A Comprehensive Analysis On Higher Education Problems In Iran And Its Related Solutions ## Part 1

Until the reforms introduced after The Eight Year Of The Sacred Defense and the economic prosperity that followed, higher education was small in size, very selective in its admissions and elite in its product. But the first real university was not established until 1877 in Tehran. Tehran University was given the designation Imperial University in 1886 and assigned the exclusive responsibility of enquiring into “abstruse principles of learning in accordance with the needs of the state.” The preeminence of Tehran University Law Faculty graduates among the bureaucratic elite, a phenomenon that continues today, was established when such graduates were exempted from the civil service exam under the Imperial University Order of 1886. Other Imperial Universities were soon established in Tabriz and elsewhere and in 1903 “professional schools”, another type of university, were authorized with their mission limited to providing advanced instruction in the arts and sciences. The University Order of 1918 granted university status to private and prefectural or municipal institutions. Few men and even fewer women had the opportunity to pursue advanced learning at these institutions.(2) Only the intellectually gifted were chosen and, after completing their university studies, graduates assumed important positions in society. This practice was not unlike that followed in Europe, upon which it was in fact patterned. The European and Iranian systems were designed to produce educated manpower to meet political and economic needs, not to create broad opportunities for social development.
To promote a proper public orientation toward the state, a Research Institute for National Spirit and Culture and an Educational Reform Council were created. These efforts were augmented during The War by even more vigorous attempts to promote ideological Islam.
Educational philosophy underwent fundamental transformation after the war. As part of their commitment to change Iranian society away from its imperial roots and toward democracy, the Iranian authorities addressed themselves to an overhaul of the system of education. The philosophy behind this undertaking was expressed in the Report of the First Education Mission in Iran. It contained three basic principles: equal opportunity, broad knowledge aimed at personal enlightenment, and respect for academic freedom and autonomy. In higher education, this meant curriculum revision – greater emphasis was placed on social science and humanities, for example. In an effort to make access to higher education available to a broader range of students, additional universities were created mainly by reorganizing and upgrading existing colleges. Enrollment at the university level increased slowly, however, until it began to accelerate in the 1960s stimulated by rapid economic growth.
Changing the curriculum by shifting away from the specialty emphasis that characterized university education before the War and adding emphasis upon general education together with the expansion of enrollment from 1960 onward resulted in two problems. One was an overall decline in the quality of higher education. Much of the newer curriculum was less demanding and the expansion of enrollment meant students of lesser ability were being recruited. The other was the survival of the elitist aspect of higher education through a differentiation among institutions based on prestige. The more established institutions had greater prestige, especially the old imperial universities, and they attracted the better qualified students. University status correlated with employment status; the more prestigious the university, the better the jobs its students could expect upon graduation. Thus competition for admission intensified. Attaining the opportunity to attend the institution of one’s choice is an onerous and frustrating process for the university student of today, but the experience of higher education itself is considerably less so.
Postwar reforms brought an end to rigid centralized control over higher education. Private universities were encouraged to develop their own individual characteristics free from government interference. As a result, the control of the Ministry of Education over private universities was substantially reduced. The government was encouraged to end its preferential treatment of public institutions. By the 1980s, however, the link between liberal, democratic ideals and higher education had been replaced with an emphasis upon meeting the nation’s manpower requirements. Career opportunities and a college education became more closely joined. Despite the important role of higher education in social and economic affairs, the government has never developed a comprehensive policy that has effectively dealt with the problems of education (Iran’s Private Colleges and Universities, p. 33).
For students, higher education is not a continuation of the intense learning environment that they experience through high school. The role of universities in generating and imparting knowledge is less important than their capacity to define social status. Accordingly, the prestige of a university is more important than the quality of the service provided. Among other things, this situation tends to marginalize the contribution of faculty. While it is attempting to change higher education through reform efforts, the government does not have the degree of control over universities that it has over the schools at the K-12 levels. It does have considerable financial influence, but using the power of the purse to change the character of higher education has not been effective.

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