Higher Education Governance in Iran

Higher Education Governance in Iran

Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays: Volume 5, Number 3

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Higher Education Governance in Developing Countries,

Challenges and Recommendations:


Iran as a case study


Zahra Rasian


 






Abstract


 

This paper discusses the challenges to higher education in Iran and summarizes a range of expert studies, including those of the writer. Common to all the studies is the goal of improving Iran’s higher education system by analyzing its internal and external challenges. This review makes several policy recommendations, including a turn from bureaucratic management to transformational leadership, more resources dedicated to workforce development and research, and outreach for help and advice from institutions and experts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Introduction

Education is central to development and a key to attaining the Millennium Development Goals. It is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth (World Bank, 2009). A recent survey by The Economist (2005) identified four reasons why higher education faces fundamental change:

     the democratization, or “massification,” of higher education means that ever increasing numbers of people in “developed” and “developing” countries are gaining higher education qualifications;

     the rise of the knowledge economy for which universities are a vital driver;

     the globalization of higher education, turning the sector into an import-export industry; and

     the competition higher education institutions face for students and funding.

These changes mean that higher education funding, recruitment, research, collaboration, and teaching must take place in an outward-looking, international setting (Lunn, 2008).

In most developing countries, higher education exhibits severe deficiencies, with system expansion an aggravating factor. Demand for increased access is likely to remain strong, with public and private sectors seeking to meet it with an array of new higher education institutions. Rapid and chaotic expansion is usually the result, with the public sector generally under-funded and the private (for-profit) sector focused on short-term, market-driven needs. An absence of institutional quality measures makes students’ choices uninformed, making it difficult to enlist consumer demand in the battle to raise standards. Developing countries are left with a formidable task of expanding their higher education systems and improving quality, all within continuing budgetary constraints (World Bank, 2000, p.36).

There is a strong correlation between economic development and the spread of higher education and the societal returns on higher education, including the spread of knowledge and culture (Fergany, 2000, p.5). But, ineffective management and policies in higher education can also hinder development. Higher education in Iran today suffers from an overall lack of quality. Much of this can be traced back to ineffective management, increased enrollments, a shortage of technology, antiquated instructional methods largely based on memorization, and misaligned incentives for teachers and students.

Today, with the increased speed of information and telecommunication technology , many changes have occurred in society. But, Iran's old higher education system doesn't have the capacity to meet current needs. It faces numerous challenges and crises, and needs reform and transformation. This study will examine Iran's higher education system, and how the lack of quality and effective management has influenced it. It will recommend how to meet current challenges and build a better educational system.

 

Higher education in developing countries

Perhaps Iranians can learn from the challenges faced by neighboring countries. Schwartzman (2001) asserts that, in spite of large differences in social structures, economic conditions, cultural and historical backgrounds, higher education systems in most countries face similar challenges, some of which conflict. They need:

     more research capacity to enhance their countries’ presence in a world where science and technology play an ever-growing role;

     to combine elite with mass higher education, in order to provide meaningful and useful information to millions who wish to learn and upgrade their credentials;

     to provide lifelong education to a large public that seeks not only formal degrees, but to keep up and readapt to a rapidly evolving labor market; and

     to maintain and grow their universities as centers for culture and scholarship, providing their societies with a space for the development and maintenance of critical knowledge, independent thinking, social identity building, and values.

Schwartzman believes higher education institutions face two main limitations:

First, resources. The same factors inducing higher education reform also limit the availability of resources for higher education institutions. The financial adjustments required by a highly competitive and unpredictable global economy, and the growing demand for social services by impoverished populations, increase the cost of basic education and public health, and limit what is left over for higher education expansion and reform.

Second, institutional arrangements and traditions. Almost everywhere, higher education institutions are organized as part of the public service, often with strong collegial decision-making mechanisms. But, the rules, regulations and operational practices of civil service and collegial management are not the most suitable for adapting rapidly to change.

Pakistan. In a survey of Pakistan, Iqbal (2004) writes of serious deficits in the quality of staff, governance, academic standards, student preparation, research facilities, libraries, and laboratories. The higher education system is simply not at par with international standards. The result is a higher education system not particularly relevance to societal needs, and a shortage of graduates in the more practical fields, such as the sciences.

India. Shrivastava (2006) lists the major challenges in Indian higher education as follows:

     over-centralization, which limits institutional autonomy and accountability and can be very slow to respond to change;

     variable quality, with poor, often inflexible responses to market needs;

     weak knowledge creation due to weak interactions with the economy, society, and other academic and research institutions;

     difficulties in recruitment and retention of qualified teachers in critical fields;

     diminishing and skewed public funding leading to system inefficiencies; and

     limited access and regional disparities.

