Sep 4, 2008

Newsweek: Forget Harvard, Top Iranian Universities

Newsweek came out with a very interesting article recently about the rare excellence of Iranian Universities:

This article enforces what I see in many computer & robotic competitions that I follow. Iranian universities, and even high school, get top honors.

The question that begs itself is: how can they do it?
The article's explanation is rather shallow: all these top students want to leave Iran so bad, education excellence is their ticket out.

However, this doesn't explain why other 3rd world countries with even worse conditions do not produce such high caliber of graduates at that rate (egypt, sudan, bangladesh to name few) (important note: there are definitely excellent students from these countries, but not at the same rate).

The Iranian Educational Excellence is definitely a case of system phenomenon. Iranian students excel in so many fields and universities run by different people. Thus, it's not the result of one or few individuals. So, how can we explain it?

I don't know much about Iran, so all these reasons are really just speculative. I would love if somebody with knowledge of the internal state of Iranian education can shed some light:

1- Individual Motivation of students to leave the country and work & study outside is definitely a reason.

2- Possibly the war with Iraq in the 1980s and the embargo forced Iran to rely on its own resources to repair and produce weapons. This must have lead the universities & army to become very efficient and enter the growth cycle of Research - Manufacture - Test - Research again (to enhance) - etc.
I noted in a previous post that this cycle of enhancement is essential for development of educational systems in any country. I personally think that the excellence of American Universities comes from a similar cycle with the Industries. This keeps the stakes high at the universities, thus politics relatively low.

3- An initial excellent seed: it's possible that the Shah's 1950s scholarships have seeded the universities with excellent professors who brought best practices from western universities. This initial group of professors helped grow the Iranian Universities in the right direction and through the challenges and tests of later years.

but, again, as I said before, I don't know much about the internal situation of Iranian education. All these reasons are speculative. I would love to hear a more educated explanation of this phenomenon.


  1. you can thank arab governments and their corrupt thugs for our state of backwardness. every half ass country that was once far behind the arabs is now moving ahead. even the poverty stricken Africa has democracies flourishing almost everywhere and Olympic accomplishments that leave the arabs in their wake. you can thank America for protecting our dictators. else, with all these colossal failures plaguing the arab world they would not have lasted as long as they did.

  2. I agree that this development is partly supported by the accomplishments of the shah, who set up schools under the guidance of US experts. Furthermore, the situation in other 3rd world countries is probably not comparable to that in Iran. I suppose that the government of Egypt, for example, is not as suppressive as that of Iran, where authorities literally WANT young people to leave the country, thus lessening the danger of internal riots. On the other hand, countries like Sudan lack technological standards and infrastructure to ensure excellent academic performance. In conclusion, it can be said that Iran's secret of success lies in the right mix of misery and proper infrastructure, as ironic as it may sound.

  3. To Jamal,
    Arab countries have always been half ass in comparison to Iran as far as history goes. The only country in the middle east that matches Iran's history and culture is Babylon or current Iraq. For the rest of the arab world, civilization started with Muhammed. I am not including Lebanon as an arab state. And if it wasn't for the muslim clerics, Iran would have been up there among the top 10 developed countries by now.