Decline in Young Population Leaves 1.7m Empty Seats in Varsities

In the entrance exam held in June this year, universities had an overall capacity to admit 800,000 students while only  500,000 took the test.In the entrance exam held in June this year, universities had an overall capacity to admit 800,000 students while only  500,000 took the test.

Passing the Konkoor (Iran’s national university entrance exam) which used to be a source of pride and honor for young adults fresh out of high school seems to have lost its allure in recent years.

Konkoor (taken from the French word Concours) was introduced in Iran’s educational system in the 1970s, and peaked in number of applicants in the 2000s and early 2010s, but there have been fewer takers year-on-year for the exam over the past few years.

“There are currently 1.7 million empty seats at Iranian universities in all levels,” said Minister of Science, Research and Technology Mohammad Farhadi on Friday at a function in Kurdestan Province, ISNA reported.

That includes all state, private, Islamic Azad, and Payam-e Noor universities around the country.

“In the entrance exam held in June this year, universities had an overall capacity to admit 800,000 students barring Azad University. While 840,000 registered for the exam, less than the number showed up on the day of the exam and only 500,000 took the test.”

Among them, nearly 350,000 were admitted to full-time university majors in state-run academic institutions.

Senior advisor at the National Organization for Educational Testing (Sanjesh) also said there were enough university seats for all students.

“Most of the empty seats belong to the non-profit and non-governmental higher education institutes and Payam-e Noor. Registering in certain majors in some of these institutions does not require taking the entrance exam,” Hussein Tavakoli noted.

Payam-e Noor University (PNU) is a public university system and one of the largest universities in Iran. Established in 1988, it is a legal body under the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and has 4,000 academic members and 800,000 national and international students.

 No Cause for Concern

However, the Director of Demography Association of Iran Hussein Mirzaei said this reduction in numbers of applicants for universities is normal and should not be seen as a crisis. Last year around 877,835 students (153,000 less than the previous year) took the exams.

“We saw an increasing number of high school and university freshmen in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but the rate has been declining since then,” he said. This is due to the baby boom in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution when the population more than doubled from 36 million in 1978 to 75 million by 2011. The national age pyramid (or population pyramid) shows a boom in the young population of 15-19 years and 20-24 years (the post revolution generation).

Although economists call it the “golden population,” the trend will leave its effects on the next generation in the form of “population momentum.” Momentum occurs because older cohorts differ in absolute size from those cohorts currently bearing children, which impacts the immediate birth and death rates in the population that determine the intrinsic rate of growth.

“The rate of university applicants will continue to drop for several years to come due to the smaller number of young people now reaching the portals of higher education,” the science minister said.

This must not be seen as a crisis, Mirzaei deemed. “Developed countries faced this phenomenon decades ago, and the situation does not call for concern, but for proper management.”

He said by the end of the 21st century, almost all countries in the world will have a gray population, which is to say that 15% would be above 65 years of age. “Right now 8% of Iran’s population is above 65, but that will increase to 15% by 2050,” Mirzaei added.

 Plans to Increase Varsity Students

Education in Iran is highly centralized. The Ministry of Education is primarily responsible for education planning, financing, administration, and the expansion and revisions of the curriculum, with the Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Health and Medical Education supervising higher education. Teacher training, grading, and examinations are also the responsibility of the Education Ministry.

Since the 1979 revolution, successive governments have expanded the higher education system. According to the latest statistics, Iran has approximately 4.5 million university students, of which 60% are women.

In 2008, 85% of the Iranian adult population was literate, well ahead of the regional average of 62%. This rate increases to 97% among young adults (aged between 15 and 24) without any gender discrepancy. By 2007, Iran had a student to workforce population ratio of 10.2%, standing among the countries with highest ratio in the world.

Data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggests that enrolment at Iranian universities more than doubled in the 2000-2010 period and according to the Economist, in 2013, 58% of Iranians aged 18 to 24 were studying in universities. The government has set an ambitious target of 60% for 2025.

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