Iraq. Robertson (2009) believes the most fundamental of the many challenges facing Iraq's higher education sector is that of re-establishing its universities as independent institutions, dedicated to education, and free of political, religious, and ethnic influence.

There has been no independent quality control agency to monitor and ensure minimum standards in teaching and research across higher education institutions. And there have been no government or private research-funding bodies to consistently encourage, nurture, and reward excellence in research.

Likewise, there has been little possibility of international collaboration for a generation of academics that has never had the opportunity to engage internationally. Nor have there been many opportunities for international publication given the country’s isolation and the higher education system’s declining academic rigor.

Azerbaijan. According to Isaxanli (2005), Khazar [University] has been implementing PhD programs for a long time now and is the only university in Azerbaijan doing this. Political stalemate keeps higher education reform in a frozen condition. Inconsistency and contradiction between a rapidly changing environment and growing demand, on the one hand, and old, obsolete laws on the other, hold back development.

Turkey. The World Bank (2007) reports that education and skill levels in Turkey lag international standards, including those of the European Union [EU]. Significant disparities also exist in educational quality and access by gender, social and economic group, and geographic location. While educational attainment and skill levels are low in Turkey, private returns to education are high. There are positive returns for secondary as well as tertiary level diplomas. In addition, the positive impact of education on earnings is even greater for females than for males.

Increasing educational attainment and performance at all levels of education are key to Turkey’s successful entry and integration into the EU. Indicators of educational quality and access are much lower in Turkey than for current EU countries, however. Low education and skill levels present a major concern and bottleneck for Turkey in job creation and competitiveness.

Developing countries face similar challenges of funding insufficiencies, low standards, political and religious influence on universities, and poor incentives. But, some challenges are unique to a country, such as joining the EU for Turkey and ongoing armed conflict in Iraq.

 

Higher education in Iran today

The tradition of university education in Iran dates from the early centuries of Islam. By the 20th century, however, the system had become antiquated and so was remodelled along French lines. The first modern university In Iran—Tehran University—was founded in 1934; the Ministry of Science was formed in 1967 (CE).

Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 (CE) closed the universities for two years. Then, in 1982 (CE) Imam Khomeyni tasked the Cultural Revolution Committee to reopen them with trustworthy and faithful Muslim professors and students. Fifty-three universities, colleges, and other higher education institutions were re-formed in four groups: engineering and technical sciences; literature and humanities; art; and business and administrative sciences (MSRT, 2009a).

Governance of higher education in Iran is dispersed among state-run, private (Azad), and distance-learning universities. At state-run universities, students must pass a centralized exam and are accepted according to their exam rank and special privileges; it is free-for-all, and very competitive. At private universities students must pass a centralized exam and also pay tuition for full- or part-time programs (MSRT, 2009b).

According to Zahedi, the Science Minister, among the total Iran population of 70 million are 3.5 million university students. Among them number about 1 million studying with distance-learning universities, 1.2 million in private (Azad) universities, 0.5 million in applied–scientific universities (under MSRT governance), and the rest in state-run universities. They are taught by about 50,000 faculty members (Bazyab.ir, 2009).

Admission requires a secondary school diploma and a passing score on the national university entrance exam (Konkoor). Diplomas awarded include:

     the Fogh-Diplom or Kardani (equivalent to a baccalaureate in technical engineering) after 2 years of study;

     the Karshenasi (a/k/a, “licence” or bachelors degree) after 4 years of study;

     the Fogh Licence (masters degree) after 2 years of study beyond the Karshenasi; and

     the PhD (doctoral degree) which requires a Fogh Licence, a passing score on an entrance examination, admission to a program, and completion of that program’s requirements (Wikipedia, 2009).

Because university admission requires a high score on the Konkoor, Iran's secondary students spend hundred of hours, sometimes several years, studying for it. A high score is necessary for admission to programs that can lead to careers in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, or engineering. Mid-level scores lead to admission to programs in, for example, the sciences, communications, economics, and political sciences. Special privileges can greatly affect test scores and admission, particularly in graduate programs. Families of students who feel pressure to succeed in their exams may pay for extra tutoring or out-of-school classes to help prepare for university entrance exams, such is the commitment of Iranian families to education as a social good.

 Tables 1 and 2 classify student enrollments by year, program, and gender between the years 1375–1376 (CE 1996–1997) and 1385–1386 (CE 2006–2007).



