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COLLECTIONBook excerpts
TITLEThe Brain Drain from Iran to the United States
AUTHOR 1Akbar E. Torbat
DATE_THIS2002 Spring
TITLE_PARENTMiddle East Journal
PAGE_RANGE276, 286-7
PUB_THISMiddle East Institute
ABSTRACTExcerpt from article mentioning the exodus of Bahá'í intelligentsia from Iran in 1979, and the Bahá'ís' attempt at underground education.
NOTES Email me if you need the rest of this article.
TAGS- Persecution; - Persecution, Other; Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education (BIHE); Education; Human Rights; Iran (documents); Persecution, Iran
CONTENT [page 276]

... At the same time, the newly established Islamic regime began a large-scale crackdown against its political opponents. The main opponents were two guerrilla organizations: the Marxist oriented Feda'ian-e Khalg and the Islamic rooted Mojahedin-e Khalg, which had both greatly contributed to the overthrow of the Shah's regime. The active members of these organizations fled the country to save their lives. Those who remained went into hiding, but were later arrested, imprisoned, and executed.

The continued political oppression and the interference of the Islamic Republic in people's private affairs subsequently pushed a greater number of Iranians to migrate. The exact number of Iranians who left the country is not known, but some media have stated it to be about 3 million. They were mostly educated elite, political activists, intellectuals, emancipated women, people associated with the previous regime, and members of religious minorities, especially Baha,is and Jews. Some young Iranians also fled the country because of the fear of being drafted to the military for the War with Iraq. Some Iranians who did not have necessary skills to find jobs and/ or could not live abroad started to return home after a temporary stay outside the country. The number of Iranian refugees nevertheless remained high. In the 1981-1996 period, Iran was ranked fifth among countries with the highest number of refugees admitted to the US, respectively after Vietnam, the former Soviet Union, Laos, and Cambodia. Iranians also have constituted one of the highest levels of asylum seekers in Europe. The present population of Iranians abroad is now estimated to be in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 million, who are mostly settled in North America and Europe. Many are highly educated, and have advanced degrees from American and Western European universities. Included are many of Iran's best-educated elite, professionals, technocrats, and wealthy entrepreneurs. Their exodus has caused a severe social loss to Iran. Their knowledge, expertise, and wealth are certainly needed to modernize Iran. ...

[pages 286-287]

Training of the New Brains

A brief look at the Islamic higher education's curricula and the student admissions procedures will help to understand how the new brains are trained.

When the universities were reopened in 1982, general education curricula were filled with Islamic related courses such as history of Islam, Islamic studies, Islamic ethics, Islamic education, Islamic texts, Islamic values, and Imam's (Khomeini's) testaments. Moreover, non-Islamic history and secular philosophy were eliminated from the general education curricula. The Council for Cultural Revolution opposed incorporating in the universities' curricula any subjects that could call into question the validity of Islamic principles. The professors' teachings were constrained by the Islamic beliefs dictated by the Council. As a result, the quality of academic education began to decline throughout the higher education system.

After achieving the Islamization of the curricula, the next phase was to emphasize Islam in the university entrance examinations by screening the applicants based on their religious beliefs. In the national entrance examination (concours) to the universities, the students are tested on general subject matters as well as the fundamentals of Islam and/or one of the religions of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism. Only Muslims and followers of the latter three religions are officially recognized in the Islamic Republic constitution.[61] Students who believe in any other religion, or no religion at all, do not have equal opportunity to be considered for college education in Iran. A secret memorandum issued by the Supreme Revolutionary Council stated in 1991 that Bahá'ís should be barred from Iran's universities. The memorandum was made public in 1993 by the United Nations special representative, Renaldo Galindo Pohl, who was investigating human rights abuses in Iran. The Bahá'ís, due to this highly discriminatory ruling, organized their own underground university in private homes and offices throughout the country to educate their students. That university, however, was raided by the Ministry of Intelligence in October 1998, its faculty members were arrested, and its properties were confiscated.[62]

The students are generally opposed to religious questions in the universities entrance examinations and some are discouraged from taking the examination because of its religious contents. Professors as well believe that the university is the place for studying academic disciplines that can contribute to students' understanding of the real world and not religious beliefs as is dictated by the Islamic Republic. A good portion of the universities' admission capacity is politically reserved for members of the mobilization force (basij), Islamic Revolution Guards units (Pasdaran)), high-level government officials, and those who belongs to the War martyrs' (shohada') families. They get favorable treatment for admission to the universities. Also, persons who know the Qur'an by heart are exempt from taking the entrance examination. Students who belong to the government quota normally cannot compete well academically with the commonly brighter students who are passing the entrance examination with no favoritism. The number of applicants who are selected initially is much greater than the universities' capacities. In a follow up selection (gozinesh) the applicants' background is investigated and the students are screened based on their ideological and Islamic beliefs. Some applicants who have good scores in concours are illogically rejected in the gozinesh stage without any official reason given. University professors are very critical of the government's political favoritism and ideological investigation in selecting candidates for admission to the universities.


  1. Ghanoon Asasi Jomhori-e Eslami-e Iran (Islamic Republic Constitution), 2nd edition, 1997 (1376), Agah Institute Publishers, Tehran, Iran, Article 13, p.28.
  2. The Chronicle of Higher Education, "36 Faculty Arrested in Iranian Crackdown on Underground Bahai University," November 13, 1998, p. A44.
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