Higher education in Iran

University of Tehran College of Humanities
First Iranian women entered university[1]

Iran has a large network of private, public, and state affiliated universities offering degrees in higher education. State-run universities of Iran are under the direct supervision of Iran's Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (for non-medical universities) and Ministry of Health and Medical Education (for medical schools). According to article 3 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran guarantees "free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education."


Pre-Islamic era

The existence of pre-Islamic era universities such as the School of Nisibis, Sarouyeh, Reishahr, and The Academy of Gundishapur provide examples of precedence of academic institutions of science that date back to ancient times.

Islamic era

See also: Hawza and Nizamiyya

The traditions and heritage of these centers of higher learning were later carried on to renowned schools such as Iran's Nizamiyya, and Baghdad's House of Wisdom, during the Islamic era.

An academic library in Basrah[2] depicted in the 13th century by Yahya ibn Vaseti (یحیی بن واسطی), found in the Maqama of Hariri (مقامات حریری).


It was Abbas Mirza who first dispatched Iranian students to Europe for a western education.[3]

The history of the establishment of western style academic universities in Iran (Persia) dates back to 1851 with the establishment of Darolfonoon – which was founded as a result of the efforts of the royal vizier Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Kabir, aimed at training and teaching Iranian experts in many fields of science and technology.[4]

In 1855 "The Ministry of Science" was first established, and Ali Gholi Mirza I'tizad al-saltaneh (علیقلی میرزا اعتضاد السلطنه) was appointed Iran's first Minister of Science by Nasereddin Shah.

By the 1890s Darolfonoon was competing with other prominent institutions of modern learning. The Military College of Tehran (Madraseh-ye Nezam), established in 1885 with a budget of 10,000-12,000 tomans, was its first rival; and in 1899 the College of political sciences (Madraseh-ye olum-e siyasi) was organized within the Foreign ministry.[5]

The Ministry of Higher Education, which oversees the operation of all institutes of higher education in Iran, was established in 1967. However, it was back in 1928 that Iran's first university, as we know it today, was proposed by an Iranian physicist, Mahmoud Hessaby. The University of Tehran (or Tehran University) was designed by French architect Andre Godard, and built in 1934. Today, Tehran University is Iran's largest university with over 32,000 students.

In the medical field, it was Joseph Cochran who first founded a professional school in Iran in 1878, and who is often credited for founding Iran’s "first contemporary medical college",[6] as well as founding one of Iran's first modern hospitals ("Westminster Hospital") in Urmia. The medical faculty Cochran established at Urmia University was joined by several other Americans, namely Drs. Wright, Homlz, van Nourdon, and Miller. They were all buried in Urmia as their resting place after serving the area for many years.

In Tehran, Samuel M. Jordan, whom "Jordan Ave." in Tehran is named after, also was directly responsible for the expansion of the American College in Tehran. The school received a permanent charter from the Board of Regents of the State University of New York in 1932.[7]

McCormick Hall, American College of Tehran, circa 1930.

By the end of the first Pahlavi period in 1941, the University of Tehran was still the only modern university in the country. Hence, the ministry of science commenced the establishment of other universities in Isfahan, Tabriz, Ahvaz, and Shiraz, with special emphasis given to the medical and veterinary sciences.[8] Charles Oberling was highly instrumental in this regard.[9]

In 1953, there were four universities with 14,500 undergraduate students whereas in 1977 there were 16 universities with 154,315 undergraduate students.[10]

The Shah soon initiated projects to build Iranian universities modeled after American schools. Thus Pahlavi University (Shiraz University today), Sharif University of Technology, and Isfahan University of Technology, three of Iran's top academic universities were all directly modeled on American institutions such as the University of Illinois at Chicago, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania.[11][12] The Shah in return was generous in awarding American universities with financial gifts. For example, the University of Southern California received a gift from the Shah in the form of an endowed chair of petroleum engineering, and a million dollar donation was given to the George Washington University to create an Iranian Studies program.[11]

The Iranian revolution put an end to the massive US-Iran academic relations. In 1980, a major overhaul in the academia and higher education system of Iran initiated by Ayatollah Khomeini led to what is referred to in Iran as "Iran's Cultural Revolution". However, all universities in the country were closed down from 1980 to 1983.[13] In addition, Islamic curricula and Islamic educational setting were introduced when the universities were reopened.[13]

In 1986, the ministry of higher education handed over supervision and overseeing of education in the medical sciences in Iran to the ministry of health, treatment and medical education. This was to optimize use of the medical resources in the country, and to promote health, treatment, teaching, and research more efficiently in the field.

