Iran's brain drain
Iran tops the world countries in the brain drain phenomenon. The CIA estimates that 89.4% of Iran's population aged 15 and over can read and write. A significant majority of this population is at or approaching collegiate levels. Of this population, nearly 150,000 are estimated to exit Iran every year.
Brain drain in Iran however is nothing new. Soon after the Islamic revolution of Iran, Iran's Higher Education system was shut down for over a year, and was completely overhauled. On Oct 31 of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran, commented on the reported trend of brain drain in Iran as follows:
''"They say there is a brain drain. Let these decayed brains flee. Do not mourn them, let them pursue their own definitions of being. Is every brain with - what you call - science in it honorable? Shall we sit and mourn the brains that escaped? Shall we worry about these brains fleeing to the US and the UK? Let these brains flee and be replaced by more appropriate brains. Now that they (the Islamic Republic) are filtering, you are sitting worried why they are executing [people]? Why are you discussing these rotten brains of [these] lost people? Why are you questioning Islam? Are they fleeing? To hell with them. Let them flee. They were not scientific brains. All the better. Don't be concerned. They should escape. [Iran] is not a place for them to live any more. These fleeing brains are of no use to us. Let them flee. If you know that this is no place for you, you should flee too."''
The trend continued during the Iran-Iraq war, and after a post-war relative calm, picked up once again during the unprecedented incursion of the clerical establishment in Iranian universities, the last firm bastion of Iran's reformists. In November 2005 a cleric became chancellor of the University of Tehran, replacing Dr. Faraji-dana. Hojjatol Eslam Abbasali Amid Zanjani ( ) holds no academic degree, and is known for his strong ties to Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the first time ever that Iran's clerical establishment replaces the traditional academia to head a major academic institution. He has however written several books and has served on the faculty of the College of Law as an expert on Islamic Jurisprudence.
Such trends are thought to be accelerating what many see as Iran's largest exodus of talented faculty, students, and researches to western Europe, Canada, and the United States. The lengthy list of Iranian chairs and directors of academia in these countries is arguably a sound index of this reality. Iran's Brain Drain has become a focus of the media both domestically and internationally. Some blame an impoverished job market (which in turn is blamed by many on western imposed Economic sanctions), while others blame a notorious tightening social system. As a symptom of this, in 2006, Iran's president promised to eradicate all universities from what he called "the liberal and secular influence".See:
BBC: "Mass purges at Iran universities." by Frances Harrison. Link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6196069.stm
The Guardian: "Iranian president calls for purge of liberal lecturers". Robert Tait. September 6, 2006. Link: http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/worldwide/story/0,,1865731,00.html
A report by The Washington Prism in Jan 2006 claims that the International Monetary Fund considers Iran ranked highest in Brain Drain among developing countries, with an estimated 150,000 people exiting Iran per year. IRNA reports the figure to be 200,000.
And yet in spite of this situation and Iran's technological and industrial isolation due to political conditions in the past 25 years, Iran continues to maintain high levels of education and research in its major universities. Iranian students continue to win technical tournaments in Robotics, Computer Science, and other fields of engineering and science every year (example), and Iranians continue to increase the number of their publications in technical journals despite their highly limited facilities and resources.
To gain admission into universities, Iranian applicants must take a national entrance exam given once a year. Roughly two million applicants take part each year, but only the top 100,000 (or the top 5%) are admitted. To gain entry into the top caliber of schools, a score rank of under 5,000 is usually required. To gain entry into a medical school in Tehran, a score rank of under 100 is desired.
The high level of competition creates a tense atmosphere for many prospective students. Many of the better students however eventually end up migrating to western Europe and North America due to Iran's inability to absorb this highly talented potential workforce into its current job market after graduation. The majority of the Iran's best faculty and skilled specialists also live outside Iran for the same reasons. Other sources also verify that Iran has been topping for some time now. According to the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, there are approximately 50,000 Iranian students currently studying abroad.
In recent years several measures have been taken to slow down the brain drain phenomenon by providing work and research facilities for academics and highly skilled workers. To support and preserve them inside Iran, several organizations have been founded. In on Oct. 7th, 2003, the Supreme Leader of Iran ordered the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution to prepare the grounds for backing production of scientific software, and also to institutionalize scientific space of the country.
Thereby, by proposition of the Council of Scientific Researches of Iran, the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution ratified the charter for Iran National Science Foundation, on 18 Feb 2003. This foundation was established with the purpose of supplying researchers' welfare, organizing generation of science and technology, preparing executive grounds in the country for directing research and technological proceeds towards people, and permanent development of the country.
Another institution founded later to deal with the welfare of Iranian geniuses is Iran National Geniuses.
Economic-related factors are normally the main driving force for migration of individuals from developing countries to the developed nations. In the case of Iran, political factors are found to be the main push force. Economic, social, and professional factors are the secondary contributing forces. 6 The following is a brief look at the political events that have contributed to the massive brain drain from Iran.
