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Why Does Brain Drain Not Stop in Iran?

Brain drain from Iran is becoming more intense every year. The flight of educated people and professionals darkens Iran's future in terms of productive labor.

In Iran, brain drain is not a new issue. Occasionally, officials declare their concerns about the desire of a specific group, or profession to depart the country. For instance, some while ago, state-run media announced that a significant number of doctors, nurses, and health professionals had migrated during the coronavirus outbreak.

However, this time, Iranian media shed light on one of the long-standing types of emigrations, meaning the departure of the academic community, including professors and teachers, from the country. This issue was raised for the first time by Ali Reza Monadi, MP from East Azarbaijan and the chair of Education and Research Commission, during a public meeting of the Parliament (Majlis).

Some Believe Economic Reasons Intensified Brain Drain in Iran

Amidst the Majlis’s March 7 session about the 2021-22 budget bill, he blamed President Hassan Rouhani’s administration for an inadequate increase in professors’ salaries. “Exclude professors from such bills. From March 2019 to March 2020, around 900 professors left Iran. A professor with 40 years of experience receives 140 million rials [$560] each month. However, some members of the [university] managing board monthly receive 500 million rials [$2,000]… Is it possible to measure such members of the managing board with professors?” Monadi said.

In other words, this MP tied the brain drain with the low incomes. Earlier, in his interview with the semiofficial ISNA news agency, Hossein Ansari, the deputy dean for financial affairs of the Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, pointed to the academic community’s economic dilemmas in Iran.

“The lack of support for members of the Scientific Board has contributed to a growth of elites’ emigration from the country. In top universities, some faculties like mechanic and computer have lost more than 30 percent of their professors, which is a dangerous matter,” Ansari said. “The Ferdowsi University is not excluded, and in some faculties, it is notable, and [we face] a hard situation.”

Financial Chief of Isfahan University Valiollah Mirkhani also highlighted this topic during his interview with the official IRNA news agency in late February. “Regarding professors’ disappointment about disharmonious wage system, emigration is a serious issue while a considerable number of the Isfahan University’s professors have left the country in the past two years,” he said.

Furthermore, Raham Sharaf, a member of the Zanjan University’s Scientific Board, reckoned that the low salaries are the crucial element for the emigration of Iran’s elite. “Given professors’ good conditions and high salaries in other countries, the risk of emigration has increased among Iranian professors for different reasons,” Sharaf said in an interview with ISNA.

Economic Reasons Are Not the Only Motivation for Brain Drain in Iran

Nonetheless, several experts believe that economic motivations cannot be considered as the only reason for the growing brain drain in Iran. In his interview with Hamdeli daily, Sociologist Amanollah Qaraei-Moghaddam said that economic dilemmas are not among professors’ priorities for emigration.

“Professors’ emigration is not an issue for today or yesterday. For years, professors’ departure has intensified in the country. It does not relate to salaries. For instance, you consider Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani or other professors, did they actually depart their homeland for salaries? Based on the Eastern culture, including the Iranian culture, no one is satisfied to leave his county and reside in unfamiliar region,” Qaraei-Moghaddam explained.

“This atmosphere has pushed the elite to leave the country instead of attracting intellectuals and preparing a conductive place, in which people feel their talents can improve. In fact, disorders and unfavorable social conditions, as well as lack of sufficient people in critical positions are the main problem. Salary and income may be the last reason for a professor to emigrate from the country,” the sociologist added.

He also mentioned that people without the necessary expertise have occupied high-ranking positions, which has frustrated many of Iran’s elite. “When individuals who called themselves as obligated officials began bad interference in professors’ businesses, and when the meddling started in education issues, professors started to depart the country, and this flow gradually strengthened… When professors see those who know nothing effectively influence their businesses, supervise, and even dismiss or ban them from training, why should they stay and continue training with eagerness?” Qaraei-Moghaddam added.

In response to a question about the disadvantages of this brain drain, Qaraei-Moghaddam said, “Look, Alfred Marshall, the 1992 Nobel prize winner in economics, said, ‘If an education system could train an inventor in a city during a century, it would have compensated for all of education’s expenditures during the century.’ In other words, the departure of each elite is equivalent to the shut down an oil well. Because an oil well would be profitable only when you have an expert to extract the oil. If the countries those have natural resources were unable to train expert forces or preserve their experts, they would never achieve socioeconomic improvement. Remind, the U.S. became the U.S. on expert emigrates’ hands,” he concluded.

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