Focus: Education

Access & Quality

Access & Quality

Jul. 31, 2012

Iran has one of the youngest population profiles in the world: in 2009, 64% of the country's population was under the age of 30. In order to best make use of this human resource, education has come to play an extraordinary role in shaping the country's economic and social future. After the Revolution, the government established a widespread education system with high rates of accessibility that made major inroads in improving adult literacy rates: 82% of the Iranian adult population is now literate, well ahead of the regional average of 62%. This rate increases to 97% among young adults (aged between 15 and 24) without any gender discrepancy. This is largely due to the high rate of attention paid by the Iranian government to the needs of the education system: Each year, 20% of government spending and 5% of GDP goes to education, a higher rate than most other developing countries.

The Iranian education system starts with pre-primary education at the age of 5 years. Currently more than 50% of children at that age are enrolled in pre-primary education, which is a comparatively high rate when looking at the other countries in the region. Compulsory education begins at age 6, and lasts for eight years, the last three years of which are spent in middle school, or the “orientation cycle". The aim of this level of education is to figure out the capabilities and skills of a child so that the education system could guide her or him to the most appropriate track after the end of compulsory education.

In Iran, secondary education is not compulsory, yet 80% of children aged between 14 and 17 are enrolled. Secondary education is very important in the modern education system of Iran, and 50% of education spending is devoted to secondary education. There are three school types: the theoretical branch, the technical-vocational branch, and the manual skills branch (Kar-Danesh). The latter two prepare students to directly enter the job market in the trading, agricultural, and industrial professions. The Kar-Danesh track develops semi-skilled and skilled workers, foremen, and supervisors. After this track, students are able to study two more years in tertiary education, which provides them with the skills to become a highly skilled technician and receive an “integrated associate degree".

Students graduating from the theoretical branch of secondary education are eligible for a one-year pre-university course, which then prepares them for university. The successful completion of this year earns students the Pre-University Certificate and the right to take the Konkur, or the competitive National Entrance Examination.

Higher education in Iran is quite widespread, and in 2009, 33.7% of all those in the 18-25 age group were enrolled in one of the 92 universities, 512 Payame Nour University Branches, and 56 research and technology institutes around the country. There are currently some 3.7 million university students in Iran, and 55% of these students are females. Females are even more prominent among graduates, as male students have a higher drop out rate from university. As in other regional states, a new question arises: how to integrate the highly trained female graduates into the workforce.

Undergraduate education in Iran normally takes four years before the awarding of a Bachelor's degree. A postgraduate Master's degree is generally conferred after a further two years of study. In terms of education field, Iranian university students are most interested in studying engineering and construction, social science, business, and law. However, engineering and construction is by far the most popular field of study, with some 31% of students currently enrolled, one of the highest rates in the world. It is little wonder that local and foreign engineering companies face few difficulties in finding talented staff. Some 23% of students pursue a degree in social science, business and law, 14% in humanities and the arts, and 10% in science.

Of 3 million university enrolled in university, 1.5 million study at the 500 branches of Islamic Azad University, for which students have to pay tuition fees. Islamic Azad University is one of the biggest universities in the world in terms of student numbers, and it also has overseas branches in the UAE and the UK. Other universities receive their budget money from the state, and students normally do not pay for tuition and boarding at these institutions. Around 21% of the annual state education budget is devoted to the provision of tertiary education.

Iran hosts some of the most prestigious universities in the Middle East. Graduates of Tehran University, Sharif University, and Tarbiat Modares University are well received by employers, and all three rank among the top 1,000 universities of the world according to SCImago international rankings. Shiraz University, Esfahan University of Technology, Shahid Beheshti University of Tehran, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, and Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran) are other prominent higher education institutes in the country.