Last modified on 1 October 2016, at 14:05


Original Re.ViCa entry by Paul Bacsich. Minor update to VISCED level by Nikos Zygouritsas of Lambrakis

For entities in Iran see Category:Iran

Partners situated in Iran


Iran in a nutshell

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Iran (Persian: ايران), officially the Islamic Republic of Iran and formerly known internationally as Persia until 1935, is a country in Central Eurasia, located on the northeastern shore of the Persian Gulf and the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Since 1949, "Persia" and "Iran" have been used interchangeably in cultural context, however, Iran is the name used officially in political context. The name Iran is a cognate of Aryan, and means "Land of the Aryans".

Iran is the 18th largest country in the world in terms of area at 1,648,195 km², with an area roughly equal to that of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany combined.

Iran has a population of just over 66 million according to some sources, but over 70 million by others. (Possibly some of the difference is accounted for by refugees.)

It is a country of special geostrategic significance due to its central location in Eurasia. Iran is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. As Iran is a littoral state of the Caspian Sea, which is an inland sea and condominium, Kazakhstan and Russia are also Iran's direct neighbors to the north. Iran is bordered on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and on the west by Turkey and Iraq.

Tehran is the capital, the country's largest city and the political, cultural, commercial, and industrial centre of the nation.

Iran is a regional power, and holds an important position in international energy security and world economy as a result of its large reserves of petroleum and natural gas.

Iran is divided into 30 provinces (ostān), each governed by an appointed governor (استاندار, ostāndār). The provinces are divided into counties (shahrestān), and subdivided into districts (bakhsh) and sub-districts (dehestān).

Iran is home to one of the world's oldest continuous major civilizations, with historical and urban settlements dating back to 7000 BC. Iran officially became an Islamic republic on 1 April 1979, following the Iranian Revolution.

The political system of Iran, based on the 1979 Constitution, comprises several intricately connected governing bodies. The highest state authority is the Supreme Leader.

Shia Islam is the official religion and Persian is the official language.

Iran's economy is a mixture of central planning, state ownership of oil and other large enterprises, village agriculture, and small-scale private trading and service ventures. Its economic infrastructure has been improving steadily over the past two decades but continues to be affected by inflation and unemployment. In the early 21st century the service sector contributed the largest percentage of the GDP, followed by industry (mining and manufacturing) and agriculture. In 2006, about 45% of the government's budget came from oil and natural gas revenues, and 31% came from taxes and fees. Government spending contributed to an average annual inflation rate of 14% in the period 2000–2004. Iran has earned $70 billion in foreign exchange reserves mostly from crude oil exports (80% as of 2007). In 2007, the GDP was estimated at $206 billion ($852 billion at PPP), or $3,160 per capita ($12,300 at PPP). Iran's official annual growth rate was at 6% (2008). Because of these figures and the country’s diversified but small industrial base, the United Nations classifies Iran's economy as semi-developed.

Iran is a diverse country consisting of people of many religions and ethnic backgrounds cemented by the Persian culture. The majority of the population speaks the Persian language, which is also the official language of the country, as well as other Iranian languages or dialects. Turkic languages and dialects (most importantly Azeri) are spoken in different areas in Iran. Additionally, Arabic is spoken in the southwestern parts of the country.

The main ethnic groups are Persians (51%), Azeris (24%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8%), Kurds (7%), Arabs (3%), Baluchi (2%), Lurs (2%), Turkmens (2%), Laks, Qashqai, Armenians, Persian Jews, Georgians, Assyrians, Circassians, Tats, Mandaeans, Gypsies, Brahuis, Hazara, Kazakhs and others (1%).

Iran's population increased dramatically during the latter half of the 20th century, reaching about 72 million by 2008. In recent years, however, Iran's birth rate has dropped significantly. Studies show that Iran's rate of population growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes at just above 90 million by 2050. More than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, and the literacy rate is 82%.