After the Iran–Iraq War, some new universities were founded and doctoral programs were developed in the previous universities. The number of university students is now more than six times as many as in 1979 (when Shah was overthrown), so that critics debate whether the national entrance exam is useful anymore or not.

Academic system of Iranian universities

In 2008, Iran had over 3.5 million students enrolled in universities.[14] Some 1.7 million in various programs in Islamic Azad university and the remainder in State universities. In addition the new enrollment numbers for the academic year 2004 were 290 thousand in Azad universities, and 250 thousand in State universities. Iran currently has 54 state operated universities, and 42 state medical schools. These are primarily the top choice for students in national entrance exams, and have the largest and most prestigious programs. There are 289 major private universities operating as well.[15] In addition there are over 40,000 students engaged in Masters programs and 20,000 students in PhD programs. In all these schools, except for private universities such as the Islamic Azad University system, tuition and room and board, is mostly paid for by the government. The universities themselves largely operate on state budgets. There are also institutes like Payame Noor University that offer degrees remotely or online.

Some schools offer degrees in conjunction with European Universities. The International University of Chabahar for example offers programs under the guidance of London School of Economics and Political Science Goldsmiths University of London, and Royal Holloway.[16] Other schools such as the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences in Zanjan, have close collaboration with The International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy for workshops, seminars, and summer schools. The Iranian government also offers intensely competitive but fully paid scholarships for successful applicants to pursue PhD level studies in Great Britain.

As of October 24 or 25th, the President of Iran has indicated that many college courses taught by Iranian Universities are too westernized and do not comply with Muslim law. Those courses may be changed radically to comply with Muslim law - or, they may be completely eliminated

By early 2000, Iran allocated around 0.4% of its GDP to R&D, which ranks it "far behind industrialized societies" and the world average of 1.4%.[17] By 2009 this ratio of research to GDP reached 0.87% and the set target is 2.5%.[18]


The Islamic World Science Citation Center (ISC) published rankings for 2012 of Iranian universities and institutes of higher education appears as follows:[19]

  1. University of Tehran
  2. Sharif University of Technology
  3. Amirkabir University of Technology
  4. Iran University of Science and Technology
  5. K. N. Toosi University of Technology
  6. Tarbiat Modarres University
  7. Shiraz University
  8. Isfahan University of Technology
  9. Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
  10. Shahid Beheshti University
  11. University of Tabriz
  12. University of Isfahan
  13. Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz
  14. University of Urmia
  15. University of Mazandaran

The ranking analyzes research performance, international cooperation and scientific impact of a university or an institute.

Almost none of these universities however are mentioned (or perhaps not evaluated) in the 2007 Academic Ranking of World Universities (link), nor in The Times Higher Education Supplement. Sharif University of Technology and University of Tehran are the only Iranian universities that appear in the THES world ranking for 2008. The universities ranked above 400 are listed alphabetically in this list, thus the exact ranks of these two universities are unavailable.[20][21][22]

Iranian authorities however ignore such rankings, and claim that, according to Chancellor of Tehran University, "Iran is third in Science and Technology in Asia after Japan and Turkey".[23]

Critics further claim that for the case of Iran, rankings such as SJT and THES fail to provide an accurate image when assessing Iran's institutions of higher education, since graduates from these universities routinely are well prepared and end up matriculating into the competitive elite graduate schools of Europe and the United States in comparatively large numbers.

Ranking by number of publications (ISI)

University of Tehran faculty of Fine Arts

In terms of the number of papers published via Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), the 2007 ranking of medical and non-medical universities of Iran is as follows:[24]

Ranking by number of publications

University City Papers published
University of Tehran Tehran 1156
Tehran University of Medical Sciences Tehran 719
Tarbiat Modarres University Tehran 574
Sharif University of Technology Tehran 572
Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences Tehran 478
Shahid Beheshti University Tehran 404
Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic) Tehran 398
K. N. Toosi University of Technology Tehran 329
Iran University of Science and Technology Tehran 326
Shiraz University of Medical Sciences Shiraz 281
Shiraz University Shiraz 246
Isfahan University of Technology Isfahan 234
Ferdowsi University of Mashad Mashad 218
Bu-Ali Sina University (Avicenna University) Hamedan 205
Tabriz University of Medical Sciences Tabriz 198
Isfahan University Isfahan 196
University of Tabriz Tabriz 188
Institute for Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics Tehran 177
Iran University of Medical Sciences Tehran 158
University of Mazandaran Babolsar 158
Isfahan University of Medical Sciences Isfahan 141

The most number of papers published in the following fields by order:

  1. Chemistry
  2. Medicine
  3. Engineering
  4. Physics

Reports for 2003[25] and 2005[26] are also available.

