New minister to continue higher education reforms

Iran’s parliament, or Majlis, has finally approved the country’s new ministers for education and higher education, after previous nominees for the posts failed to win a parliamentary vote of confidence in August. They will continue reforms, said President Hassan Rouhani.

Reza Faraji Dana, the new minister for science, research and technology – an electrical engineer with a doctorate from the University of Waterloo in Canada – was finally confirmed by the assembly on 28 October after many hours of debate.

Also confirmed was Ali Asghar Fani in the education portfolio. Fani was, according to state-run media, briefly an education minister under previous president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

However Reza Salehi Amiri, Rouhani’s proposed minister for youth – another key ministry – was rejected by the assembly. Iran Student News Agency said on 3 November that a new name had been put forward.

Faraji Dana was president of the University of Tehran until December 2005. His ministry includes higher education – a sensitive portfolio given the role of students and universities in opposing government policies and their ability to rally public support.

The 100,000 professors and scientists who are members of scientific academies and boards are also considered to be influential politically.

The appointments of ministers of education and higher education have been particularly fraught.

Even when other ministers nominated by Rouhani were confirmed in August, the Majlis rejected previous nominee Jafar Mili-Monfared – considered to be a reformist – for the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology.


In August, Rouhani appointed Jafar Tofighi to oversee universities as interim higher education minister.

Tofighi made a number of announcements and changes to roll back the hardline university policies of the previous regime. But he was not nominated by Rouhani for the permanent post of minister after he was criticised by the assembly for allegedly dismissing conservative officials at the ministry.

In the past two months, Tofighi has removed several university leaders who brought in strict gender segregation and who disadvantaged female students by restricting the subjects they were allowed to enrol for.

He had also begun to invite back professors who had been forced into retirement ostensibly because of their opposition to the previous regime.

Rouhani had to put forward a third candidate – Faraji Dana, also considered to be a reformist – and the president insisted that university reforms would continue.

The president, who was elected in June, has pledged to revitalise and reform universities after years of restrictions under the previous regime.

Insisting that reform policies would continue under Faraji Dana, Rouhani told the Majlis: “An official may change for some reason but the same path will be pursued. The government will not retreat from its [moderate] path even one iota.”

Rouhani also criticised the punishment of students and repeated previous calls for academic freedom.

“There should be freedom of expression in universities,” he said. “This requires a more peaceful and more democratic atmosphere” on campuses.

Before being confirmed as minister, Faraji Dana promised to look into the situation of ‘starred students’ – those barred from universities by the previous regime because of political activities on campuses.

Problems not over?

But Rouhani’s problems may not be over.

This week some 150 Majlis members signed a letter of protest after Faraji Dana appointed Mili-Monfared as his deputy minister and Tofighi as special advisor, asking Rouhani to intervene, IRNA reported.

Mili- Monfared had apparently been rejected by the assembly for his alleged sympathies with the 2009 post-election protests.

Abbas Moghtadaei, a member of the assembly’s education and research commission, said on Wednesday that Faraji Dana had assured the assembly during his confirmation hearing that he would not hire or dismiss anyone whose sympathies with the 2009 protests were "in doubt".

The process to ‘impeach’ the science minister could begin, Moghtadaei warned.