History of Higher Education in Iran
Iran's Higer Education until the World War II
During the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah of Qajar Dynasty, the Ministry of Science was established by E'tezad al-Saltaneh. He was appointed the first minister of science in 1858. Between 1925 and 1934, when the University of Tehran was founded, many schools, institutes of higher education, colleges and other similar institutions were set up and started operating. In 1935, women began to be admitted to centers of higher learning.
During the reign of Reza Shah the first king of Pahlavi Dynasty(from the establishment of the provisional government in 1925 to the Shah's downfall in 1941), Iran witnessed one of the most eventful epochs in its history. World developments and the need to secure the interests of the great powers, coupled with the strategic location of Iran, brought about a need for a transformation in the social structure. The first steps were taken during the Qajar period, but these were not comprehensive measures. Thus, the "modernization" or the "modernist" program was launched in Iran.
Promoting higher education inside the country and the need for establishing institutions for this purpose, were considered a primary objective, especially since specialists in science and technology were required for various projects. In the beginning, schools from the Qajar period, in addition to a number of newly established ones, carried on with their activities in the field of education. Later on, some of these schools merged to form the University of Tehran. Subsequently, other centers of advanced learning began operating, some of which were also absorbed into the University of Tehran after August 1941.
The `Vezarat-e Ulum' (the Ministry of Science) was organized by Ali-qoli Mirza (E'tezad al-Saltaneh) during the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah. He was appointed the minister of science in 1858. The Ministry of Science was responsible for overseeing the activities of all institutions of learning in the country. In 1868, it was renamed the "Vezarat-e Ma'aref va O'ghaf va Sana'yeh-e Mostazrafeh" (the Ministry of Science, Endowments and Fine Arts), keeping this name until the last years of the reign of Reza Shah, when it was strated to be called the 'Vezarat-e Farhang' (Ministry of Culture). From the onset of the Pahlavi dynasty until the downfall of Reza Shah in August 1941, seven succeeded each other as minister of science. The first post was held by Mirza Yusef Khan Mushar-e A'zam in the 1925 cabinet headed by Furooghi. His title was "Kafil-e Vezarat-e Ma'aref" (the acting head of the Ministry of Science), eventually becoming the minister of science in 1926.
In the Ministry of Science's yearbook, two schools are listed as being for higher education; namely, "Tebbi" (Medical School), and "Hughoogh"' (e Law School). In addition, two other schools with the names "Ulum-e Siasi" (School of Political Science) and "Dar al-Mu'allemin-e Markazi" (Central School for Teachers' Training) are mentioned. But as classes of the School of Education had not started during the preceding three years, and the School of Political Science was run by the Foreign Ministry, they were not counted among the state institutions for higher education.
Sa'eed Nafissi wrote: "In the period from 1925 until the establishment of the University of Tehran, there existed in Iran one medical school, one school of law and political science, one school of education, one for agriculture, and one for business. These conferred knowledge to the Iranian youth at a higher level than that which could be gained from the high schools." But it must be mentioned that apart from these institutions, there other centers for higher learning, such as the Officers' College, the State School of Art, the School of Engineering, the Higher School of Midwifery, and the Alborz College, which was established by the Americans and after the banning of foreign schools in 1940, came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture.
In general, until 1923, only men were admitted to the higher educational levels, with the schools located in Tehran. Some centers of learning though were not under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture as they were formed to satisfy the personnel needs of some ministries. In particular, the School of Political Science was initially run by the Foreign Ministry, the School of Law was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and the School of Business was run by the Ministry of Economy ("Vezarat-e Favayed-e'Ammeh"). These were later turned over to the Ministry of Culture. In these schools, the expertise and knowledge of foreign instructors were also availed of for the purpose of reforming and updating the curricula. It should be mentioned that the establishment of many of these schools, including the School of Medicine and Pharmacy, the School of Political Science, and the School of Law, went back to the Qajar period, and during the reign of the first Pahlavi, they expanded and developed further.
Another factor that characterized these schools was that they charged fees: in 1920 at the suggestion of the Ministry of Science, all state -run high schools and centers for higher learning started collecting a specified amount from students, with some exceptions allowed for special cases.
Availing of Education Abroad
The practice of sending of Iranian youth abroad for education purposes goes back to the Qajar period and the reign of Fat'h-Ali Shah, when some statesmen and, at the top, Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, decided to sponsor some students to Europe to be acquainted with new sciences and technology.
During the Pahlavi period, the idea of transforming social, economic, military, and cultural institutions in the country on the one hand, and, the shortage of an expert workforce to effect these changes, made it necessary for young people to go to other countries to pursue their education. As the first steps for effecting necessary changes had already been taken and only the required personnel was lacking, action was taken: inside the country, schools were expanded at all levels, including higher education. The academic curricula were reformed and foreign experts were invited to teach in Iran, alongside Iranians. Nevertheless, Iranian statesmen still considered sending students to Europe a necessity due to the lack of advanced teaching facilities and the limited number of qualified instructors in specialized fields. Eventually, a law was passed in Parliament for sending 100 students abroad each year, at the expense of the state.
