Daniel Obst in University World News (July 3rd, Issue No:374) questioned the possibility to restore relationships in higher education between Iran and the US.   The article follows a US visit to Iran in June, led by the Institute of International Education, or IIE, with US higher education leaders to meet Iranian universities and research institutes leaders in Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan.  The idea was to explore how “to reopen and expand educational and scientific dialogue”.

Mr. Obst stressed the tremendous opportunities and the “strong desire in both the United States and Iran to expand academic collaboration”.  The IIE delegation included delegations from Ball State University; Pitzer College; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; the University of Southern California; and Wayne State University, as well as representatives from IIE’s Center for International Partnerships in Higher Education. Iranian’s top universities and research institutes included the University of Tehran, Shahid Beheshti University, Sharif University of Technology and the Iranian Research Organisation for Science and Technology (IROST).

The majority of academics and university administrators the US delegation met in Iran had been educated in the United States, with many having children studying in the United States currently. Indeed, according to the 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, there were nearly 10,200 Iranian students and close to 1,400 Iranian scholars at US colleges and universities in 2013-14. Historically, the two countries also have a rich history of educational exchange.

Most Iranian institutions have already developed links with higher education institutions abroad, especially with European universities. In order to develop formal relationships with US institutions, the US delegations looked at past memoranda of understanding (MoUs) to determine “which ones can or ought to be revived, and to look at current faculty interest for new areas of engagement”. From that exchange, we know that Iranian institutions expressed interest in collaborating around nanotechnology, stem cell research, medical and health sciences and other fields.

There will be also opportunities for American students and faculty to come to Iran to study and conduct research. Several institutions, including the University of Tehran and Shiraz University, expressed “interest in developing short-term study abroad opportunities for US students that would include cultural and language immersion in addition to the academic programme”. However, academic freedom is of particular concern to higher education institutions in the US and around the world and engagement with international academic institutions in Iran would certainly help universities to  progress in that direction.