The Plight of Higher Education Overseas

The Plight of Higher Education Overseas The Plight of Higher Education Overseas

In the controversial TV comedy series ‘Trivia’ now on air, there’s a fake surgeon who purports to have obtained a medical degree from an unknown university in the Philippines. But his alma mater cannot even be found on the internet nor can the city where he spent five years studying be found on the map. Last week, however, Minister of Health Hassan Hashemi at the inauguration ceremony of his new education deputy spoke of a fact which is not dissimilar to the fictional comic character in the TV series.

He spoke about students who leave the country to study abroad. A phenomenon, which he claims, is doing more harm than good. Students who spend big money to study in subpar universities in countries such as UAE, Malaysia, Turkey, the Philippines, etc are seemingly indifferent to the vast education resources in the country, he says. According to Hashemi -who is an accomplished ophthalmologist, ‘’the trouble begins when these graduates return home to practice their craft.’’  

 In for Disappointment

The stampede over travelling overseas for higher education instead of studying at home began several years ago, but moved into unprecedented territory in the recent past. Even historic gains in the greenback and other foreign currencies against the Iranian rail failed to slow the process. With the gradual return of these graduates, their expectations that their degrees be endorsed by the ministry of higher education in Tehran are likely to be frustrated.  

‘’The assessment process for universities can vary from case to case but only the universities whose names appear on the ministry’s list of approved varsities get the chance to be assessed’’, says Dr. Hamid Akbari,  head of the education service at the ministry of health in an interview with the Persian-language daily ‘Iran’. He added that final approval of the degrees obtained overseas is subject to a series of theoretical and practical tests conducted to ascertain the applicants’ competency and qualification to work in the country.

 Double Attraction

Akbari says students who study in ‘’substandard’’ universities’’ do not receive support from the health ministry - including subsidized foreign currency, adding that one-third of the 14,000 medical students studying abroad are being trained in universities deemed low-grade. This number of students is based on certificates sent to his office for verification.  Akbari says the annual tuition these students pay vary from $3,000 in neighboring states to a whopping 30,000 in Europe.

The high figures prompted the minister to announce some reforms to help address the wave of low-quality foreign degrees streaming into the country. . Hashemi called for the expansion of international branches of Iranian universities in other countries to attract both the domestic population wanting to study abroad as well as the Iranian expatriates. Regarding the initiative, Akbari said the ministry intends to make room for college applicants who fail to enter state and Azad universities by accepting them in international universities abroad at the students’ own expenses, thereby preventing them from receiving cheap education elsewhere.

‘’Many of these people are interested in studying medicine, dentistry or pharmacy, but the tight competition keeps them from entering even Azad (open) universities and hence the search overseas.”


The systematic increase in the value of hard currency notwithstanding, and the cost of living, figures show presently 61,000 Iranians study abroad – 26,000 PhD candidates. This is while according to the ministry of higher education, there are over 25,000 vacant seats in universities at home. According to Nesha webstie- a forum for Iranian students based abroad - these students are mostly in Malaysia, United States, Canada and Germany.

‘’ The problem is despite the list of approved universities on our website, we still see people fall prey to misinformation and present the ministry with certificates we cannot approve’’, says Mohammad Mahdavi, director of the international education office at the ministry of higher education. Iran’s cultural attaches are there to offer counseling on the validity of universities which he said are ranked on a scale from “poor to excellent.”