 

 


TABLE 1. STUDENTS OF ISLAMIC AZAD UNIVERSITY BY BROAD FIELD OF STUDY, SEX AND ACADEMIC LEVEL

 

Academic year and

broad field of study

All degrees

Associate’s

Bachelor’s

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

1996–97

613468

362872

250596

67725

37643

30082

517522

305478

212044

2001–02

806639

416571

390068

200207

107419

92788

568934

285515

283419

2002–03

864190

428755

435435

229906

123192

106714

594205

281040

313165

 

2003–04

968206

486616

481590

291953

159127

132826

634191

301793

332398

2004–05

1098491

568498

529993

378463

212555

165908

676290

329313

346977

2005–06

1197521

622706

574815

417262

234744

182518

731155

358409

372746

2006–07

1289637

696199

593438

453446

266869

186577

779308

396049

383259

Medicine

44019

5187

38832

13006

1558

11448

22640

1031

21609

Humanities

552958

234822

318136

143979

59522

84457

383972

161046

222926

Basic sciences

106141

26833

79308

18644

3800

14844

81265

20611

60654

Technical & engineering

463965

363523

100442

237306

179169

58137

219232

178080

41152

Agriculture & veterinary

83623

51258

32365

22016

16018

5998

53543

28524

25019

Arts 

38931

14576

24355

18495

6802

11693

18656

6757

11899

 

Academic year and

broad field of study

Master’s

Professional and speciality doctorate

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

    1996–76

18070

13209

4861

10151

6542

3609

    2001–02

24974

15929

9045

12524

7708

4816

    2002–03

27617

17157

10460

12462

7366

5096

    2003–04

27486

17218

10268

14576

8478

6098

    2004–05

30140

18811

11329

13598

7819

5779

    2005–06

35216

21672

13544

13888

7881

6007

    2006–07

41464

24718

16746

15419

8563

6856

Medicine

110

45

65

8263

2553

5710

Humanities

23258

13076

10182

1749

1178

571

Basic sciences

5529

2034

3495

703

388

315

Technical & engineering

7050

5939

1111

377

335

42

Agriculture & veterinary

3810

2648

1162

4254

4068

186

Arts

1707

976

731

73

41

32

 

SOURCE: Amar amuzesh aali Iran, Daneshgah Azad [Statistics of higher education, Azad University].

 

 

 

 


 TABLE 2. STUDENTS AT UNIVERSITIES AND HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTES (1) BY BROAD FIELD OF STUDY, SEX AND ACADEMIC LEVEL

 

Academic year and

broad field of study

All degrees

Associate’s

Bachelor’s

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

1991–92

344045

247076

96969

43141

36670

6471

242835

167349

75486

1996–97

579070

369907

209163

85165

58209

26956

418692

257327

161365

2001–02

759870

381505

378365

146389

90302

56087

532525

238509

294016

2002–03

809567

396719

412848

172965

111612

61353

552907

231339

321568

2003–04

923913

430493

493420

195369

124155

71214

641718

252517

389201

2004–05

1018980

469410

549570

210845

137046

73799

713461

274524

438937

2005–06

1191048

534201

656847

293422

173603

119819

793955

299345

494610

2006–07

1538874

650075

888799

283284

160800

122484

1131538

420798

710740

Medicine

97846

33001

64845

27726

7488

20238

32590

7842

24748

Humanities

788330

282829

505501

71678

39505

32173

683439

225083

458356

Basic sciences

197096

66475

130621

1372

575

797

179000

57710

121290

Technical & engineering

311678

204034

107644

129828

87888

41940

158177

98257

59920

Agriculture & veterinary

74781

33860

40921

12405

6688

5717

52547

22200

30347

Arts 

69143

29876

39267

40275

18656

21619

25785

9706

16079

 