Ranking of Medical Schools

ISC's most recent list of the highest top ranked universities in the medical field for 2012 is:[19]

  1. Tehran University of Medical Sciences
  2. Shiraz University of Medical Sciences
  3. Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences (Former National University)
  4. Isfahan University of Medical Sciences
  5. Tabriz University of Medical Sciences
  6. Mashad University of Medical Sciences
  7. Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences
Ranking of Dental Schools

According to the 2007 rankings[27] the top 5 rated schools in the dental field in Iran are:

  1. Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences
  2. Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Mashad University of Medical Sciences
  3. Isfahan University of Medical Sciences
  4. Kerman University of Medical Sciences and Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences and Health Services and Hamedan University of Medical Sciences
  5. Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences and Shiraz University of Medical Sciences and Babol University of Medical Sciences
Ranking of Pharmacy Schools

According to the 2010 rankings[28] the top 3 rated schools in the pharmaceutical field in Iran are:

  1. Tehran University of Medical Sciences
  2. Isfahan University of Medical Sciences
  3. Tabriz University of Medical Sciences
Ranking of Engineering Schools

According to the 2012 university ranking of Islamic countries[29] the top ranked engineering schools in the engineering field in Iran are:

  1. Sharif University of Technology
  2. Amirkabir University of Technology
  3. Iran University of Science and Technology
  4. Isfahan University of Technology
  5. K.N. Toosi University of Technology

Prominent libraries in Iran

Large libraries existed in Iran both before and after the advent of Islam and throughout many periods in Iran's history. One can mention the libraries at Gondeshapur, School of Nisibis, and Sarouyeh during the pre-Islamic era of Iran.

During the Middle Ages, many schools of Nizamiyya harbored large collections of manuscripts and treatises. In Maragheh, Nasīr al-Dīn al-Tūsī built a library that reportedly contained some 40,000 volumes which was well financed.[30] And the royal library of the Samanid court in which Avicenna was granted special access to, is yet another fine example.[31]

The first prototype of a modern national library in Iran was the Library of Dar al-Funun College established in 1851. In 1899 another library called the Nation's Library was inaugurated in Tehran. Finally, the National Library of Iran was inaugurated in 1937.

Iran's major national libraries today are:

Ideology and politics in higher education

Under the rule of the Islamic Theocracy in Iran since 1978 revolution, the status of science and education has been dramatically affected in the country. In particular, following the so-called Iranian Cultural Revolution and Islamization of Universities after a shutdown period,[13] the quality of science and technology required for development dropped significantly but has since been revived. So much so that Iran ranks 40th in science production and first in scientific growth in the world in 2011.[32][33]

Exclusion of students


Students of some minority religions have been barred from entering tertiary education institutions in Iran particularly those of the Baha'i Faith.[34] Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 Baha'i students have been excluded from universities regardless of their national university examination results on basis of their religion. See Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education.


Additionally, in August 2012, 36 universities declared that 77 BA and BSc courses in 2012-2012 academic year will be "single gender" and effectively exclusive to men, limiting the options of female undergraduate students.[35]


In accordance with the third five-year development plan, the “entrepreneurship development plan in Iranian universities”, (known as KARAD Plan) was developed, and launched in twelve universities across the country, under the supervision of Management and Planning Organization and the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.[36]

Brain drain and students abroad

Iran tops the world countries in the brain drain phenomenon. In 2002, the CIA estimated that 77% of Iran's population aged 15 and over can read and write.[37] By 2008, the adult literacy rate had reached 80.6%.[38] 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.[39][40]

According to the Iranian government in 2013, 12,000 foreign students were studying at Iranian universities while 55,686 Iranian students were studying abroad.[41] Out of this number, 8,883 students are studying in Malaysia, 7,341 in the United States, 5,638 in Canada, 3,504 in Germany, 3,364 in Turkey, 3,228 in Britain, and the rest in other countries.[42][43] But according to a new estimate by the Minister of education, between 350 and 500 thousand Iranians were studying outside of the country in 2014.[44] The difference remains unexplained. As of 2015, 42% of recent/young graduates were unemployed.[45]

