Iran's universities produce promising science students

Iranian students are developing an international reputation as science superstars, and gaining admission to leading graduate programs and pursuing promising careers.

Iran's universities produce promising science students

World Bulletin/News Desk

Science students from Iranian institutions such as the Sharif University of Science and Technology in Iran display a success record of getting into top university programs in the US and landing promising careers in leading corporations, a recent article in Newsweek reports.

According to the article, Stanford has become a favorite destination of Sharif grads. Bruce A. Wooley, a former chair of the Electrical Engineering Department, has said that's because Sharif now has one of the best undergraduate electrical-engineering programs in the world.

Iranian students are developing an international reputation as science superstars.

Stanford's administrators aren't the only ones to notice. Universities across Canada and Australia, where visa restrictions are lower, report a big boom in the Iranian recruits; Canada has seen its total number of Iranian students grow 240 percent since 1985, while Australian press reports point to a fivefold increase over the past five years, to nearly 1,500.

Iranian students from Sharif and other top schools, such as the University of Tehran and the Isfahan University of Technology, have also become major players in the international Science Olympics, taking home trophies in physics, mathematics, chemistry and robotics.

As a testament to this newfound success, the Iranian city of Isfahan recently hosted the International Physics Olympiad—an honor no other Middle Eastern country has enjoyed.

Never far behind, Western tech companies have also started snatching them up. Silicon Valley companies from Google to Yahoo now employ hundreds of Iranian grads, as do research institutes throughout the West. Olympiad winners are especially attractive; according to the Iranian press, up to 90 percent of them now leave the country for graduate school or work abroad.

Part of the explanation for why schools like Sharif thrive despite difficult circumstances, says Mohammad Mansouri, a Sharif grad ('97) who's now a professor in New York, lies in the tendency of Iranian parents to push their kids into medicine or engineering as opposed to other fields, like law.

Sharif also has an extremely rigorous selection process. Every year some 1.5 million Iranian high-school students take college-entrance exams. Of those, only about 10 percent make it to the prestigious state schools, with the top 1 percent generally choosing science and finding their way to top spots such as Sharif.

Sharif also boasts an excellent faculty. The university was founded in 1965 by the shah, who wanted to build a topnotch science and technology institute. The school was set up under the guidance of MIT advisers, and many of the current faculty studied in the United States.

Another secret of Sharif's success is Iran's high-school system, which places a premium on science and exposes students to subjects Americans don't encounter until college. This tradition of advanced studies extends into undergraduate programs, with Mansouri and others saying they were taught subjects in college that U.S. schools provide only to grad students.

Several Sharif alumni point to one other powerful motivator. "When you live in Iran and you see all the frustrations of daily life, you dream of leaving the country, and your books and studies become a ticket to a better life," says one who asked not to be identified. "It becomes more than just studying," he says. "It becomes an obsession, where you wake up at 4 a.m. just to get in a few more hours before class."

The Newsweek article concludes that Iran's success is also its tragedy in that students want to move away when they graduate.

Some star students who stay in Iran and try to launch businesses complain that government officials demand a cut of their profits or impose unnecessary obstacles. Thus many Iranians who can't make it to the West head to Dubai instead.

While this may be a boon for foreign universities and tech firms, it is a serious source of brain drain for the country.

There simply are not enough quality jobs for graduates in Iran, says Ramin Farjad Rad, another Sharif grad ('97) who's now an executive at Aquantia in Silicon Valley. 

Last Mod: 15 Mayıs 2013, 11:03
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