Some historians mentioned the following reasons for the need to send students to Europe:
to train specialists in science and technology at various levels
to satisfy the personnel requirements of various high schools and centers for higher learning
the need to train a work force of specialists within the political establishment
to meet the needs of a new army as well as the prerequisites for industrial development and the development of new services
When Reza Khan was Minister of War, it was for military reasons that the first group of students were sent abroad. In order to re-organize the army, 60 students were sent to France in April 1922, to learn about military techniques. But starting in 1928, with the passage of the law on sending students abroad, a group was sent every year to study modern sciences and technology. The first batch of 110 students left for France on the 15th of October, 1928, under the supervision of Esma'il Mer'at and Faradjollah Bahrami. Their chief supervisor was actually Hossein Alla', who was then Iranian ambassador to France. The second group was sent in August 1929. The fifth group, consisting of 100 students, went in 1932, while the sixth group of 82 students travelled in 1924. Up to 1924, the total number of students sent abroad to enrol in various advanced scientific and technical disciplines totalled 640. In addition, others were sent by the Ministries of Science, War, Justice, Finance, Roads and the Post and Telegraph, as well as by the Bureau of Agriculture and the Industrial Bureau. Some youngsters were also sent and supported by their affluent families to study in other countries.
All the affairs of students sponsored by the government, including their fields of study, lodgings, food and financial requirements, fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau for the Supervision of Students Abroad, located in Paris.
It should be noted that in this period, some students were also sent to England, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the United States. As mentioned earlier, before the formation of a university in Iran and according to the law, 100 students were sent abroad annually at the expense of the Ministry of Science and that in addition, some governmental institutions also sponsored some students to enrol in foreign lands in order to beef up their roster of experts. The establishment of the University of Tehran provided the necessary foundation for higher education within the country.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that while part of the national income was spent to send students abroad for advanced training, studying for several years a particular discipline decided for them by the Ministry of Science, however, efforts toward modernization and restructuring in Iran were unorganised and were not carried out systematically. Hence, on returning to the country, the graduates faced many problems. In this respect, Peter Averi noted:
"Iranian state officials have made the strange assumption that anyone educated abroad can be appointed to any job regardless of their specialization. Since the administrative system and the social structure of the country were incapable of absorbing these new occupations, the simple solution was to hire them for service in government ... Their education and what they learned corresponded to the social and political environment of the country where they were educated, and the influential officials of the country could not understand them."
The University of Tehran
The founding of the University of Tehran was a turning point in the contemporary cultural history of Iran. The main achievements are on the one hand, the teaching of the modern sciences and the training of specialists within the country (in humanities, natural and technical sciences) and on the other, there was a decline in the number of students sent abroad and the familiarity with Western science and technology, as well as lesser reliance on non-Iranian specialists.
The trends toward modernization made it a necessity to form such a center for advanced education where various scientific and technical disciplines could be taught. The idea of setting up a university was around for many years before the plan was actually carried out, but the lack of the necessary infrastructure delayed efforts in this direction. Finally, the need to train specialists to pursue various developmental activities that were already initiated, as well as the qualitative and quantitative limitations of then existing schools of higher education, and the return of Iranian graduates who were sent abroad between 1928 and 1933, provided the necessary impetus for the establishment of a center for higher learning.
The University of Tehran was formed by virtue of a law passed by the Parliament on May 29th, 1934. It contained 21 articles, through which the Parliament authorized the Ministry of Science to create an institution called "daaneshgah" (university) in Tehran, for the purpose of disseminating advanced knowledge in relation to the sciences, technology, literature and philosophy. The legislation divided the university into several departments or faculties ("daaneshkadeh"), as follows:
Contemplative and Narrated Sciences (theology)
Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Literature, Philosophy and Educational Sciences
Medicine and its various branches
Law, Political Science and Economics
The legislation further stipulated that the School of Education and Fine Arts may be considered as affiliates of the university. A constitution was drawn up for each faculty that was approved by the Supreme Council of Science.
With the passage of the law, the first step was to construct the university's physical facilities, so a property was sought, beginning from the time when the bill was still being debated. Three days before its passage into law, the land deal was finalized. Ali Asghar Hekmat wrote in his memoirs:
"Most of March 1934, I was looking for the land where the university could be erected. I looked around and finally found the Djalalieh Gardens, which measured some 200,000 square meters and were most appropriate for this purpose. The owner, Hadj Rahim Agha Tabrizi, agreed to sell at five rials per square meter. The Finance Minister reduced this price by 10 shahi per square meter (100 shahis = 1 rial). The deed was signed and the land was handed over to the Ministry of Science."
