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Even with the removal of international sanctions in 2016, Iran’s economy remains unstable. High youth unemployment, even among college graduates, and the exiting of the country by many skilled citizens are just two of the enduring challenges. In the higher education arena, lack of opportunity at the postgraduate level has served as a path for large numbers of Iranian nationals to seek education out of the country (brain drain).
The combination of cultural and demographic changes along with a boom in private education looks to buck the trend in the future, however, the continued migration of the best Iranian minds out of the country is likely to continue (Education in Iran). Iran has a high literacy rate by regional standards, and in comparison to many other countries at similar levels of development, is a very educated country. The adult literacy rate was at 84.6 percent in 2013 according to UNESCO, compared to 85 percent worldwide and 78 percent in the neighboring Middle Eastern countries during that time.
In Iran, (lower) secondary education lasts until the 9th grade and is offered freely through the public-school system. Students take exit examinations at the end of the 6th and 9th grades that are designed to determine students’ readiness for and placement in one of three categories at the upper secondary level: academic, technical or vocational. The lower secondary education period is followed by 3 years of upper secondary education before a year of “pre-university” that is designed to get eligible students ready for the rigorous college entrance exam (Konkur) (Education in Iran).
In 1988, Iran ended the ban on private universities and began allowing them to apply for charters to operate within its borders. The overwhelming majority of Iran’s students are enrolled in the private sector. Of this majority, more than one third of all Iranian students attend the semi-private Islamic Azad University (IAU), Iran’s largest university and also one of the largest mega universities in the world with more than 1.7 million students.
Over the past thirty years, IAU has grown to become a higher education empire with 400 campuses throughout Iran and foreign campuses in the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Other private schools in Iran include Shahrood University of Medical Sciences and Qom University ((Education in Iran). Iran’s higher education sector has seen incredible development in recent years. The country has witnessed a rapid expansion of the private sector and is now home to 2 of the 10 largest universities in the world.
Nevertheless, almost all the growth has happened at the undergraduate level and at the graduate level, the demand heavily outweighs the supply for available seats in graduate or postgraduate studies. According to a 2017 UNESCO study, over 48,000 Iranian students were studying abroad; a 78% increase from 2008 ((Education in Iran)).
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