Friday, September 21, 2012

For Immediate Release

Iran: Ensure Equal Access to Higher Education
Scrap Policies That Ban Students From Studies on Basis of Gender 

(Beirut, September 22, 2012) – The Iranian government should immediately reverse policies that place unnecessary restrictions on academic freedom for university students, in particular women, Human Rights Watch said today. Some of these “Islamicization” measures are to be introduced for the new academic year, which begins on September 22, 2012. Others have been put in place in recent years and adopted by universities across the country.

The measures include bans on female and male enrollment in specific academic fields in many universities, but with the greatest number of restrictions on women. They also include quotas that limit the percentage of women students in certain fields of study, and segregation in classrooms and facilities.

“For decades, Iranian universities have offered high quality education to male and female students,’’ said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “But as university students across Iran prepare to start the new academic year, they face serious setbacks, and women students in particular will no longer be able to pursue the education and careers of their choice.”

Authorities are enacting “Islamicization” policies at universities within the context of a wider crackdown on academic freedom that has taken place since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005. Iran’s universities have increasingly become targets of government efforts to stifle dissent and “Islamicize” higher education, Human Rights Watch said.

The new restrictions provide evidence that authorities, spearheaded by the Science Ministry, are carrying out longstanding plans to “Islamicize” universities and institute programs that restrict the role of young women in universities and their access to education, Human Rights Watch said. Since the 1990s, more than 60 percent of Iran’s university students have been women.

The most recent restrictions are outlined in an annual manual published in August by the Science and Technology Ministry, which regulates higher education. The manual lists the major fields of study available to applicants sitting for the national entrance exam for public universities, which was held in June. It reveals that 36 public universities across the country have banned female enrollment in 77 fields, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency. The manual also indicates that universities have barred male enrollment in a number of majors.

On August 6 Mehr reported that the 2012 manual published that month by Iran’s National Education Assessment Organization (NEAO), a Science Ministry department, provided a large list of majors at various universities across the country that had been “single-gendered,” meaning that only males or females will be permitted to study that subject. The process is carried out by individual universities under Science Ministry authority. More than 60 universities across the country made the changes, with restrictions on around 600 majors according to Daneshjoo News, an opposition website that covers academic freedom issues.

An August 4 Daneshjoo article says that this academic year Iranian universities have “single-gendered” about 20 percent of mathematics and technical sciences major fields of study (including engineering), more than 30 percent in social sciences, 10 percent in traditional sciences, 34 percent in the arts/humanities, and 25 percent in foreign languages. Some universities have “single-gendered” majors for alternating semesters to enforce gender segregation but have not entirely banned access to either male or female candidates.

Banned majors for women include computer science, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, and materials engineering at Arak University; natural resource engineering, forestry, and mining engineering at Tehran University; and political science, accounting, business administration, public administration, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering at Esfahan University. At Emam Khomeini University, in Qazvin, all 14 social sciences majors were restricted to males.

“Single-gendering” also restricts choices for male students. For example, at Esfahan University men are no longer allowed to major in history, linguistics, theology, applied chemistry, Arabic/Persian language and literature, sociology, and philosophy.

Some of the larger universities with substantial “single-gendering” of major fields of study, Daneshjoo reported, are Arak University (88 percent), Esfahan University (68 percent), Emam Khomeini University (82 percent), Lorestan University (100 percent), Ardebil Research University (100 percent), Golestan University (59 percent), and Alameh Tabataba’i University (43 percent). Shahid Chamran University in Ahvaz has “single-gendered” all of its 47 majors for men, even though it is officially a registered coeducational university.

Only 3 percent have been “single-gendered” at Tehran University, one of the country’s premiere public universities.

Neither the universities nor the Science Ministry have explained why they single-gendered certain majors. In an August 26 statement, NEAO criticized coverage of the universities’ decision to “single-gender” majors, and alleged that opposition media outlets and websites incorrectly reported that the government had instituted wholesale bans on selected majors for women.

The agency alleged that the total number of majors at universities throughout the country had actually increased by 14 percent, and that the vast majority were still open to both male and female students. On September 11, Hossein Tavakoli, head of the agency, announced that the results of the 2012-13 academic year national entrance exams had been released and women make up 60 percent of the entering class.
For more background on changes in recent years, please see the below text.

 more Human Rights Watch reporting on Iran, please visit:

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