World insight: Iran after the sanctions, and what it means for higher education

Iran is preparing for take-off. At least this is how The Economist concluded a recent analysis of investment opportunities in the country.

Judging from media coverage such as this, and the flurry of diplomatic activity in Tehran, the decision by Iran to roll back its nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions has already triggered a gold rush.

International companies are gearing up to take advantage of one of the biggest consumer markets in West Asia and North Africa.

After all, despite decades of sanctions, Iran remains the 18th largest economy in the world and it boasts one of the region’s most highly educated middle classes. Undoubtedly, the reintegration of the country into the world economy is likely to have a significant impact on the country’s higher education sector, too — Iranian students expect to benefit from new opportunities both within the country and beyond.

Since the revolution of 1979, successive Iranian governments have expanded the higher education sector in the country. According to the latest statistics, Iran has approximately 4.5 million students, of which 60 per cent are women.

Data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) indicate that enrolment at Iranian universities has more than doubled in a decade. In 2013, 58 per cent of Iranians aged 18 to 24 were studying at Iranian universities. The government has set the target at 60 per cent for 2025, and it is on track to reach this goal. Overall, Iranian parents spend more than £2.1 billion on the higher education of their children. With the lifting of sanctions, this financial commitment is likely to increase significantly, given the importance that Iranians ascribe to education.

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