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Iran - Higher Education

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceIran - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Types of—Public & Private: Until very recently, higher education in the IRI has been completely state-run and public, with only a small number of private institutions opening in the past few years. Iran has 46 universities, 60 postsecondary technical institutions, about 200 colleges/higher institutes/professional schools, and a number of teacher training colleges. While there are no exact numbers available for private institutions, there were at least four as of 1997. The most prominent of Iran's public universities include The University of Tehran, Tarbiat Modaress University, Shahid Beheshti University, Shiraz University, Tabriz University, and Isfahan University.

Admission Procedures: In order to apply for university admission a student must possess the Diplom-Motevaseteh, complete the pre-university course, and take the National Entrance Examination. The transition rate from upper secondary to postsecondary level (including private and public), was reported by IRI's Ministry of Education to be 40 percent in 1996. Those numbers are misleading however, because they combine vocational and theoretical tracks. In the traditional academic disciplines, the percentage of successful applicants to university is much lower—only 12 percent in 1991. High marks on the National Entrance Examination do not necessarily guarantee admission into a university, partially because of the limited number of spaces available to a highly educated and youthful population and partially because of preferential treatment given to soldiers and veterans. While there are no statistics available concerning the enrollment numbers for foreign students, they can be admitted providing they have a visa and hold a Secondary School Leaving Certificate with a minimum average of 62.5 percent for studies leading to a bachelor's degree.

Administration: The administration of higher education is connected by law and policy to the Iranian government by the concept of velayet-i-faqih, but the tight control over educational administration is a reflection of the power that student movements have traditionally had in Iranian politics. To a large degree, the revolution itself was a student movement, and, especially in the 1990s, unrest and protest against restrictive government policies were centered on university campuses. So the strong connection between the university system and the government has been a political necessity. Any decisions made at the institutional level must be approved by either The Ministry of Culture and Higher Education and its Supreme Council on Higher Education Planning or the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, depending on the nature of the institution. Decisions regarding the policies of higher education are made by these organizations under the approval of the Islamic Parliament, the Cabinet, and the Higher Council of Cultural Revolution. University administration is undertaken by the Board of Trustees, affirmed and appointed by the Higher Council of Cultural Revolution. By law, these trustees set university budgets, research finances, and teaching salaries, subject to the approval of the council. They are also responsible for supervision of the effective administration of educational research, cultural affairs, student, official, financial, construction, and discipline affairs, scientific services, all national and international relationships of the university or institution, and the coordinating and leading of different units and departments.

The Educational Council forms the second institutional level of university administration. This council is made up of members of the administrative body and the deans of faculties, junior colleges, and research departments, as well as faculty teachers who are members of each institution's specialty council. Some of the duties of this council include the study and approval of short-term educational and research projects and new educational courses or fields.

Tuition & Academic Year: In 1998 tuition expenses for students at the university level varied from 0 to 450,000 Iranian rials, depending on the level of aid. The academic year runs roughly from September to June.

Programs & Degrees: Much as in the West, university level studies in Iran are divided into three stages, associate's degree (Kardani) or bachelor's degree (Karshenasi), masters degree (Karshenasi-arshad), and doctorate. At the undergraduate level, however, there are differences, depending on whether or not the student desires to continue on to the graduate level. A student desiring an associate's degree must complete two years of study (67 to 72 credit units). Associate-level curricula include traditional academic disciplines such as medicine, technical engineering, and agriculture. To receive a noncontinuous bachelor's degree a student must then complete another two years of study (65 to 70 credit units). And if he or she wishes to continue to the graduate level, that student must complete at least 140 credit units and pass another competitive entrance examination. A master's degree in arts and science requires two more years of study and another 28 to 32 credits (depending on the program), including the submission of a thesis and a passing grade on a comprehensive examination. A master's degree in architecture is more rigorous, requiring six-and-a-half years of study (a total of 172 to 182 units).

At the doctoral level, specialized degrees (or professional doctorates) are offered in the areas of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine. These programs require six years of full-time study (210-290 semester credits). For the medical degree, a student must complete seven semesters of study (121 units), a nine-month externship (95 units), an 18-month internship (68 units), and a doctoral thesis (6 units) for a total of 290 units. After completing this program, a student may then enroll in a residency program in different fields (three to five years beyond the doctorate). In order to pursue a doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., prospective applicants must hold a master's degree or a professional doctorate degree and pass an entrance test set by the individual university, as well as an interview with that university. They must also submit at least two recommendations from former professors. There is no age limitation, except in cases of scholarship (33 years). The Ph.D. must be completed in four-and-a-half years and requires 42 to 50 units. After completing 30 semester units, students must pass a comprehensive examination before continuing to the second phase of the program, in which they must successfully complete a dissertation and defend it in front of a dissertation committee.

Outside of the university system, there are abundant opportunities for postsecondary education, especially in vocational and technical fields. In fact technical and vocational institutions greatly outnumber universities. Technical institutions offer programs leading to the Fogh Diplom, or First-Class Technicians Certificate. Such programs are open to graduates of four-year technical and general secondary schools.

Study Abroad: Since 1979 the pursuit of education in foreign countries was nearly eliminated by the Islamic regime as an effect of Islamization and Westoxification policies. The year before the revolution, there were 13,107 students sent abroad for study. Between the years of 1983 and 1988, that number was only 1,395. In the 1990s restrictions were eased and the number rose to around 3,000. The United States has the highest concetration of Iranian students studying abroad. Other countries of educational preference include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. Due to fears of western influence, the government made it very difficult for many students studying abroad to return to Iran upon graduation from foreign universities. This too began to change in the 1990s, and the easing of that policy is another reflection of the more pragmatic goals of the IRI in handling crippling economic problems, such as manpower shortage and "brain-drain"—the emigration of intellectuals and highly skilled technicians from Iran that has occurred since the revolution.

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