US Academics Test ‘Educational Diplomacy’ in Iran

US Academics Test ‘Educational Diplomacy’ in IranUS Academics Test ‘Educational Diplomacy’ in Iran

Ball State University’s Ken Holland went on a US “educational diplomacy” trip to Iran that could help restore diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Holland, who traveled with a delegation of US higher education representatives this month to Iran, calls it a safe country.

While the US Department of State warns American citizens “to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran,” Holland told The Star Press: “Iran is a safe country, and the Iranian people were uniformly friendly and expressed positive feelings toward the United States. At no point did we feel concerned about our security.”

In a news release, Allan Goodman, CEO of the Institute of International Education, said, “Educational diplomacy is at the forefront of opening up dialogue between two countries, often before full diplomatic relations have been restored,”

At each of the 13 Iranian universities and research centers visited by Holland, who is director of Ball State’s Center for International Development, the delegation asked if any US college students were enrolled there.

“They all answered in the same way — they have no American students,” Holland said. “The major obstacles are the US State Department’s travel warning and the government classification of Iran as a country under sanctions. My impression is that the Iranian government would issue visas to US students to study in Iran. The obstacles seem to be on the US side.”

Holland did find other international students in Iran, mostly from neighboring Iraq, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, with a few from Europe, China, Korea and Japan.

Ball State says it had one Iranian undergraduate student enrolled in 2014-15 and no Iranian graduate students.

He pointed out that President Hassan Rouhani had in 2013 at the UN General Assembly, stated that one way to begin the process of normalization of US-Iran relations was through educational collaboration, such as exchange of students and faculty members and university partnerships.

Holland was joined by three IIE officials and one representative each from the University of Southern California, Pitzer College, Wayne State University and Rutgers University on the trip, which was approved by both governments.

“There is a strong interest on the Iranian side to collaborate with universities in the United States, including sending students with Iranian government scholarships to study in the US,” he added.