IRAN: Humanities and social sciences growth freeze

Many Iranian students hoping to stay on to study masters degrees in the humanities and social sciences could be prevented from doing so after the Iranian authorities announced a freeze on approvals for new courses in 12 disciplines, seen by experts as a move to curb university growth in these areas.

'Western' university disciplines such as philosophy, politics and the social sciences will be 'revised' according to Islamic rules, and new textbooks written up, Iranian officials have said. Until then no new courses in these disciplines will be given the go-ahead.

Restrictions were announced for new courses in 12 subjects including law, philosophy, management, psychology, political science, women's studies and human rights.

"The content of the current courses in the 12 subjects is not in harmony with religious fundamentals and they are based on Western schools of thought," a senior education official Abolfazi Hassani said on state-run radio on 24 October.

New departments in these subjects would not be sanctioned and the government would also revise the content of ongoing programmes "by up to 70 %", he said.

Earlier this month the education ministry said it would alter "textbooks and educational trends" in both schools and universities "in order to turn students into thinkers".

The latest announcement is seen as a means of blocking significant expansion by universities, where there is huge demand for higher studies, particularly at masters level, as a result of an expansion in undergraduate courses in recent years.

The current regime is intent on reducing the growth of universities in general as a way of curbing the student movement, which has led anti-government protests.

In August Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for studies in the humanities to be 'modified' saying some two million students out of a total of 3.5 million were enrolled in the humanities in the country's universities.

"There is very strong demand for masters degrees in Iran," said Saeed Paivandi, a professor of sociology at the University of Paris and an expert on the Iranian education system. "Universities have envisaged setting up new programmes for a long time now, as part of their development and growth as institutions. But development and growth will be blocked as a result of this decision.

"This does not affect existing courses, which will continue, but the opening of new diplomas," Paivandi explained: "Contrary to interpretations by some people, no existing courses will be cancelled and no existing disciplines will be shut down, although they may be revised in accordance with changes dictated by the [authorities]."

The diktat comes in the wake of a key speech by Khamenei last year, elements of which he repeated more recently in a rare visit to the city of Qom, headquarters of the Iranian clergy, on 21 October when he warned universities "against the danger of the intrinsically poisonous knowledge of [Western] humanities".

"The content of humanities books taught these days is by nature in contradiction with the Islamic movement and state. They rely on a different world view," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast on official media.

"Those individuals who are specialised in and familiar with religion should present the views of Islam about the economic system, management, war and peace, education and many other issues."

He also called for philosophy teaching to "remain in the hands of the religious seminaries" otherwise "teaching of philosophy will be implemented by those who may not be qualified to carry it out".

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