In March 1975, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi dissolved all existing political parties in Iran and established a single party called the Iranian People's Resurgence Party (Hezb-e Rastakhiz-e Mellat-e Iran). He asked all Iranians, including government and university employees, to become members of this party.7 Only the armed forces personnel were excluded from
membership.' The Shah, in a speech, said those who did not want to join the party because of rejection of its principles should leave the country.9 As a result, a number of political activists and academics who could not tolerate the Shah's repression gradually started to leave the country. The Iranian Revolution brought down the Shah's regime in February 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had been exiled by the Shah, for his oppositions to the Shah's reform programs since 1964,10 returned from exile on February 1, 1979. He headed a newly established provisional government on February 11, 1979.11 Immediately after, most of the top officials in the Shah's government were arrested and tried by the Revolutionary Court and were executed. A number of educated elite who had self-exiled themselves returned home to participate in the transfer of power. In a matter of a few months, Muslim fundamentalists led by Khomeini were able to turn the revolution in their favor and established the Islamic Republic.
Shortly after, the Islamic government began to purge the previous regime's professionals and experienced administrators. In a systematic government cleansing campaign called Paksazi (cleansing), those who had important posts in the Shah's regime were removed from their positions and were replaced by those who were committed to the Islamist ideologies. The key government and the universities' administrative positions were given to those who were dedicated to Islamic thought. Although most of them were not qualified for the positions, it was their ideology rather than their technical competence that met the requirements of the Islamic Republic. Some of those who were dismissed through the Paksazi were permitted to leave the country; others who remained were unemployed.
Islamic fundamentalism gained popularity among the general public but it did not receive much support from the intellectual circles that were centered in the universities. Only a small fraction of the faculty was in favor of the Islamic system. From the beginning, Ayatollah Khomeini was hostile to the Western-educated professors who were advocates of the modem-style higher education system in Iran. He called them Westoxicated (gharbzadeh). 12 He believed Western-style higher education was not compatible with Islam. In April 1980, Khomeini voiced, "our university students are Westoxicated ... Many of our professors are at the service of the West. They brainwash our youth." 13 The universities were considered "nests of intellectual corruption" that must be rejuvenated by the Islamic principles.
To de-Westernize the higher education system and make it compatible with Islamic fundamentals, in April 1980, Khomeini ordered the closure of all universities and launched the so-called "Cultural Revolution" (Enghelab-e Farhangi), imitated from Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution (1966-76). He ordered forming of the Council for Cultural Revolution, whose mission was developing new curricula and course materials for the Islamic university system. The main task of the Council was to choose paradigms and methodologies in social sciences, humanities, law, philosophy and related fields which were in agreement with Islamic principles and beliefs. The Islamic principles were to be defined by the Center for Cooperation of Seminaries and Universities headed by Muhammad Tagi Mesbah-Yazdi, an instructor in a Qum seminary." That laid out the plan for mingling Islamic beliefs with academic disciplines in Iran's higher education.
To implement the Islamization plan and prevent dissent from professors and students, the universities were officially closed for about three years. During this period the Islamization plan of the university curricula was achieved. The secular students and professors who opposed Islamization were entirely purged. Consequently, a good portion of Iran's highly qualified professors left the country. Islamic ideology became the government-dictated philosophy in the institutions of higher learning in Iran. As a physical landmark of an Islamic university, the site of the soccer field at the University of Tehran was converted to a permanent site for Friday's weekly prayers. To date, this site has been the forum for the Islamic Republic's top clerics to make speeches and announce their political views.
At the same time, the newly established Islamic regime began a large-scale crackdown against its political opponents. The main opponents were two guerrilla organizations: the Marxist oriented Feda 'ian-e Khalg and the Islamic rooted Mojahedine Khalg, which had both greatly contributed to the overthrow of the Shah's regime. The active members of these organizations fled the country to save their lives. Those who remained went into hiding, but were later arrested, imprisoned, and executed.
The continued political oppression and the interference of the Islamic Republic in people's private affairs subsequently pushed a greater number of Iranians to migrate. The exact number of Iranians who left the country is not known, but some media have stated it to be about 3 million." They were mostly educated elite, political activists, intellectuals, emancipated women, people associated with the previous regime, and members of religious minorities, especially Baha,is and Jews. Some young Iranians also fled the country because of the fear of being drafted to the military for the War with Iraq. Some Iranians who did not have necessary skills to find jobs and/ or could not live abroad started to return home after a temporary stay outside the country. The number of Iranian refugees nevertheless remained high. In the 19811996 period, Iran was ranked fifth among countries with the highest number of refugees admitted to the US, respectively after Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, Laos, and Cambodia. 16 Iranians also have constituted one of the highest levels of asylum seekers in Europe. The present population of Iranians abroad is now estimated to be in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 million, who are mostly settled in North America and Europe. Many are highly educated, and have advanced degrees from American and Western European universities. Included are many
of Iran's best-educated elite, professionals, technocrats, and wealthy entrepreneurs. Their exodus has caused a severe social loss to Iran. Their knowledge, expertise, and wealth are certainly needed to modernize Iran.
Higher Education in Iran
Economy of Iran