Magazine article International Educator

Flying Brains: A Challenge Facing Iran Today

Magazine article International Educator

Flying Brains: A Challenge Facing Iran Today

Article excerpt

TODAY IRAN SUFFERS A MAJOR LOSS of intellectuals, scientists, medical doctors, and academic elites. According to the International Monetary fund (IMF), which surveyed 91 countries, Iran has the highest rate of brain drain in the world: every year, 150,000 educated Iranians leave their home country to pursue better opportunities abroad. Iranian experts put the economic loss of brain drain at some $50 billion a year or higher, making the exodus of an inventor or scientist comparable in local terms to the eradication of 10 oil wells.

The desire among Iran's elites to seek higher education degrees abroad goes back to the early nineteenth century, but the phenomenon of brain drain is a contemporary one. The main purpose of leaving the home country in those days was to attend foreign universities in Europe, especially in France, and Germany, to acquire expertise in the fields of engineering, medicine, and military sciences that would be applied at home. Even then, fascination with Western culture or intermarriage motivated some Iranian students to remain abroad, but the majority of students-especially those on government scholarships, which often stipulated that the expertise acquired abroad be applied at home-returned to Iran after their studies ended.


Numerous factors contribute to the current unprecedented outflow of human capital from Iran. According to economists, Iran needs to create more than a million jobs a year just to keep pace with its growing population. In reality, only about 300,000 new jobs are added each year, creating high unemployment rates among educated youth (one out of 10 unemployed youth hold a university degree).

Official statistics have set the rate of unemployment at 15 percent. Only 75,000 of the 270,000 university graduates who enter the labor market each year will find jobs, creating a situation in which university graduates must line up with the rest of the population in search of sources of income. The jobs that they find often have little to do with their studies and specialization. Many young educated Iranians have left or are actively seeking employment in the countries of the United Arab Emirates, India, Turkey, and Australia-or anywhere they can obtain a visa.

Universities' Intellectual Atmosphere

In addition to economic hardships, the intellectual atmosphere at universities does not encourage qualified academics to remain. Scholars and scientists feel excluded from decision making their expertise qualifies them for and believe their work is unappreciated. An Education Ministry official states that a large number of university scholars who go abroad on sabbaticals contact their home institutions requesting unpaid leave: a tacit way of acknowledging they intend to stay abroad. Officials attribute this to lack of resources, including insufficient research facilities and laboratories, a lack of new books and access to education Web sites as well as low salaries.


An often unacknowledged factor in brain drain is the rigorous examination required for a student to gain a place at a national university. This exam, known as the Concours is so competitive that students often spend a full year preparing for it. In Iran, culturally and historically, admission to universities especially prestigious ones has been viewed as a means of social mobility, enabling an individual to secure an elevated status through the acquisition of a well-respected profession such as medicine or engineering. The Concours is so rigorous and the seats available at universities so limited that normally only 10 percent of applicants gain admission. Although in recent years the establishment of a number of new higher education institutions, especially the creation of Azad University (a semi-private, open university), has been instrumental in accommodating the ever-increasing demand for higher education in Iran. Still, many students failing the Concours opt to leave the country to attend foreign colleges and universities. …

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