Higher Education in Iran Is Ambitious, But System Is Troubled

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani met with university chancellors and educational institutions to emphasize the fact that the quality and quantity of education should be compatible with Iranian Academia. He also expressed pride in the expansion of postgraduate programs and PhD students in the country, but said he worries about the quality of education they may be getting.

For many years, there has been an attempt to expand and publicize higher education in Iran since the early years of the Islamic Revolution in 1982. Speaker of Parliament Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani unveiled his plans for Azad (FREE) University with branches in cities and villages all over the country.

Islamic Azad University, with the third largest enrollments in the world, was set up with this goal in mind. Payame Noor University was also founded in 1988 offering distant and half time education. Early on, students were mostly government employees and professionals, but the school began taking on more students and recently began enrolling undergraduate students without taking the entrance exam.

Muhammad Jawad Adib with Iran Pulse wrote that an increase in the number of private universities and centers for higher education has made education more available for Iranian students. Rouhani says the “government managed to almost completely eradicate students’ fear of the undergraduate entrance exam”.

Easier access to undergraduate education resulted in students becoming interested in postgraduate education, such as master’s and Ph.D. programs, in hope of finding better jobs and social status. It has gone so far that Rouhani, in a rather critical tone, said: “I will be very happy to hear that we have 40,000 Ph.D. students in Iran. However, let’s look at the famous universities in the world and see how many Ph.D. students each of them have.”

However, the increase in the number of universities does not match up with the rate of knowledge in Iran. Numbers for majors like humanities, natural science, and social science are “in a sorry state in Iran” — and Rouhani feels that preventing students and faculties from sharing their opinions on the problem are political “red lines”.

Ministry of Higher Education regulations state that many Iranian professors and students are obligated to write and publish research and scientific articles. Before new regulations, passed dissertations given by master’s degree students were also graded on the students’ research and scientific articles.

Also, a notable portion of the credits that each student needs to be accepted into a Ph.D. program comes from the student’s science and research articles. Therefore, Iranian science and research journals have resorted to charging a fee for publishing articles written by students and professors.

This results in students and professors publishing articles in anticipation of receiving credit not based on the belief that society needs to read what they are publishing. This has led to institutions offering to help students and professors by writing articles and dissertations for them and arranging for the articles to be published in research and science journals.