New call to end ‘education apartheid’ for students

An Iranian group active in defending the rights of students to attend higher education institutions has said Iran is pursuing a second cultural revolution by practising ‘educational apartheid’, as instances of students being barred from universities and other discriminatory measures have increased.

The allegations were outlined in a report released on 17 May by the Iranian Advocacy Council for the Right to Education, or ACRE, also known as the Council for Defending the Right to Education.

The ACRE report details accelerating persecution of and discrimination against university students in Iran.

“The educational apartheid has specifically gained speed over the past three years, with hundreds of students…banned from pursuing their education through rulings issued by disciplinary committees on campuses and the Ministry of Science’s disciplinary committee,” the report states.

It also criticises the practice of marking of certain students’ transcripts with a star – a system used to deprive many of the opportunity to continue their education because of their political views or actions.

Many ‘starred’ students have also been arrested, interrogated and imprisoned, particularly after the 2009 presidential elections, which were followed by nationwide protests against the election results.

The ACRE report raises concerns that the practice of “starring and banning students from their right to education” will increase further, and calls for an end to the violations of Iranian students’ rights to education, speech, association and assembly.

Iranian analysts abroad confirmed that discrimination against politically active students and other groups was rife.

“While I would not go as far as calling the system an apartheid one, as it is not race-based, it is highly discriminatory,” Iranian Professor Muhammad Sahimi, a chemical engineer at the University of Southern California, told University World News.

The system also denies education to the Baha’i religious minority, tries to limit the number of female students, gives preference to the children of supporters of the regime, and kicks out political activists, Sahimi said.

Bob Freedman, a member of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University in the US, told University World News: “While ‘apartheid’ is a catchy word, it should be used with care. It appears to me that what is going on is political discrimination against Iranian students.”

CAF wrote a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameinei via the Iranian delegation to the United Nations in November 2010 expressing concern over the harsh treatment of student activists and the disregard for freedom of expression on university campuses across Iran.

An Iranian professor at a US university, using the pseudonym Pirouz Azadi, told University World News: "Educational apartheid is not racially motivated per se, but rather anchored on religious minorities, which include the 15% Sunni population of Iran and the half million Baha'is."

"The Islamic republic, since its inception in 1979, is anchored on the premise of a politically charged interpretation of Islamic Shiite jurisprudence, whereby it bases its sustenance on limiting opportunities, including higher education, to prevent certain groups from accessing it,” Azadi added.

Universities were kept closed for three years during the early 1980s Iranian cultural revolution led by Abdolkarim Aourosh and aimed at Islamisation.

“That revolution led to the majority of seats in universities being given to the pious revolutionary and Basij guards, or the families of the clergy or their cronies, or the martyred families," Asadi said, referring to pro-government Basij paramilitary volunteers.

He pointed out that "against all odds” women came to constitute “up to 65% of university students – especially in medicine, dentistry, science and engineering”. He continued: “The Majlis [Iranian parliament] tried to put a 50% quota on this, but it was rejected by the populace.”

"All in all, this has led to…imprisoning many hundreds of political prisoners of conscience, most of whom are college students and grassroots journalists," Asadi concluded.