IRAN: Dissolution of medical university sparks protest

A decision by the health ministry to dissolve one of Iran's largest and most prominent medical universities has sparked protests, including from legislators disputing the ministry's right to close it.

Health Minister Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi said on 30 October that the Medical Sciences University of Iran would cease to exist and that its training, research and students units would be transferred to other medical science universities in Tehran. The 'therapeutic and sanitary units' would transfer to the University of Shahid Beheshti on the outskirts of the capital.

She claimed her decree to dissolve the university was based on a notification from the office of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, under which government departments are to be moved away from Tehran.

She later insisted, in response to protests from members of the Iranian parliament, that professors at the university were "not unhappy about the dissolution".

However Iranian exile sources said a number of the university's 730 faculty members had resigned. Students staged a three-day sit-in in front of the medical school in early November.

Although the closure was announced six weeks into the beginning of the academic year when teaching had already begun and a new cohort admitted, a health ministry official Hassan Agha Jani said "students should be confident that no damage will occur to their education and all duties will be transferred to the Medical Science University of Tehran."

The move was seen by analysts as part of a move by the government to merge universities to tighten control over them. Universities have been the base of anti-government protests since the disputed elections last year.

However, in an indication that parliament is becoming increasingly concerned about the government crackdown on universities, the official Mehr news agency reported that as many as 18 Iranian parliamentarians had protested at the move against the medical university in a letter to the health minister, saying the notification from the president's office was "an excuse" and that Vahid-Dastjerdi did not have the authority to dissolve the university.

Parliament's health committee summoned the health minister for questioning, disputing the legality of the closure. Masood Pezeshkian, a member of parliament from Tabriz and a former minister of health and medical education between 2001-05, said the ministry should explain the legality or otherwise of the decision.

Vahid-Dastjerdi said in a response reported on 6 November to parliament that the health ministry had recognised the notification from the president's office as "a good plan and we ratified it".

Members insisted on reconsideration of the decision, which they said would "create social, scientific and health costs to the community".

"Now that the country is improving its medical services and the scientific levels of students of medicine and other related fields of study, dissolution of the University of Medical Sciences was not an appropriate, measure" the parliamentarians said in a letter, reported Mehr.

Other former health ministers also protested. Reza Maklekzadeh, minister of health from 1991-93 and a professor of internal medicine at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, called the decision "hasty". And former health minister Alireza Marandi, a professor of paediatrics at Shahid Beheshti University, said parliamentarians were astonished at the "unexpected" and "surprising" decision.

Meanwhile Avaz Heydarpour, a member of the Majlis (parliament), said the move could incite more tension and protests in the capital.

The university operates eight schools and institutes, nine teaching hospitals and 16 non-teaching hospitals and is responsible for training 16,000 students.

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