Women today compose more than half of the incoming classes for universities around the country and increasingly continue to play pivotal roles in society.

Iran education policy

Education in Iran is highly centralized and is divided to K-12 education and higher education. K-12 education is supervised by the Ministry of Education and higher education is under supervision of Ministry of Science and Technology.

The Fourth Five-Year Development Plan (2005-2010) envisages upgrading the quality of the educational system at all levels, as well as reforming education curricula, and developing appropriate programs of vocational training, a continuation of the trend towards labor market oriented education and training.

Schools in Iran

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The various levels are as follows:

  • Kindergarten (Pish Dabestani or Amadegi) in Iran, also mandatory, begins at the age of 5 for 1-year duration.
  • Primary school (Dabestan) starts at the age of 6 for a duration of 5 years.
  • Middle school, also known as orientation cycle (Rahnamayi), goes from the sixth to the eighth grade.
  • High school (Dabirestan), for which the last three years is not mandatory, is divided between theoretical, vocational/technical and manual, each program with its own specialties.

Primary school (Dabestan) starts at the age of 6 for a duration of 5 years. Middle school, also known as orientation cycle (Rahnamayi), goes from the sixth to the eighth grade. High school (Dabirestan), for which the last three years is not mandatory, is divided between theoretical, vocational/technical and manual, each program with its own specialties.

Universities, institutes of technology, medical schools and community colleges, provide the higher education. The requirement to enter into higher education is to have a High school diploma, and finally pass the national University entrance's exam (Konkoor). Higher education is sanctioned by different levels of diplomas: Fogh-e-Diplom or Kārdāni after 2 years of higher education, Kārshenāsi (also known under the name “licence”) is delivered after 4 years of higher education (Bachelor's degree). Kārshenāsi-ye Arshad is delivered after 2 more years of study (Master's degree). After which, another exam allows the candidate to pursue a doctoral program (PhD).

The first Western-style public schools were established by Haj-Mirza Hassan Roshdih. There are both free public schools and private schools in Iran at all levels, from elementary school through university. Education in Iran is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education is in charge of educational planning, financing, administration, curriculum, and textbook development. Teacher training, grading, and examinations are also the responsibility of the Ministry. At the university level, however, every student attending public schools is required to commit to serve the government for a number of years typically equivalent to those spent at the university, or pay it off for a very low price (typically a few hundred dollars). During the early 1970s, efforts were made to improve the educational system by updating school curriculation, introducing modern textbooks, and training more efficient teachers.

The 1979 revolution continued the country's emphasis on education, but Khomeini's regime put its own stamp on the process. The most important change was the Islamization of the education system. All students were segregated by sex. In 1980, the Cultural Revolution Committee was formed to oversee the institution of Islamic values in education. An arm of the committee, the Center for Textbooks (composed mainly of clerics), produced 3,000 new college-level textbooks reflecting Islamic views by 1983. Teaching materials based on Islam were introduced into the primary grades within six months of the revolution.

Approximately 6% of upper secondary institutions are private. These schools must conform to the regulations of the Ministry of Education, though they are financed primarily through tuition fees received from students. Academic year: September through June, with two semesters; note that students attend classes Saturday through Thursday.

Internet and distance education

Full Internet service is available in all major cities and it is very rapidly increasing. Many small towns and even some villages now have full Internet access. The government aims to provide 10% of government and commercial services via the Internet by end-2008 and to equip every school with computers and connections by the same date. Payame Noor University (established 1987) as a provider exclusively of distance education courses is a state university under the supervision of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.

Teacher education

Teacher Training Centers in Iran are responsible for training teachers for primary, orientation cycle, and gifted children’s schools. These centers offer two-year programs leading to a Fogh-Diploma (associate degree). Students that enter Teacher Training Centers, have at minimum, completed the orientation cycle of education; most have a High school diploma. A national entrance examination is required for admission. In order to teach 9-12 grades, in theory, a bachelor’s degree is required; however due to a shortage of teachers in Iran, schools have been compelled to use teaching staff with other educational backgrounds. Teachers are trained in universities and higher institutes. There are seven teacher-training colleges in Iran.

