion Forum (LDF) on Facebook filled with posts arguing against this conversion, with many backing up their arguments with proposed facts and figures as to how the system put students at an immense disadvantage.
#LUMSFeeHike trended for days on Twitter, accumulating thousands of tweets from professors, students and outsiders alike – all who understood the demerits of the system. Much of this social media backlash outlined personal stories and accounts from students detailing how drastically this decision would affect them.
“I’m just angry at how the new system will make a LUMS undergrad education so much more inequitable. A student’s financial background will determine whether they will be able to repeat courses or take credits beyond the minimum graduation requirement, which goes against the values of inclusivity and academic diversity that LUMS claims to stand for,” Omair Rashid ‘21 told The Post.
The Student Council was pushed to help advocate against this change and convey student sentiments to the administration. Abdullah Haroon, General Secretary of the Student Council, sent out a mass email highlighting problems with the new fee structure, provided calculations for the new and old system, and revealed the recommendations they had offered to the administration. No further correspondences regarding how these recommendations are being implemented have been shared.
Crunching the numbers: Is it actually a 41% increase?
Under the previous structure, students paid Rs 340,000/= for credit hours ranging from 12-20. Calculations below give as the exact figure under the old fee structure after adjusting with inflation of 13% as used for the new system. To understand the complexities associated with the inflation cost, The Post spoke with Dr Ali Hasanain, Head of the Economics Department at LUMS.
|12 Credit Hours Per Semester||14 Credit Hours Per Semester||16 Credit Hours Per Semester||18 Credit Hours Per Semester||20 Credit Hours Per Semester|
Total Semester Fees*
|Fees As Per New Structure (adjusted for inflation)**||289,200||337,400||385,600||433,800||482,000|
|Fees As Per Old Structure (adjusted for inflation)||384,200||384,200||384,200||384,200||384,200|
Fees for previous Academic Year
|Percentage Change from Previous Academic Year||-15%||0%||+13.4%||+27.6%||+41%|
*Fees per credit hour = Rs 21,300 has been applied while calculating fees per respective credit hours
** Fees per credit hour = Rs 24,100 has been applied while calculating fees per respective credit hours
*** Rate of inflation is taken to 13% by LUMS.
****Percentage change in fees for Academic Year 2020-21 if LUMS follows the old fee structure
Note: All figures are in Pakistani Rupees.
Students have complained that the 13 percent inflation figure is an ‘unfairly’ high estimate. Dr. Hasanain explained that although many people have posed issues with the 13 percent inflation figure, it is actually a reasonable and defensible estimate when based on the State Bank Reports from March’19 to March’20.
Many students also protested against LUMS for transferring the entire inflation cost onto the student body.
“For any organization, choosing to not pass inflation on requires making budgetary cuts. You can make those cuts by shrinking programs and the number of workers, or requiring the workforce to absorb the burden by freezing or cutting salaries. Programs and workers can be cut, but this will inevitably degrade our quality.”
Along with the rising inflation that Pakistan faces, the new per-unit (credit hour) fee structure lessens the affordability of LUMS. Undergraduate students are required to take at least 130 credit hours to graduate. This means that over a standard period of four years and eight semesters, a student has to take 130/8 = 16.25 credit hours per semester on average.
Per the new fee structure, LUMS has taken the average to be 16 and set the new per credit hour fee accordingly, considering many students do not take just 16 credit hours per semester.
On the affordability of LUMS
Spread across the student body are four broad categories: 1) US-AID scholars with complete fee waivers and stipends, 2) Within NOP scholars, those who are on either complete or partial fee waivers, with or without stipends, 3) Financial Aid students who only have fee waivers, and 4) students that are not on any form of financial aid.
While the impact on students on complete waivers and stipends won’t be significant, many students who are at least partially funding their education, now face a drastic increment in the amount that they have to pay themselves. This may lead to LUMS becoming unaffordable for many of them, especially if their families have unstable incomes further devastated by the pandemic. This also stands true for students whose families have been affected by the pandemic.
LUMS also provides need-based scholarships for continuous semesters, meaning that students do not get to divide credits over an added semester or two.
The new fee structure exposes a hierarchy among students: it hits students on various forms of financial aid the hardest and brings to light a structure that favours students coming from high and stable income backgrounds. They will not have trouble supplementing their education after this spike, nor will incoming first years from the same background.
The new policy may also result in many current and incoming students to reconsider pursuing their education at LUMS and could eventually reduce the institution to only being able to educate the elite of the country, threatening diversity on campus.
Dr. Ali Hasanain outlined how the equity issue of students paying for extra courses they were not taking has transformed now into the issue of “access to additional courses being mediated by financial ability”. In his video series on the fee hike, Dr. Ali Hasnain also suggested a solution to resolve this inequality: now that LUMS will no longer be incurring costs from enrollments in extra courses, these savings could be passed onto financial aid students.
Dr. Ali Hasanain also shed light on the significance of the NOP program to LUMS.
“[It] creates the advantage of allowing us to bring on campus the smartest group of students we can. There is significant evidence that an individual’s learning outcomes can be positively impacted by the peer group around them,” he told The Post.