Academic year and

 

broad field of study

Master’s

Professional doctorate

Speciality doctorate

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

Both sexes

Male

Female

    1991–92

14070

11714

2356

39519

28208

11311

4480

3135

1345

    1996–97

26832

22061

4771

39837

26533

13304

8544

5777

2767

    2001–02

35481

26440

9041

34093

17574

16519

11382

8680

2702

    2002–03

39174

28071

11103

32159

16245

15914

12362

9452

2910

    2003–04

42719

29324

13395

30749

14474

16275

13358

10023

3335

    2004–05

50226

33348

16878

30291

13881

16410

14157

10611

3546

    2005–06

57775

36606

21169

29689

12828

16861

16207

11819

4388

    2006–07

76406

43623

32783

29455

12842

16613

18191

12012

6179

Medicine

2562

1216

1346

27141

11923

15218

7827

4532

3295

Humanities

29509

15556

13953

0

0

0

3704

2685

1019

Basic sciences

14126

6470

7656

0

0

0

2598

1720

878

Technical & engineering

21115

15797

5318

0

0

0

2558

2092

466

Agriculture & veterinary

6204

3196

3008

2314

919

1395

1311

857

454

Arts

2890

1388

1502

0

0

0

193

126

67

SOURCE: Amar amuzesh aali Iran, Vezarat olum, tahgigat, fanavari [Statistics of higher education, Ministry of Science, Research and Technology].

1. Excludes Islamic Azad University.

In Table 3, summary statistics from Iran’s Institute for Research and Planning in Higher Education (IRPHE), as translated by the Author, profile Iran’s higher education system in the year 1386–1387 (CE 2007–2008). The number of students studying at universities was 20 percent larger than in the previous year.

 

Table 3. Higher education in Iran: Summary statistics, 2007–2008

 

 

Total (000s)

Percent

 

Numbers of university students

Total

3,392

 

Male

1,596

47

Female

1,796

53

University degrees awarded

Kardani (associate degree)

86

13

Karshenasi (bachelor degree)

527

80

Karshenasi Arshad (master degree)

32

5

Doctori Herfe’e (professional doctorate)

5

1

Doctori Takhasosi (speciality doctorate)

6

1

University enrollments by field of study

Medicine

219

6

Humanities

1,516

45

Basic sciences

341

10

Technical & Engineering

982

29

Agriculture and veterinary

189

6

Arts

144

4

Numbers of instructional staff

Total

144

 

Faculty

108

75

Male

89

 

Female

20

 

Other instructional staff

35

24

Male

25

 

Female

8

 

Full-time faculty members by rank

Professors

2

4

Associate Professors

4

7

Assistant Professors

20

37

Lecturer

27

51

Instructor-Lecturer

1

1

 

SOURCE: Amar amuzesh aali Iran, [Statistics of higher education in Iran], Institute for Research and Planning in Higher Education (IRPHE).


Higher education in Iran: Current challenges

Iran’s current challenges in higher education can be categorized in three groups: internal; external; or a combination of both. Internal factors are those within administrators' control; external factors are those out of administrators' control (Sayyari, 1994, p.20).

 

Internal factors

             Students. Today, our universities face rapid growth. But, to increase quantity we have sacrificed quality. Sami'e (2008) differentiates between “massification” and “vulgarization”. The former means balanced quantitative and qualitative development of a higher education system so that it provides equal opportunity for all applicants without social, economic, political, and cultural discrimination. The latter is a political appeal to massive social requests, and insists merely on quantitative expansion. The vulgarized university diminishes its role to that of a vocational institute, what researchers in Iran call a "big school".

The challenges are as follows:

     Students do not learn problem-solving and creative thinking in primary and secondary education. After all the hard work to enter university, many are still unprepared for a very different type of work.

     Senior students imply that they are unfamiliar with library use, research methods, the English language, or writing in Persian (Sayyari, 1994, pp.29-30).

     Some students travel to universities away from home, resulting in greater expenditure and homesickness.

     

 

Some students are uninterested in their major fields. Many young males are avoiding military duty and choose any major available at their entrance exam rank (e.g., urban students with no farming background majoring in agriculture [Iran Newspaper, 2009, p.7]).

Faculty. Iranian professors are not paid high salaries. They are not often hired for their talent or knowledge. Likewise, promotions are often not based on talent, either (Sayyari, 1994, p.26). Many faculty member are underqualified and out of touch, with out-of-date knowledge and skills.

Curricula. Curricula have two aspects: main credits relate to specialized fields of knowledge; and general credits are designed to improve the values, norms, and ideals (Tofighi, 2002). In a survey conducted by Majidi and Fatehi (2006, p.37), students confirmed that they are satisfied taking religious courses as general curriculum but they object to the instructional methods used. In addition, too many courses are filled with theoretical rather than practical subject matter.

Laboratory and workshop facilities. Sayyari (1994, p.33) claims an improper utilization of available facilities, with students not allowed to use scarce lab equipment.

 

Factors both internal and external

Management. After the Islamic Revolution, many administrators operate by trial and error. There is little evaluation of managers’ performance and little professional development. This assumption has been accepted that since they are specialist, so are professional managers. There is little opportunity to share experiences or transfer best practices from one university to another (Sayyari, 1994, pp.33–34).