Higher education

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Iranian universities churn out almost 750,000 skilled graduates annually. The tradition of university education in Iran goes back to the early centuries of Islam. By the 20th century, however, the system had become antiquated and was remodeled along French lines. The country's 16 universities were closed after the 1979 revolution and were then reopened gradually between 1982 and 1983 under Islamic supervision.

While the universities were closed, the Cultural Revolution Committee investigated professors and teachers and dismissed those who were believers in Marxism, liberalism, and other "imperialistic" ideologies. The universities reopened with Islamic curricula. In 1997, all higher-level institutions had 40,477 teachers and enrolled 579,070 students. The University of Tehran (founded in 1934) has 10 faculties, including a department of Islamic theology. Other major universities are at Tabriz, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Shiraz, Esfahan, Kerman, Kermanshah, Babol Sar, Rasht, and Orumiyeh. There are about 50 colleges and 40 technological institutes.

Universities in Iran


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. In 1855 the Ministry of Science was first established. 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.

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", 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.

In Tehran, Samuel M. Jordan, whom Jordan Avenue 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

Current day

In 2008, Iran had over 3.5 million students enrolled in universities - some 1.7 million in various programs in the Islamic Azad universities (a private non-profit chain of universities in Iran) 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.

In addition there are over 40,000 students engaged in Masters programs and 20,000 students in PhD programmes. In all these universities, except for private universities such as the Islamic Azad University system, tuition - 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 programmes under the guidance of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Goldsmiths University of London, and Royal Holloway. 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.

Iran allocates around 0.4% of its GDP to R&D, which ranks it "far behind industrialized societies".

University of Tehran, Sharif University of Technology, Iran University of Science and Technology, Amirkabir University of Technology, (Tehran Polytechnic), K.N.Toosi University of Technology,Tarbiat Modares University, Shahid Beheshti University, Allameh Tabatabaee University, Shiraz University, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Isfahan University of Technology, University of Isfahan, and Tabriz University are generally cited as the most prestigious schools of Iran frequently. Among these universities, Tarbiat Modares University is the sole only-graduate-level university: it does not offer any undergraduate degree.

Almost none of these universities however are mentioned (or perhaps not evaluated) in the 2007 Academic Ranking of World Universities, nor in the The Times Higher Education Supplement. Sharif University of Technology and the University of Tehran are the only Iranian universities that appear in the THES world ranking for 2008.

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". Iranian experts further claim that for the case of Iran, rankings such as these 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.

See for comprehensive lists of universities in Iran.

Polytechnics in Iran

There is a short list of polytechnic-type institutions at

Education reform

Iran's Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology (MSRT) has begun to introduce new reforms for the improvement and the enhancement of Iranian universities' management and move them towards an independent and self-regulated system. There are three key areas: university financing, quality and operational performance, and organization of the university system. See Mehralizadeh (2005).

The Bologna Process

There have been some seminars on this - see for example

Administration and finance

Quality assurance

There is some information - see for example

Iran's HEIs in the information society

Organization for Educational Research and Planning (OERP) OERP is a government affiliated, scientific, learning organization. It has qualitative and knowledge-based curricula consistent with the scientific and research findings, technological, national identity, Islamic and cultural values.

OERP's Responsibilities:

  1. To research on the content of the educational,
  2. To study and develop simple methods for examinations and educational assessments,
  3. To write, edit and print text-books,
  4. To identify and provide educational tools and the list of standards for educational tools and equipments,
  5. To run pure research on improving the quality and quantity of education,
  6. To perform other responsibilities issued by the OERP Council.

