Trends and opportunities
The mounting economic pressure on Iran’s middle class and the high premium that status-conscious Iranians place on education have turned the college admissions process into an annual ‘nightmare’ for many Iranian families.
Around 1.8 million high school students compete each year for 84,600 places at 80 Iranian national universities. These universities are run by the government. Based on government budgets, they do not receive tuition fees from students.
Universities were closed after the Islamic revolution (under the banner of ‘cultural revolution’) and reopened in 1983 with modified syllabuses and a controlled intake, have been slow to embrace new educational ideas. Many departments, particularly sciences, have stagnated. Some intellectual flexibility returned during the 1990s, but financial problems have proved as great an impediment to raising standards as institutional or intellectual status.
Iran's Minister of Industries and Mines, Ishaq Jahnangiri, has stressed the need for education and training for the country's industrial sector employees. He said, as it stands, 86 per cent of the people employed in this sector do not even have a high school diploma. He also stressed the importance of modern management techniques, saying industrial units of today cannot be managed under traditional methods. He added that industrial managers must have the requisite university training along with their staff.
A semi-government system of universities, called Islamic Azad University (based on the concept of Open Universities) was founded in the late 1980s to help absorb the increasing number of high school graduates who could not get into the national university system. Azad University is tuition fees-based, and accepts more than 1,200,000 students annually in over 250 campuses. Admission is relatively easier compared to the national universities, because not everyone can afford the tuition fees.
One unforeseen result of the revolutionary government's drive for gender segregation has been the improvement in women's education. As men are not allowed to work in certain occupations or environments requiring direct contact with women (such as teaching or training girls), the demand for female professionals has risen markedly, boosting the number of female graduates.
In that respect, it is worth noting that the government has recently approved a bill to allow single female students, who have a first or higher degree, to go abroad. Before, single females were not allowed to go abroad through government sponsored channels, or they were not allowed to go abroad without their father’s consent, which was an issue in some religiously strict families.
Australian educational institutions are well placed to capitalise on a broad range of opportunities in Iran. Demand for entry into local Iranian universities outstrips the number of places available, a trend set to continue.
The government aims to provide more higher education opportunities for Iranians and upgrade the skill base, which is seriously required for Iran's ambitious development plans, especially in industries such as oil and gas, agriculture, ICT, automotive, mining and tourism.
Major education services export opportunities for Australia can be classified as follows:
- Provision of postgraduate studies (essentially government-sponsored), particularly in science, health and medicine, technology, communications, management and engineering, to meet the industrial development needs of Iran.
- Twinning programs and franchising of degrees.
- Joint research, project management and consultancy services including the establishment of education and training institutions.
- Development of curriculum and facilities for technical and vocational education to make training more responsive to industry needs.
- ‘Train the trainer’ programs to increase the number and quality of trainers and instructors.
- English language training programs (real issues of quality in respect of course materials, competency of teaching staff, and the lack of native English speakers are all present in the market).
While Iranians still continue to pursue overseas education options, there is also an increasing demand for education and training within Iran, due to financial limitations and in some cases visa difficulties. Australian education providers are well placed to deliver education programs and curriculum locally. Recent developments have provided valuable opportunities for Australian institutions to establish themselves in Iran: Petroleum University of Technology (PUT) and Curtin University of Technology, Kish University and Monash University, Seman University and the University of Southern Queensland, and Curtin University of Technology and training departments of some Ministries.
E-learning has started to generate interest and awareness among education professionals throughout Iran, but its operation is little understood and communications infrastructure shortcomings may also be a compromising factor. However within centres of excellence across the country, there are opportunities such as management education and applications in all areas of professional development such as IT, Business, and Tourism.
Payam-e-Noor University (established 1987) as a provider exclusively of distance education courses is a state university under the supervision of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MSRT).
Recently MSRT provided license to the higher education providers to perform distance education and ‘virtual education’ in collaboration with foreign universities, hence there is still no clear policy from MSRT to evaluate the final degrees and diplomas.
Australia is also considered to be a cheaper alternative, compared to the UK, USA and Canada. However, many American and Canadian universities provide better scholarship and financial aid packages for Iranian students, as the universities are better known among the general public. There is, as yet, little awareness about Australian universities' placing in the world and about Australian capabilities in general.