Due to the acute need for the School of Medicine, the first to be built was the Anatomy Hall, the construction of which commenced in June 1934, and inauguration was in February 1935. The acting Minister of Science was to be the president of the university from the date of founding to February 5th, 1943. Therefore, Ali Asghar Hekmat, then minister of science, served as the first president and held the post until 1938. He was followed by Esma'il Mer'at, who was the last person to head the university during the reign of the first Pahlavi.
The various departments initially operated in 1934 under the helm of the following:
Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, head of the Faculty of Law
Dr. Loghmanoddoleh, head of the Faculty of Medicine
Dr. Mahmood Hessabi, head of the Faculty of Engineering
Dr. Issa Sadigh-A'lam, head of the Faculties of Literature and Science
Seyyed Nasrollah Taghavi, head of the Faculty of Theology
The economic, social, administrative and cultural developments already in progress required medical doctors, legal and industrial experts, as well as the educational authorities required to provide for these needs. This was more acute in higher education and the University of Tehran, being the appropriate institution for directing the course of advanced learning within this social system, should have been run by Iranian professors. But such professors could be found in sufficient numbers only in the fields of literature and the Islamic sciences. There were a few, such as Dr. Mahmood Hessabi (civil engineer and Ph.D. in physics), Gholam-Hossein Rahnama (mathematics), Dr. Ghassem Ghani (medicine), Dr. Issa Sadigh (mathematics), Dr. Loghman Adham (medicine), Dr. Ali Akbar Siasi (education), who studied abroad prior to the modernization movement. Also, some of those sent to Europe and graduated during the years 1928-1933, taught in various fields at the University of Tehran. Yet, the limited number of these experts did not fill the need, so the Ministry of Science hired some foreign professors from Germany, France and the United States to complement the teaching staff.
Construction of the main buildings on the Djalalieh lands for the stipulated departments required some time. The inauguration ceremonies took place at the site for the Faculty of Law, Political Science and Economics in the presence of the Cabinet and important cultural figures. At the outset, each department conducted classes in separate locations, but gradually, with the progress of the construction work, they were transferred to the main campus. The Faculties of Literature and Science were initially located at Negarestan, the Faculty of Medicine started classes in a rented building, while the Faculty of Law was housed in the School of Law and Political Science in Atabak Alley. The Faculty of Engineering was in the northern section of Dar al-Fonoon in Nasser Khosrow St. and the Faculty of Theology was in the Sepah-Salar School.
Admission of Women to Centers of Higher Education
One of the fundamental developments in this era was a change in the image of women, a manifestation of which was their admission into the university and in other centers of advanced education. While the primarily goal of these institutions was the dissemination of modern science and technology, until 1935, the privilege of gaining expertise in such fields was limited to men. Women only reached high school, except for admissions in the Higher School of Midwifery.
In line with the drive initiated many years back toward modernization and European culture, the situation of women had to be altered in step with other social developments. Thus, the doors of the university and other centers of higher learning were opened to women in 1935, Islamic cover was abolished and a Western dress code was enforced. Women's associations were also established and the female members of the society began to be allowed to take part in public ceremonies, etc.
Tradition limited Iranian women to the family environment and did not allow them to show themselves independently outside the home. Not surprisingly, new moves, such as the discarding of the Islamic cover in public, the co-mingling of men and women and the lather's admission into higher educational institutions, were phenomena that could not be easily accepted by the people, as they went against their system of beliefs and traditional Iranian social ethics. Badr al-Mulook Bamdad, one of the officials responsible for carrying out the government's policies, wrote: "For a long time the families did not have the courage to send their daughters out to an environment where they could freely mingle with men. Everyone was waiting for the others to take the first step."
The first to accept women were the Faculties of Literature and Science and the School of Education. But in addition to opportunities inside the country, some families, mostly the wealthy ones, sent their daughters to study abroad but no woman was sponsored for foreign study by the government. In 1934, nine females were studying in Germany, France, Belgium and Beirut, and in 1935, 10 were enrolled in the said countries, as well as in England. While the government encouraged women to study, the number of male students outstripped females three-fold. Without doubt, though co-education was a novel phenomenon that also had negative repercussions, it opened a new vista in the cultural horizon of women.
Schools for Higher Education during the years 1924-1941
Following the establishment of the Tehran University, the need for experts in various disciplines still existed. Therefore, other government organizations, as the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance, Post and Telegraph, as well as the Ministry of Professions and Art (Commerce) and the Ministry of War established their own centers for advanced training. Gradually and due to some further development, some of these centers, i.e. the School of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Agriculture, and the School of Fine Arts, were transformed into faculties. Other centers of higher learning were also sprouted in the period between 1924 to 1941, including the Higher Class of Finance for the purpose of training accountants, the College of Post and Telegraph for the purpose of training technicians and the War University for high-ranking officers of the army. Mashhad's School of Health, which laid the groundwork for the School of Medicine in that area, and the Schools of Music and Architecture were also set up.