Towards the information society

Information society strategy

Virtual inititiatives

Yafghoubi et al note that:

E-learning in Iran is still in its infancy stages and there are only a few online programs. The history of e-learning in Iran at present time did not exceed more than 6 years, yet from a realistic point of view we might say that ebased learning in Iran has had a 5 year experience and even younger. E-learning in Iran is delivered by both the private sector and government organizations. There have been risen a plenty of virtual universities or centers like Amirkabir University of Technology, Iran University of Science and Technology, Shiraz Virtual University and some Islamic virtual collages and centers like Islamic virtual centers and Faculty of the Science of Hadith.

The authors of Expansion of E-Learning in Iran note:

...there is a serious trend towards virtual learning in Ministry of Science, Research and technology (MSRT). E-learning in Iran, first, developed in the most famous and high-ranking universities like, Shiraz university, Amir kabir university, university of science and technology, K.N.Toosi university, Payame Noor university and etc. For admission in these kinds of courses, one should pass a given number of subjects with an acceptable grade.

Two experts interviewed by Badrul Khan note:

E-learning started in Iran in 2001, when Tehran University launched nine of its courses online. Nowadays, almost all universities are presenting some courses on the Internet, besides technical fields; even religious-based universities educate their students by employing these technologies.

Sarlak et al note that the Iranian virtual universities include:

  1. Tehran virtual university (
  2. Isfehan virtual university (
  3. Elm va sanat virtual university ( - the web site appears inactive
  4. Shiraz virtual university (
  5. Sharif virtual university ( - but the web site appears inactive
  6. Iranian virtual university ( - this appears to be a portal, International University of Iran, describing itself as a "Consortium of Iranian Virtual Universities Sharing Knowledge, Experience and Resources"
  7. Azad islami virtual university (
  8. Oloome hadis (hadith?) virtual faculty ( - "hadith" are oral traditions of the Prophet - this is the virtual campus of Hadith Sciences College (English site at
  9. Peyame noor virtual university ( - the URL seems incorrect.
  10. Iran internet based university ( - describing itself as the Iranian e-Institute of High Education

Several, such as Tehran Virtual University, appear to be the virtual campus of a traditional university.

They also note in their paper that "The number of students enrolled at Iranian virtual Universities during 2004-2007 years, annually accounted for less than 0.5% of traditional Iranian universities enrolment" and speculate as to the reasons.

Interesting Virtual Campus Initiatives

Payame Noor University

Payame Noor University is a long-distance mega university based in Tehran, Iran. Its name means "The message of Light" in Persian. The university was established in 1987, and has 30 regional centres, 229 campuses and 485 local study centres.

Presently, the university has over 1 million national and international students.

The Payame Noor web site is at - there is a brief wikipedia entry

Additionally, in 2008, the university declared that Arabic will be the "second language" of the university, and that all its services will be offered in Arabic, concurrent with Persian.

Interesting Programmes

Re.ViCa Case-study


Lessons learnt

A country does not need to be "developed" to support a high level of activity in e-learning.


  1. E-Learning in Iran: Interview with Vafa Ghaffarian and S. Hamid Hosseini, in: Interviews with Badrul Khan,
  2. Expansion of E-Learning in Iran,
  3. VIRTUAL STUDENTS' PERCEPTIONS OF E-LEARNING IN IRAN, The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology – TOJET July 2008 ISSN: 1303-6521 volume 7 Issue 3 Article 10,
  4. Designing and Explaining the Trust Model of Students Applying to Virtual Universitie, by Sarlak, Mohammad Ali; Jafari, Hassan Abedi, in: Emerging Trends and Challenges in Information Technology Management: Proceedings of the 2006 Information Resources Management Association Conference,
  5. New Reforms in the Management of the University: Transition from Centralized to Decentralized (University-Based Management) in Iran, by Y Mehralizadeh, Higher Education Policy (2005) 18, 67–82. doi:10.1057/palgrave.hep.8300073,

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