Education System in Iran


Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, the educational system of the country has gone under qualitative and quantitative changes. As far as quantitative changes are concerned, this education profile provides an overview of the Iranian education system. A critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Iranian education system requires an in-depth analysis of its structure, which goes beyond the scope of this profile. This profile, nevertheless, seeks to provide basic information about the education system in Iran for those who are interested in becoming familiar with this system, particularly those post-secondary institutions abroad, which have admitted many Iranian students in recent years. According to the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, there are approximately 50,000 Iranian students currently studying abroad.

This profile, thus, describes the structure of the education system in Iran which is basically divided into five cycles namely, pre-school, primary, middle (or guidance), secondary and post-secondary. Three outstanding characteristics of the Iranian education system must be mentioned at this point. First, elementary education is mandatory under the Iranian constitution. Secondly, due to increasing number of applicants, admission to post-secondary institutions is through a nation-wide entrance examination and thus only the most talented students can enter universities. Finally, in general, education (in primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels) is free of charge though private schools and universities authorized by law are allowed to charge tuition fees.

Through a description of the structure of the Iranian education system, this profile first describes in detail the pre-school, primary, intermediate, and secondary cycles. Secondly, it focuses on post-secondary education and provides extensive amount of information about the Iranian universities and colleges, various fields of study at universities, and different courses which are currently offered. Finally, some data in the form of tables and graphs will be provided which demonstrate the number of students (male and female) currently studying at various post-secondary institutions as well as the distribution of students along fields of study and universities. Furthermore, by means of a graphic illustration, the number of students as well as education staff before and after the Islamic Revolution (1969 to 1990) are compared.


The school system is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Training. In addition to schools, this Ministry also has responsibility for some teacher training and some technical institutes. The Ministry of Education employs the highest number of civil servants -42 per cent of the total- and receives 21 per cent of the national budget. A total of 15,018,903 students were enrolled in 87,024 schools with 485,186 classes throughout the country in the academic year 1990-91. The breakdown was as follows: 509 schools for disabled children, 3,586 kindergartens, 59,280 elementary schools, 15,580 intermediate schools, 4,515 secondary schools, 380 technical schools, 405 business studies and vocational schools, 64 agriculture schools, 238 urban and 182 rural elementary school teachers' training colleges, seven vocational and professional teachers' training colleges and 19 institutes of technology. There are also 2,259 adult education schools.

The structure of the educational system under this Ministry is divided into the following cycles:

Pre-school Education cycle

A one-year program for children five years old in which they receive the basic notions needed to enter primary schools. There is no exam at the end of this cycle and children proceed automatically to the following cycle.

Primary Education cycle

The five-year primary cycle covers grades 1-5 for children 6 to 11 years old. This phase is both free and compulsory. Students take exams at the end of each year on which their promotion to the following grade is based. At the end of the grade 5, students take a nation-wide examination. Those who pass the exam are qualified to proceed to the next cycle.

Middle (Guidance) Cycle

This cycle covers grades 6 to 8 for children 11 to 13 years old. Like the preceding cycle, this cycle also provides students with general education. In this phase, the abilities as well as the interests of students are recognized, so they become prepared to decide which branch (academic or technical/vocational) they intend to choose in the next cycle. At the end of guidance cycle, students take a regional examination under the supervision of provincial boards of education. Those who pass the examination are eligible to proceed to the next cycle i.e., secondary cycle.

Secondary Education cycle

This is a four-year stage which covers grade 9 to Grade 12, from age 14 to 17. Secondary education is divided into two main branches namely, academic/general and technical/vocational. The choice of either branch is up to pupils themselves. The academic branch, also known as the "theoretical branch" is divided into four mainstreams namely, literature and culture, socio-economic, physics-mathematics, and finally experimental sciences. The technical/vocational branch is particularly designed to train technicians for the labor market. This branch covers three mainstreams namely, technical, business/vocational, and agriculture. There are specific subject and performance requirements for admission to some secondary programs. National examinations are conducted at the end of each grade during the secondary cycle. For the curricula and educational system see the diagrams in appendix A.

The Ministry of Education has been studying a new secondary education system for several years. The new plan which was approved in 1990 aims at upgrading the quality of secondary cycle by making use of latest educational developments. Having finished their guidance cycle, students can proceed to secondary cycle choosing either vocational/technical or academic branch. Accordingly, the secondary education cycle is reduced to three years during which students are required to complete 96 units in order to be awarded the High School Diploma. The secondary graduates who are interested in post-secondary education must complete one preparation year to be entitled for attending the university entrance examination known as KONKUR. This nation-wide examination serves as the general National Entrance Examination for admission to universities.