While not revealing specifics, he also added that many donors to the NOP program and beyond have donated to LUMS specifically because of the program’s existence and a threat to this segment of the student body could decrease the endowment LUMS receives.
Learning with or without bounds?
One of the key issues raised by various students was that of being unable to take extra credits––that is, credits beyond the required amount per semester. The LUMS administration argued against this, stating that this restriction would be beneficial for students taking less credits and vice versa.
Vice Chancellor Arshad Ahmad elaborated on this in an email, where he said, “In the short run, a student will benefit if he/she takes less courses (12 CH) and disadvantaged if he/she takes more courses (20 CH)”.
Many students have claimed that on average, a LUMS student takes about 16 to 18 credit hours or more per semester. According to sample plans provided in the Student Handbook 19-20, however, suggestions for select majors exceed the minimum 32 credit hours required from students each year.
Table 2: Sample Junior year plan for joint Economics–Political Science major
Table 3: Sample Junior year plan for ACF major
Table 4: Sample third year plan for LLB.
Table 5: Sample Junior year plan for Chemistry major.
With the exception of the Law school’s B.A.-LLB 5 year program, which has a graduation requirement of 162 CH, 130 CH programs show marked increase in certain semesters.
As these plans demonstrate, select programs make it impossible for students to fulfil their requirements without paying extra during at least one year under the new fee structure. This takes into consideration that while the overall cost of studying in a four-year program at LUMS might be evened out, it does so at the expense of marked spikes during the program.
Does the new fee structure leave a positive impact?
According to Dr Hasanain, there is significant benefit to gain from this new system. Previously, the faster a student graduated, the less they would have to pay as a whole. This also meant that summer semesters resulted in added costs. However, under the credit hour system, given that the number of credit hours required to graduate remain 130, a student will not feel pressured to graduate early or take credit hour overloads when they cannot handle them. Additionally, summer semesters will not cost extra either and students can spread course loads better.
Notably, these benefits apply to those who stick to the 130 credit hour requirement. Dr Hasanain explains that if a student were to take extra courses, the university incurs a cost. Under the new fee structure, students taking extra courses would have to pay an additional amount for them.
Free Electives and Minors
For a long time, LUMS has stood out for its free elective system and the ability to pursue minors – the fact that students can take courses of interest, and courses outside of their major that enable them to diversify their academic experience.
Under the previous system, a management science major taking a history course or an electrical engineering major taking a decision sciences course could diversify their experience and skillset without causing a drastic increment in their semester fees.
However, for many, this new decision strips them of that opportunity. A vast majority of students do not have the luxury to pay for extra courses and will have to resort to taking the bare minimum required for their degree.
Under the new fee structure, minors that require taking credit hours exceeding the 130 credit hour requirement are now expensive add-ons to an already expensive degree.
Concessions for the COVID Class of LUMS
This decision comes at an unfortunate time. All across the world, people have been laid off from jobs, experienced wage cuts or have lost their income providers to the pandemic, and now experience difficult financial situations. Pakistan is not indifferent to these issues.
Many students have felt that this is insensitive on part of the administration. The administration has been swift to respond to these concerns where it can.
The responses from the administration so far have included the implementation of the Pass/Fail or No Credits policy, as well as the reassurance that the new fee structure will not be implemented on the senior Batch of 2021. The latter does not make similar concessions for other, currently enrolled or incoming batches.
Those planning to opt for No Credits because they found it difficult to continue online due to a multitude of reasons are now at a disadvantage. Previously, many would have felt reassured knowing they could repeat these courses easily in their years to come. However, this reassurance has now been withdrawn from those who cannot afford to pay the extra money to repeat these courses.
Zambeel: Raising Concerns for Future Enrollments
It may also be fair to comment on the enrollment system in order to fully understand the impact of this decision. With schools like MGSHSS (Mushtaq Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences), courses are more difficult to enroll in due to the sheer number of students competing for them.
Rabia Najm ‘21, a Peer Advisor, shared the concerns of her advisees where first years, who could not enroll in courses needed for their majors, were told to experiment with other courses for the time being by the Registrar Office (RO) and take the required courses in another semester.
“My question is: how is it fair that students get forced to take courses from majors that they don’t want, get stuck with less CHs than they need and then have to make up for that deficit which is no fault of their own by paying extra for something that is the university’s fault?”
Enrolment has remained an uncontended complication for years and many experience high levels of anxiety about securing their planned number of courses and/or credits prior to enrolment dates. This new system further complicates things, as those unable to enroll in their required courses will have to take extra credits the next term in order to study their degree’s courses. Those unable to successfully enroll in out-groups will encounter a similar conundrum.
While talks with the administration continue and students regularly protest this change on social media, the administration has so far issued no concrete action to revert this policy or modify it to accommodate for current global circumstances and other issues that students have voiced except to announce that this policy does not apply to the incoming batch of seniors.
It is clear that the policy has been divisive, and a lack of transparency and communication exists between the student body and administration that this fee hike has brought to light.
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