It is clear that although Iran has received some assistance from other countries and has employed a certain number of scientists from other nations including from Armenia, the nuclear program as well as the other high tech projects in missiles and satellites have relied mainly on domestic capabilities.
Newsweek, an American news magazine that does not usually hold a positive view on Iran, recently carried an article on Iranian elite universities of technology; the schools that have contributed to the country’s ambitious but controversial high tech projects.
Newsweek’s double summer issue dated 18 and 25 August 2008, featured a special section on higher education that included the article on Iran, signed by A. Molavi and entitled “The Star Students of The Islamic Republic: Forget Harvard – one of the world's best undergraduate colleges is in Iran”.
Thanks to this article, one discovers that despite all the anti-Iranian rhetoric and measures such as visa restrictions, US universities are vigorously trying to recruit Iranian graduate students (Iran’s higher education is based on the US model where the bachelor’s degree lasts 4 years). And interestingly, it seems US institutions are not alone:
Iranian students are developing an international reputation as science superstars. Stanford's administrators aren't the only ones to notice. Universities across Canada and Australia, where visa restrictions are lower, report a big boom in the Iranian recruits; Canada has seen its total number of Iranian students grow 240 percent since 1985, while Australian press reports point to a fivefold increase over the past five years, to nearly 1,500.
Originally known as Aryamehr, Sharif is a public university that was founded in 1965 in association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. The MIT connection however hardly explains the current situation as it was discontinued after the Islamic Revolution almost 30 years ago. According to the article, Sharif is not even the only institution that is appreciated in the West:
University of Tehran and the Isfahan University of Technology have also become major players in the international Science Olympics, taking home trophies in Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Robotics.
Tech companies have also started snatching them up. Silicon Valley companies from Google to Yahoo now employ hundreds of Iranian grads, as do research institutes throughout the West.
The question that naturally arises as what the reasons behind the Iranian universities’ strong performance are. This is a question that the Newsweek’s reporter has not dealt with in a thorough way as he has not identified all the essential factors.
According to him, among factors that do not count are faculty salaries and work conditions:
> University professors barely make ends meet—the pay is so bad some must even take second jobs as taxi drivers or petty traders.
> International sanctions also make life difficult, delaying the importation of scientific equipment, for example, and increasing isolation.
> Until recently, Iranians were banned from publishing in the journals of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
> They also face the indignity of often having their visa applications refused when they try to attend conferences in the West.
places a premium on science and exposes students to subjects Americans don't encounter until college. This tradition of advanced studies extends into undergraduate programs, with [students] saying they were taught subjects in college that U.S. schools provide only to grad students [master's level].
Sharif also has an extremely rigorous selection process. Every year some 1.5 million Iranian high-school students take college-entrance exams. Of those, only about 10 percent make it to the prestigious state schools, with the top 1 percent generally choosing science and finding their way to top spots such as Sharif.