There exists a stifling combination of over-centralized, bureaucratic administration with few fixed rules and regulations. Thus, managers are reluctant to act and do not effectively plan for the future.

Noorshahi (2006) believes universities need transformational leadership to replace bureaucratic management. In the end, to succeed universities must be competitive both nationally and internationally.

 Rules and regulations. After the Islamic Revolution, planning and decision-making were centralized. Yet, there exist many stakeholder organizations which do not necessary coordinate their work, such as: the Ministry of Science Research and Technology; the Ministry of Health and Medical Education; the Ministry of Teaching and Training; the Planning and Budget Organization; the Religious Education Center; the Cultural Revolution Supreme Council; the Expediency Discernment Council; and the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Soltani, 2008, p.7). This proliferation of authority reduces transparency and puts managers under stress and doubt (Arasteh, 2001, p.41).

Unemployment among university graduates. Education encourages development and development encourages employment. But, few faculty are familiar enough with industrial and service enterprises to offer courses relevant to the job vacancies that exist (Rahmani, and Nazari, 2007, p.1)

The most influential factor in Iranian graduates' underemployment is a lack of alignment between their education and the needs of the labor market. However, some external factors, out of higher education’s control, play a part, such as: a lack of entrepreneur culture; undeveloped private job-filling enterprises; relatively few job vacancies; and poor labor market planning (Eshagian, 2007; Keshavarz, 2007).

Today, women make up more than 50 percent of Iranian university students. With more women in school and a later average age of marriage, the birth rate has declined. Nonetheless, women's employment has decreased in the last few decades, due to sex discrimination especially in industry, management, and high level positions (Iravani, 2005).

E-learning in Iran. In the last decade, experts have founded an e-learning center in the IT engineering college at Amirkabir University (www.aku.ac.ir). The government plans to provide higher education centers throughout the country, especially in remote areas, and e-learning is a plausible method for providing the instruction. Other e-learning programs include Takfa Design (www.takfa.ir) (students can enroll here without any entrance examination but according to their interests) and Elm va Sanat University (www.elearning.iust.ir) (ICT_ir, 2005).

But there remain many challenges (Fayaz, 2004; Hanafizahed & Hodaeepour, 2008; Yaghoubi, 2008). Arasteh (2004, pp.3–5) describes them as follows:

     a poor infrastructure of equipment, facilities, and service, such as proper cables, high-speed Internet, and advanced computer systems;

     few curriculum designers or faculty members experienced in e-learning;

     unreliable telecommunication services;

     students’ poor understanding of English; and

     doubts about open- and equal-access to information and information technology.

 

External factors

University-industry gap. According to UNESCO, higher education has three functions: knowledge production (research); knowledge transfer (education); and knowledge distribution (service).

Iran's educational system is based on knowledge transfer, with little concern for research and services. Soltani (2008, p.5) believes the most important challenge in this respect is the lack of demand from industry. About 70 percent of industry is state-run, with the private sector so undeveloped and weak it cannot can not afford to invest on research. The state-run sector fulfills its needs by purchasing technical information from developed countries with its oil profits. In such a situation there is no need for R&D as all needs can be met from outside sources (Mo’een, 2004).

Another factor may be cultural. Iranian culture advocates individual works, or family aggregations. By contrast, developed countries’ culture supports teamwork and venture investing in ideas that are most likely to win. In Iran, some early steps have been taken to support new methods of investing, team building, long-term capital return expectancy, and entrepreneurship training.

 

Recommendations

The research suggests that a transition from the current to a more desirable situation could use the following policies:

     develop courses that teach entrepreneurship and research methods;

     consider charging tuition and fees at state-run universities;

     improve relations between universities and industry;

     consider recruiting international students, as have other countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and India;

     move toward knowledge production and management, and away from simple knowledge transfer;

     train instructors in modern pedagogical methods;

     encourage cooperation among universities nationally and internationally;

     document experiences in higher education reform so that best practices can be replicated;

     establish professional development centers for faculty members;

     institute short-, mid-, and long-term strategic planning; and

     benchmark and conduct comparative analyses of successful higher education systems in neighboring countries.

 

 

Citation: Rasian, Z. (2009). Higher Education Governance in Developing Countries, Challenges and Recommendations: Iran as a Case Study. Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays, 5(3). Retrieved [date] from http://npe.educationnews.org/Review/Essays/v5n3.htm

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