Tag Archives: higher education

Higher Education in Iran: The Path to Freedom and…Singlehood

June 21, 2012

5th Day - 3V

Three years ago Iranians marched through the streets of Tehran and other major cities in Iran protesting the presidential elections, which soon became known as the Green Revolution. I remember watching news clips and YouTube videos of the protests and found myself moved by the faces of all the people marching, especially the young men and women. But what really moved me were the faces of the Iranian women, mostly in their late teens and twenties, dressed in jeans, and form fitting coats, their heads and hair covered under loosely tied scarves. Video after video showed these fearless young women standing up to the riot police even if it meant being struck by their batons, feet or hands. These women did not back away but continued to march and cried out for freedom. Many were arrested, jailed, and even lost their lives.

I left Iran in August 1978 at the precipice of a popular Revolution, which morphed into the Islamic Revolution, which then overthrew the Shah and ended the country’s 2500 years of monarchical dynasties. In those heady days of the Revolution, Iranian men and women from all walks of life had poured into the streets carrying anti-Shah banners and calling for freedom. I was a freshman at the University of San Diego as the Revolution unfolded in Iran and watched the events as a spectator would in the nosebleed section of a giant stadium. And I’m still watching from the sidelines from my perch in Southern California.

In today’s Islamic Republic of Iran, women are asking for freedoms which Iran’s theocratic government is finding difficult to address. It appears that when it comes to higher education, women account for nearly 60 percent of the total enrollment at Iranian universities. In addition, the increasing number of educated females with a global awareness of social issues (thanks to satellite television, the internet, and inexpensive foreign travel), has also made it difficult for these women to find husbands they consider compatible. At the same time, divorces in Iran have increased by 135 percent, pushing into the forefront a dramatic rise in numbers of women who are choosing to remain single.

According to an article I recently read in the NY Times: “Politicians and clerics are warning that an entire generation is growing up with values that are anathema to the traditional ones upheld by the state.” A leading ayatollah, Kazem Saddighi, said the following in a recent sermon: “Young people who are not married are nude, as marriage is like divine clothes to cover them.” But with more women earning higher salaries by virtue of holding university degrees and the continued rise in divorce rates, remaining single, renting an apartment and living alone and not with one’s family, is beginning to be seen as a mark of success. Interestingly, the young women embarking on a life of singlehood and pursuing careers have the support of their parents.

The Iran I grew up in was not against women. In fact, women were able to attain higher education, study abroad, hold positions in government and business, marry and raise families, or remain single. In fact, I remember a popular TV series called “Talagh” (=Divorce), which dealt with stories of marriages falling apart and the drama around it. What is interesting in today’s Iran is that it is the Iranian women, pushed into second or third class ranking as having less worth than a man per Islamic doctrine, subjected to strict dress codes and social restrictions, are the ones who are fanning the flames of change. Education, especially access to higher education, has been the Islamic regime’s goal from its early days. What the framers of the Islamic Revolution had not accounted for is this sudden increase in a very highly educated and outspoken female population. This super irony isn’t lost on me.

In the words of one thirty-something Iranian female quoted in the NYT article: “Society has no option but to accept us…I hope the state will follow.” I certainly hope so. It would be foolish otherwise.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.
www.acei1.com

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Strange Bedfellows: Questionable Alliances in Higher Education

March 29, 2012

University of New York Tirana

Tell me something, why do perfectly fine and accredited universities align themselves with shady start-ups in far-flung corners of the world? I ask this question because a week ago I came across an article in the NYT An Albanian College Relying on U.S. Cachet that speaks of exactly this very issue. Just the opening paragraph introducing this Albanian College as situated in a “dingy backstreet” in the Tirana, the Albanian Capital, is enough to give you the creeps. Yet, there it is: The University of New York, Tirana boasting an “arrangement with Empire State College, a division of the State University of New York system that is based in Saratoga Springs and is devoted to adult education and non-traditional learning.” Mind you, these “arrangements” are not unique to our accredited U.S.- based institutions. We are not alone; our counterparts in Britain and Australia are just as busy setting up “arrangements” with private education providers in the developing world.

An alumnus of the University of NY, Tirana, now attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, complained that the courses he had taken were on a par with high school level subjects offered at an American high school. And that says a lot! It’s not about the content of courses and teaching staff, it’s the fact that a degree from an institution with an American-sounding name carries a great deal of cachet in a place such as Albania.

These so-called “arrangements” got a once-prominent academic institution, the University of Wales (founded in 1893), into hot water, so hot that it lost its accreditation in 2011 and was completely abolished. Thanks to an investigation by the BBC (nice to see journalism doing what it is meant to do–but I digress) which discovered that the University’s validation of programs offered by Fazley International College in Malaysia was being used to fraudulently award degrees and was even allowing students to obtain visas in order to work in the U.K.

Of course, these chummy arrangements are all about money. Students at the University of New York, Tirana pay more than $32,000 and for “an extra $100 or so per credit hour,” students taking classes in English can graduate and receive an American diploma. The same alum mentioned above says the following in the NYT article: “We didn’t even learn how to use a financial calculator. You are graduating with a degree in finance, and you don’t know how to use the calculator.” Here’s what Kevin Kinser, an expert on cross-border education at SUNY Albany is quoted as saying for the University of New York, Tirana, that the “connection with Empire State College is a way of developing legitimacy – a branding issue.” Someone’s definitely paying someone for the brand name or being associated with the brand.

I’m reminded of the saying “you are who you associate with,” and it seems it’s alive and well at our institutions of higher learning. Desperate for the almighty dollar, they are willing to give a part of themselves away, undermining their own credibility, and perhaps even contributing to their own demise. Let’s not forget what happened to the University of Wales.


The Frustrated Evaluator
www.acei1.com

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