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Number of Students Barred From Education Is Higher Than Reported

Applicants taking Iran's nationwide university entrance exams in 2016.

Tehran’s representative in the Iranian Parliament, Mahmoud Sadeqi says 27 graduate students have been banned from continuing their education in the current Iranian academic year.

Citing Sadeqi, state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) reported that despite attempts made, 12 PhD and 15 master’s students were not allowed to enter the universities this year.

According to Sadeqi, 151 PhD and 398 master’s students deemed “starred” were allowed to register and continue their education after signing a written commitment. The written commitment apparently is meant to insure that students stay away from political activities.

But there are conflicting numbers as to how many students have actually been barred this year. Other sources report much higher numbers.

“Starred students” is a term coined in 2005 following Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s first presidential term to refer to students deemed politically unreliable or undesirable by Iran’s intelligence apparatuses.

An asterisk or star is added next to their name.

However, Sadeqi says the situation has improved since 2013, when Hassan Rouhani got elected president, replacing Ahmadinejad.

Based on a 2013 research by a student group, out of a total of 1,000 starred university students in Iran 768 received their star during Ahmadinejad’s presidency and 250 were expelled from the universities.

Referring to the students’ written commitment as a step “in the right direction,” Sadeqi noted, “Such commitments are an inquisition and a type of pressure on students that goes against the Iranian Constitution.” This seems to be a contradiction, which can be explained by the MP trying to be politically correct in the context of the Islamic Republic.

Earlier, Sadeqi had insisted that since denying people’s rights is against the law such commitments have no legal value even if signed by the students voluntarily.

Meanwhile, Sadeqi condemned depriving students of further education without trial and solely based on reports compiled by intelligence organs.

“Some of the students have been starred merely for electoral and political activities,” he said.

This year, at least 150 students eligible to start graduate programs have been barred from carrying on their studies at universities, daily Jame’eye Farda (Tomorrow’s Society) reported on November 30.

Citing an informed source at the Science, Research, and Technology Ministry, the daily said, “In the new educational year, between 150 and 200 students, after passing the tests for master’s and PhD degrees, have been listed as starred and barred from entering the universities.”

Analysts say the number of starred students is much more than what is officially reported.

In an article for the reformist daily Sharq, human rights activist and journalist Emadeddin Baqi wrote last week, “Based on our enquiry, the number of students who have successfully passed their exams but are not allowed to continue their education is much more than what is formally said. In fact, many of the deprived students have given up hope, leaving higher education for good.”

If Rouhani’s administration is really interested in solving the problem, Baqi remarked, it should call the starred students to come forward to determine the exact number of students who have been deprived of higher education.

Another legislator from Tehran, Ali Haidari, also lamented, “During the monarchy, there were no starred students in Iran. Even some politically active students who might have experienced life behind bars were never deprived of continuing their education.”

At a rally in 2013, Rouhani emphatically promised to address the problem when the human rights commission of an influential students association declared that more than 1,000 starred students had been barred from continuing their education in the eight years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Last week, in his speech on Students National Day in Iran, Rouhani said, “The sky is the place for stars, not universities.”

Nevertheless, a year into Rouhani’s first term as president, Amnesty International (AI) described the situation as grave.

Hundreds of students are deprived of further education while many of them are behind bars, AI said in a report.