Monday, September 15, 2008

Colleges Go Domestic in Iran

Summer is coming to an end in Iran a season of impatient and anxious anticipation for hundreds of thousands of high school graduates who had participated in Iran’s National University Entrance Exam or as the dreaded test is known: Konkour.
Iranian universities and colleges do not act independently in admitting students, like many other things in the country admission to universities is centralized, with the exception of Azad University network having its own national entrance exam.
Konkoor is coordinated by a national organization, called “Sanjesh” or National Test Center. All high school graduates and pre-college students take it on the same day across the country. Then they submit a college-major selection card to this organization, this card includes all of their choices of places and the majors they would like to study in. A computerized algorithm chooses what they can study based on their rank, calculated based on their score.
For example if a person’s first choice is to study Electrical Engineering at University of Tehran, with a capacity of 25 students, and his rank is 55 he is admitted if and only if his rank is among top 25 people who wanted to study this field.
There is no wonder that filling this spreadsheet or “Entekhab e Reshteh” (literally means “subject selection”) card is a thriving business and hundreds make millions in it. Thus some fields in the higher education[1] are better than others and the best of the best enroll in them, although they might be clueless as to the future. Given the rigidity of the system and bureaucracy involved with changing majors within the school system the field one is accepted in, is the field he or she graduates in.
Given the discrepancies of among provinces in the quality of education and infrastructure, Iran is divided intro three regions, each with their own share of total student seats in the public universities. This system has guaranteed a fair chance of admission for the students from less developed areas. This year this system has changed.
In a strange move National Test Center executed a new law that allocates 65% of any university’s seats to the local population of its region. The new system allocates 65% of the seats in Iran’s best universities, which are located in Tehran the capital, to the residents of the first region. This has deprived many talented students from enrolling in these schools causing them to challenge these results.
It is not clear that if this new law has been actually ratified by the legislation and some MPs have voiced their objections to its implementation. In the meantime Iran’s Higher Education Ministry moved to remedy the situation by adding 10% to the seats at Iran’s top universities to accommodate those who are not satisfied by the new system; a rather short term patching of a faulty strategy.
In defending localizing universities some argue that such system guarantees the residents of a province to study in that province and to “serve” in that province. However many ask how this would create sustainable growth since the high quality universities are in the most developed areas and such a decree denies the less developed areas of country fair access to high quality higher education. One must admit that there are many scratching their heads in Tehran wondering as to causes of such policy.
[1] Economics is not usually among the first choices. Engineering majors and medical studies are the first choices and business majors and economics are not as favored. Most unfortunately this has created a gap in Iran’s higher education.

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