As reforms continue to debut in Iran — though many are skeptical about the sincerity and impact of those reforms — changes have touched the education ministry after the Iranian President's 18-member cabinet overhauled its membership due to corruption and links to street protests.
Two cabinet members who will take charge of the country's education system paving the way for reforms in the sector – notably in the universities – under the government of President Hassan Rouhani have been approved by Iran's parliament. However, the parliament rejected the new government's nominee for the sports ministry, Reza Salehi-Amiri, after his opponents accused him of corruption and encouraging anti-regime protests in 2009.
When Mr. Rouhani's 18-member cabinet was unveiled in August, candidates for the education, higher education and sports ministries failed to win parliamentary votes of confidence after claims they were either linked to the street protests of four years ago or lacked experience emerged.
Mr. Rouhani put forward a different candidate for the higher education ministry but chose another reformist, Reza Faraji-Dana, insisting that university reforms would continue.
"An official may change for some reason but the same path will be pursued," Mr Rouhani told the parliament on Sunday. "The government will not retreat from its path [of moderate policies] even one iota and feels committed to the approach people chose in the June 22 election."
As Najmeh Bozorgmehr of Financial Times reports, out of the 261 votes on Sunday, Mr. Faraji-Dana received 159 for and 70 against with 32 abstentions. Ali-Asghar Faani, the education ministry candidate, received 185 votes.
Some of the hardline policies of the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were rolled back by Jafar Tofighi, who was "caretaker" higher education minster for two months but was not to be proposed for the full-time post by the new president. His short time at the helm saw the reinstatement of at least 40 students who had been expelled for their political activity, return invitations to scholars who had been forced to retire and the removal of some university deans who had implemented strict policies such as gender segregation in certain subjects to limit the numbers of female students.
The importance of the three ministries is that they have particular contact with Iran's youth, with students, teachers and athletes considered to have the capability to mobilize public support for or against the country's politicians. For instance, fearing a repeat of the 2009 violence, this year the regime forced universities to finish the exam period before the presidential poll. This move benefited reformist and centrist candidates, however, as many students went back to their hometowns and villages, and encouraged people to vote for Mr Rouhani – one of the reasons he did surprisingly well in smaller constituencies.
"Keeping a strong hold [over the] universities is crucial for any government," said a senior adviser to Iran's president. "More than 4m students and 100,000 members of scientific boards are huge assets for any politician"
Additionally, to promote academic freedom, Mr. Rouhani condemned the punishment of students.
"There should be freedom of expression in universities," said Mr. Rouhani. "This requires a more peaceful and more democratic atmosphere [in them]"