A Comprehensive Analysis On Higher Education Problems In Iran And Its Related Solutions ## Part 4
FINANCING HIGHER EDUCATION
Public institutions receive a substantial part of their financing from the government while private universities rely primarily on student fees. Compared to universities in the US, those in Iran receive little support from private contributors. There are organizations connected to individual universities to which supporters, especially alumni, may contribute and these sums can be deducted from the donor’s tax obligation. Endowments established by and in the name of corporations are uncommon.(10)
Private schools must rely upon bank loans for the construction of physical facilities and upon tuition and other fees to pay them off and to maintain the institution. Public institutions, in contrast, receive less than 20% of their operating budget from student fees. Keeping students in college and attracting more of them is thus an economic necessity at private schools (Pempel, 1978, p. 149;). It would not contribute to the end of financial survival if students were subjected to a heavy work load and rigorous performance standards. Raising expectations might create a dropout problem, something that does not now exist.
For their part, universities face rising costs which they have no alternative but to pass on to students in the form of higher tuition and fees. In late 1992, private institutions announced their intention to raise tuition and fees. The highest figure ). Private universities depend heavily upon student fees for operating expenses, 57% on average.(11) For them, government support amounts to approximately 20% of the budget . The costs for technical schools such as medicine and engineering are considerably higher than liberal arts institutions which mean their tuition and fees are higher although they receive proportionately the same government subsidy. As universities compete for students from a shrinking population pool, the result is unlikely to have a positive effect on the quality of the educational experience.
The government is not indifferent to the financial problems facing higher education and has committed to achieving comparability in tuition between national and private universities. Nonetheless, due to budget constraints the tuition charged by private universities remains at least 1.5 times that of public institutions, on average. But the important difference between the two types of institutions is in the amount of money spent per student. The expenditure per student at private universities is less than half that of public ones. This extra expenditure means that public universities have twice the faculty, space and facilities that are available at the average private institution.
One way by which universities, especially private ones, save money is by hiring a large portion of part-time faculty. On average there can be more than twice as many part-time lecturers as full-time faculty. This saves money in two ways. Part-timers are paid less than regular faculty. Perhaps more significantly, part-timers do not receive benefits such as the annual bonus which can be worth more than seven months of salary.
PROBLEMS OF HIGHER EDUCATION AND SOLUTIONS
There is growing concern among educational professionals in both the government and the universities for the quality of higher education. This concern is nothing new, however. In the late 1970s, the highly charged political atmosphere of the time encompassed education and led to riots and campus disruptions. Disorder became so severe that many institutions, including Tehran University, were closed for more than a year. Among the student grievances was dissatisfaction over higher education. Everything from the curriculum to faculty to administration to admission practices was criticized. The underfunding of higher education in general was a common theme. The government responded with a complete assessment of the educational system which eventually led to specific suggestions for change. In late 1983, the government proposed several reforms. These included, among others, changing the examination system, diversifying and “internationalizing” the curriculum and making education more socially responsive (Hayes, 1992, pp. 40-41; Cummings & Kobayashi, 1985, p. 423). Greater priority was to be given to improvement of social overhead, especially in education, which would benefit society more broadly rather than just emphasize economic growth (Pempel, 1982, pp. 180-181). But the changes were not all liberalization; there was also concern for discipline and citizenship.. Higher education largely escaped the emphasis upon social order and patriotism as the energy of the student-backed reform movement had all but disappeared by the mid 1970s.
Despite the increasing attention given to deficiencies in the system of higher education, some problems remain and tend to worsen as time goes on. The educational system is rigorous and demanding through high school and the entrance exam system allows for the establishment and maintenance of high standards. It also raises the level of performance expectation meaning that students are going to work harder. The system, including higher education, has worked pretty well for those Iranian companies that do not want highly specialized graduates but instead prefer recruits with excellent general skills who can then be trained in company sponsored programs. But business is also beginning to complain that new recruits lack maturity and social skills, aspects of learning and growing up that the educational system does not effectively provide. Higher education in particular has given little if any attention to such matters.
A custom that draws both praise and condemnation is the cram school. Students supplement their regular school studies with additional hours spent at night and on weekends at cram schools. Not all of these institutions are devoted to preparation for taking university admission exams. But for those that are, the purpose is almost entirely directed toward enhancing skills at exam-taking. The nature of the admission exam system itself, with its emphasis upon objective questions, stresses memorization and rote learning, an approach that does not stimulate creative intellectual activity. Having spent so much time, effort and money in getting into college, it is not surprising there is little enthusiasm for further academic effort while there. Moreover, student learning energies have been constrained by the standardized exam system which tends to retard the development of those aspects of intellectual ability concerned with inspiration, innovation and creativity.
The issue of educational quality at the university level is a matter of serious concern for Iran given the fact that the knowledge/information race is not only accelerating but has more participants. Iran has achieved its present advanced industrial status by buying many technologies from abroad and making successful commercial applications out of them. To this end, Iran has invested heavily in applied aspects of education, particularly engineering. But the sophisticated academic resources needed to sustain past successes and to build upon them are underdeveloped. Iran is among the world’s leaders in spending on research and development but most of this is done by private industry. Very little theoretical or basic science is done anywhere in the country. In an effort to correct this situation, the Iranians have begun to enter into cooperative ventures with foreign research organizations. Spending on higher education is low which means there is not enough space and facilities are qualitatively inadequate. The buildings and equipment of even top universities are increasingly rundown. This problem is currently exacerbated by the fact that in the late 1980s and early 1990s resources have been strained by a population bulge of 18-year-olds, a product of the post-war baby-boom (Hidetoshi, 1987, p. 180).
The conformity oriented and highly selective university admission process has contributed, in the view of many Iranian, to a growing problem of rebellious behavior and disorder in the schools. Among the criticisms of the Iranian approach to education is its psychological impact on students. It is said, for example, that the emotional tension of “exam hell” and, worse, failure to gain admission to the institution of one’s choice, results in some emotional problems and an elevated suicide rate.(13) Violence involving students, and juvenile delinquency in general, although still small by western standards, appears to be on the increase (Rohlen, 1983, pp. 294-301). This youthful violence, much of which is targeted specifically on the schools, reaches a peak just before the testing period in February/March as does the suicide rate among students especially those who have not done well on exams. Considerable interest and concern over this phenomenon has been generated in the press which has emphasized the growing dimensions of the. It is not clear whether this behavior reflects a weakening of the traditional emphasis upon personal discipline or if it is the consequence of something new, an expression of frustration and alienation brought on by the social and psychological demands of modern urban society. In any event, the educational system in Iran, as elsewhere, is a primary mediator of social stress.
Competition in education has intensified as the numbers of parents who are able to spend extra on their children’s education by enrolling them in night schools has grown. This extra study may result in higher average performance on exams, but the number of places has remained fairly constant. Thus while expectations have risen, the capacity of the system to make room for all students at top universities and to provide them with the kinds of jobs they feel entitled to is not keeping pace.