On the first day of the Persian year, a talk on the denial of higher education in Iran was organised in School 2 in the Quad. The upcoming Iranian Society and Middle Eastern society had celebrated Nowruz in the Mansfield building the previous evening.
Four speakers had been invited to discuss the denial to higher education that many aspiring students in Iran face owing to their religion, gender or political affiliation not aligning with the ideals of the current Iranian regime. Next door was the Foreign Affairs Society talk on ‘US Foreign Policy: The Era of Super-Partner- Not Superpower’. Amid news flow concerning the two state’s relationship, the timing seemed noteworthy.
Professor Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St Andrews started off the discussion; “In Iran today there is a tension between what the regime yearn for and what people tend to want.”
Students have in Iranian history and recently in the Green revolution in 2009, been seen as vanguards of change. The Iranian regime has latched on to this and instead high-jacked the university system to enshrine their political aspirations. For example the government choosing to conduct the Friday prayers on the Tehran University campus is a pertinent source of control. In Iran, a country that values education highly, there has according to Professor Ansari been an incremental suppression of intellectual freedom since the 1990s. University blacklists, and a star warning system, which acts towards a deterrence of critical thinking.
Women in Iran face indirect hindrances to accessing higher education. According to speaker Leila Alikarami, human rights activist and lawyer, who focuses on women’s and media law in Iran, women who have long been discriminated in society in Iran, but have more recently been shut off from certain university courses, owing to the government’s concern about the empowering and political factor that education can have on students.
Saba Tabzib from the UK Baha’i Office of Public Affairs is part of the coordination of worldwide efforts to address the issue of denial to higher education in Iran through the “How Can We Solve This” campaign. Signed letters from people protesting against the discrimination letters will be forwarded to the British Education Minister William Hague and the respective Iranian Minister, Kamran Daneshjo, in an attempt to cast a light on the cause.
In Iran, only students from the four recognised religions can access higher education, Bahai is not on this list. Consequently Bahai students are barred from entering university, unless they lie about the religious conviction. Further people that do not fall into the four official religions are also denied fundamental political and social rights. The question of the denial of education to many parts of the Iranian society is not necessarily a minority question stressed Saba Tabzib further, it affects Iranian society as a whole.
As a Bahai, speaker and St Andrews PhD student, Baharan Karamzadeh was not accepted into any university in Iran, despite receiving the highest grades in the year. The Bahai community instead sought out to counter this discrimination by setting up a parallel education system; this is how the Bahai Institute for Higher Education was established.
Raids by the government on the institute is common and the lack of resources and space can be a hindrance, but as Baharan Karamzadeh explained the dedication of the community has made the institute remain strong. Despite Baharan Karamzadeh not having been accepted into the formal Iranian higher education system, she was able to fulfil her educational aspiration to study and complete an undergraduate degree in Chemistry.
The denial of certain religious minorities, ethnic minorities, refugees, women or people with critical political ideals, should not have to attend underground higher educational schemes stresses the “Can you solve this?” campaign.
For more info on the denial to higher education in Iran campaign visit: http://can-you-solve-this.org/uk