See also

Historic institutions


  1. بدرالملوک بامداد، زن ایرانی از انقلاب مشروطه تا انقلاب سفید. تهران: ابن‌سینا، ۱۳۴۷. ص ۹۹
  2. هنرهای اسلامی: نگاره های مقامات حریری آرشيو
  3. Patrick Clawson and Michael Rubin. Eternal Iran. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p. 34
  4. Hassan pour, Faramarz (5 June 2014). "Design of Higher Education Learning Spaces in Iran; From the Qajar Period to the Present Time". Snapshots International Symposium on Learning Spaces, the University of Melbourne. doi:10.13140/2.1.2169.5040.
  5. Encyclopædia Iranica
  6. Archives Of Iranian Medicine
  7. Lorentz, J. Historical Dictionary of Iran. 1995. ISBN 0-8108-2994-0
  8. آموزش و پرورش در ایران (Education in Iran). Naser Takmil Homayoun. دفتر پژوهشهای فرهنگی (Center for Cultural Research Publications). p. 98
  9. پروفسور ابرلن و نقش او در آموزش پزشکی نوین ایران (Dr. Charles Oberling and his role in Iran's modern medical education). شمس شریعت تربقان. TUMS Publications. 2007.
  10. Abrahamian, Ervand (May 1980). "Structural Causes of the Iranian Revolution". MERIP Reports (87): 21–26. JSTOR 3011417.
  11. 1 2 Trends by Region: MIDDLE EAST and Penn's Global Engagement, University of Pennsylvania Archives
  12. Exporting MIT. Stuart W. Leslie and Robert Kargon. Osiris, volume 21 (2006), pp. 110–130 Link:
  13. 1 2 3 Paola Rivetti (February 2012). "Islamic republic: shaping Iran's politics through the campus". In Rouzbeh Parsi. Iran: A RevolutIonary RepublIc in TransItIon (Chaillot Papers). Paris: Institute for Security Studies European Union. ISBN 978-92-9198-198-4. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  14. http://www.irphe.ir/fa/statistics/Statictics%20Forms/w-br.bruoshoor83-84.pdf
  15. http://www.msrt.ir/htm/Ministry/History.htm
  16. دانشگاه بین المللی چابهار
  17. Medical Science and Research in Iran
  18. (P.5)
  19. 1 2 http://ur.isc.gov.ir/Default.aspx?selected_tab=RANKING_TAB
  20. Sharif ranks 529 in the world ranking
  21. http://ar.c-a-k.cz/2007%20QS%20Top%20500.pdf
  22. ISNA - 11-20-2007 - 86/8/29 - سرويس: / آموزشي / شماره خبر: 1037148
  23. Fars News Agency : ايران رتبه سوم علمي را در آسيا دارد
  24. Abdolreza Noroozi Chakoli, Mohammad Hassanzadeh, Hamzehali Nourmohammadi (August 30, 2008). Evaluation of Iran Scientific Productions based on ISI Statistics through 2006-2007 (PDF). WIS 2008.
  25. http://www.ipm.ac.ir/IPM/homepage/WorldNews/11.pdf
  26. بررسي نقش و جايگاه دانشگاه و صنعت در توسعه ي علمي، صنعتي و اقتصادي
  27. Pezeshk.us | رتبه بندي آموزشي دانشگاه ها و دانشكده هاي علوم پزشكي ايران (3- دانشکده های دندانپزشکی)
  28. Pezeshk.us | رتبه بندي آموزشي دانشگاه ها و دانشكده هاي علوم پزشكي ايران (2-دانشكده هاي داروسازي )
  29. S. H. Nasr, Oliver Leaman. History of Islamic Philosophy. VolI. ISBN 0-415-25934-7. 1993. p.542
  30. A History of Medicine. Ralph H. Major. Vol 1. Charles C. Thomas Publishers. 1954. p.242
  31. Iran ranks first in scientific growth. PressTV, December 31, 2011. Retrieved January 7, 2012.
  32. Keddie, Modern Iran, (2003), p.290
  33. New tactic obstructs Baha'i enrollments in Iranian universities
  34. Tait, Robert (20 August 2012). "Anger as Iran bans women from universities". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  35. https://web.archive.org/web/20150915104200/http://www.cgiran.org/main/images/files/20140429102612_IranEntrepreneurshipEcosystemReport-IEA2013-v2.pdf
  36. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ir.html
  37. http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/iran/literacy-rate
  38. Harrison, Frances (2007-01-08). "Huge cost of Iranian brain drain". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-01-08.
  39. BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6240287.stm
  40. http://www.payvand.com/news/13/feb/1151.html
  41. http://www.payvand.com/news/13/jul/1094.html
  42. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-33238813
  43. http://www.payvand.com/news/14/sep/1002.html
  44. http://presstv.com/Detail/2015/04/25/408001/Iran-unemployment-jobless-graduate
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