On June 18th, IIE published a very optimistic press release announcing delegation of senior US higher education representatives to Iran. The delegation met with their peers from thirteen Iranian universities in an attempt to increase academic cooperation between our two countries. The visit, the first delegation of this size in many years, included visits to several of Iran’s top universities and research institutes, as well as meetings with Iranian government representatives from the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology. As a result of the visit, IIE has announced a new “IIE Iran Higher Education Initiative” aimed at reopening educational and scientific dialogue between the US and Iran. The initiative already has several next steps planned: “bi-national conference calls, a white paper on opportunities for developing university partnerships and understanding the regulations that control the establishment of these relationships (to be published in July), workshops for university administrators, and activities aimed at increasing exchanges of students and faculty members. In the future, the delegation members hope to engage in such activities as double degree programs, exchange programs for faculty and students, joint workshops, and study programs to the US for Iranian PhD students. The delegation identified the major issue preventing achievement of these goals as a lack of institutional frameworks that match both sides’ priorities, however, they hope that after the June nuclear agreement there will be an opportunity to negotiate new or revive old MOUs between the two countries’ universities and colleges.
As someone who took three years of Farsi as an undergrad and would have happily studied abroad in Iran had an opportunity been available to me, I am incredibly excited by this news. This opening of relations could lead to great opportunity for cultural diplomacy, global competence and citizenship education, and assessment of the effects of international education on national security and diplomacy. With a growing number of issues that affect both of our countries, including ISIS, water management, climate change, fossil fuel dependence, and food safety, it is essential that we repair our relations with Iran. The cultural diplomacy provided by the new student exchanges the Initiative has suggested could be a great start at mending our relationship. As IIE points out, according to their 2014 Open Doors report almost 10,200 Iranian students studied at US universities in 2013/14, compared to zero US students studying in Iran. They then go on to note that while on the delegations visit, they experienced “…enormous good will towards the United States, especially in the education space…” Could this be a result of Iranian study abroad programs to the US having a positive effect on the students’ sense of global citizenship? And if so, would creating study abroad programs for US students in Iran have a similar effect on their feeling towards Iranians? I am admittedly biased, but I am optimistic that the effects of such programs would be positive for our two countries’ relationship, and I think that at the very least is worth studying. In Nel Noddings’ introduction to Educating Citizens for Global Awareness, she discusses the possibility of using global citizenship education as “Educating for Peace”, which given our countries’ contentious recent history is essential, I believe. Perhaps students could be prepared for exchanges with curriculum that educates for peace rather than focuses on the US’ and Iran’s conflicting views. For example, Noddings suggests that “Math teachers can ask students to trace the figures on casualties for 20th-century wars” to help students learn to “value the lives of all people, not just those of our own nation.” So maybe before studying abroad in Iran, US students can take pre-departure orientation that includes a look at the number of people murdered by SAVAK under the reign of the US-allied Shah, or the number of casualties incurred by the Iranian people under the Iran-Iraq war. I believe that global citizenship education could be used to great effect in promoting US-Iran relations through the work of IIE’s new Iran Higher Education Initiative, and I am very excited to see what it is capable of accomplishing in the coming months.
Institute of International Education. (18 June, 2015). U.S. University Delegation to Iran Paves the Way for Closer Higher Education Cooperation. Retrieved from: http://www.iie.org/Who-We-Are/News-and-Events/Press-Center/Press-Releases/2015/2015-06-17-Iran-Higher-Education-Delegation
Noddings, Nel. 2005. Global Citizenship: Promises and Problems. In N. Noddings (Ed.), Educating Citizens for Global Awareness (pp. 1-21). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.