Higher Education is supposed to be the route to something else

Getting a college degree was supposed to be the way doors opened magically in front of you. Supposedly with a degree in your pocket, you were able to go into the world and do something. The something might never be actually specified for you, but it was something different from the things open to your parents at the same age.

In Iran today, there are plenty of people with a degree, but the frustrating part is the doors are definitely not opening.

Too many graduates

How can there be too many graduates? In fact, it is easy. The World Bank estimates that in the age group 15-24 about 26% of the population is unemployed. There immediately are too many graduates, about 1 in 4 too many.

In the long term, the effects of having no jobs at home are that young people leave. The brain-drain as it is called. It is estimated that this costs Iran about 8% of GDP/ year. The ones who get out are the best and brightest from the top universities. The ones who get to leave when external organizations coming into the university and cherry-picking.

The effect on any economy is a double-whammy. In the first place, the home country is left with a lower standard of graduate which helps home to remain behind the 8-ball. While the external agencies get to move ahead at what is effectively a 2x rate because of more money and more brain power.

Education in Iran and women

Enrollment rates in higher education are in the high-eighties and early ninety percentiles for both men and women. When it comes to tertiary education the numbers drop slightly, but for men, the number stays about 70% while for women number drops but it still above 70%. It is a surprise to find that this is not a cause for celebration but rather a cause for concern.

The concern comes from the paternalistic idea that with too much education women will not be prepared to return to the home and raise the children. It is the old idea of why send your daughters to school if they aren’t going to work.

Former President Rafsanjani had the answer to that question back in 2000. His point that more educated mothers make for better-educated children misses the mark in so many ways, but it is hard to deny its truth. Especially when compared with the current view that when the parents of a son come to arrange a marriage with the parents of a daughter the first question is how educated is she? The concept is that women are spoiling their own marriage prospects. (I would need to start a Ph.D. immediately.)

The answer was to institute a state-sanctioned quota system. Mathematics and science are notoriously difficult for women to get into. Ironically mathematics is on the quota list. To date there has been one female winner of the Fields Medal for mathematics, Maryam Mirzakhani was Iranian.