At the end, some points worth mentioning. First, English as a second language is introduced from grade 7. Second, private schools were permitted to re-open again in 1988 as "non-profit" institutions. Third, although education is free and compulsory for the first five years of schooling, there are differences between urban and rural areas as well as different regions in the country with respect to the availability of schools and various programs. Fourth, the Ministry of Education supervises some educational researches and curriculum development. Fifth, the Ministry of Education has jurisdiction over some post-secondary programs such as teacher training programs which will be mentioned later. It has also the responsibility for providing textbooks for all pre-university educational courses and prints 747 titles in 100 million copies a year. Finally, the Ministry of Education runs a number of schools outside Iran, mainly in the Persian Gulf countries as well as some European countries in which 13,703 students are enrolled.


The two Ministries responsible for most post-secondary education are the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education (MCHE) and Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MHME). However, as indicated before, the Ministry of Education also has jurisdiction over some post-secondary programs such as primary and guidance teachers training colleges and Higher Institutes of Technical and Vocational Education. In what follows first some basic information about the teacher training programs will be provided and then other post-secondary programs will be described.

Teacher Education

The primary as well as guidance schoolteachers are trained in a number of various institutions under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. Secondary school teachers are trained in universities under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education. Teacher training centers affiliated with the Ministry of Education train primary and guidance schoolteachers. There are several centers, which perform this task as follows:

Rural Teacher Training Centers

Because of the shortage of teachers in rural areas, the Ministry has established specific institutions for training teachers who will be teaching at rural areas. After finishing the guidance cycle (grade 8), students will be trained in special institutions for the duration of four years. After graduation, they will teach in schools in rural areas. Furthermore, under a new plan, the Ministry will be sending conscripts as teachers in rural areas. One thousand conscripts started their work at rural areas in the academic year 1989-1990.

Primary school teacher training institution (grades 1-5)

After finishing grade 10 in the high school, some students who are interested in teaching will be admitted to this special teacher-training program which lasts only two years. The graduates of this program are entitled to teach in either rural or urban primary schools.

Guidance cycle teacher training centers (grades 6-8)

For the purpose of training qualified teachers for grades 6-8, the Ministry admits students who have already graduated from the high school and hold their diploma through a nation-wide examination. They are required to study for another 2 years in teacher training institutions. Both primary and guidance teacher training institutions offer wide range of courses which lead to the award of an Associate Diploma. These institutions offer courses in 14 streams. Each student is supposed to specialize in only one stream. The major streams are as follows:

  • Primary education
  • Persian language
  • English language
  • French language
  • Experimental sciences
  • Social sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Vocational and technical training
  • Islamic ethics and Arabic language
  • Art
  • Fostering affairs (Child development)
  • Physical education
  • Children with special needs:
  • The geniuses
  • blind and partly blind
  • deaf and partly deaf
  • mentally retarded, teachable
  • unsociable and physical defects

Secondary school teachers are trained at tertiary-level institutions, which are affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education. In order to qualify for teaching in high schools, teachers must have a Bachelor degree for both the academic and technical streams. There are two ways to qualify: One is that a holder of a Bachelor degree in a field other than education completes a one-year teacher-training program; The other is that a secondary school graduate completes a four-year program leading to a Bachelor of Education. The latter can be done in two stages in two years each. At the end of the first two years, a graduate may choose to receive the Associate Diploma, which qualifies him/her to teach at the guidance cycle level.

The main universities, which are devoted to the task of training secondary school teachers, are listed below. It should be remembered that only students with High School Diploma who pass the national entrance examination (KONKUR) are entitled to continue their post-secondary studies at these institutions:

  • TARBIAT-E MOALEM (Teacher Training) University, Tehran .
  • Faculties of Education at major universities :
  • Colleges of Education, Ministry of Education : (Vocational and technical teachers)
  • The faculty of education at the University of Tehran trains educational specialists and not classroom teachers.
  • Several major universities, e.g. Tabriz, Mashhad and Isfahan offer postgraduate degrees in education.

Other Post-Secondary Programs

Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution, new universities and colleges have been established, offering wide range of specializations. Moreover, since 1987, masters and doctorate courses have been offered in many different disciplines. In 1989 the MCHE reported that there were over 100 institutions of higher education of which 30 were universities, 14 were university complexes and colleges, 5 were non-governmental private colleges and 36 were higher education centers and government agencies.

The number of students standing at 175,675 in 1979, has increased to more than 344,045 in 1991-92, of which 96969 (28.18%) were women and 247,076 (71.82%) men. Full and part time, and hourly paid teaching staff numbered 14,160 and 9,216 people respectively, of whom 19,326 were men and 4,050 women. In addition, there are so many Iranian students who study abroad. The Iranian government has sent many top graduate students to foreign universities, since an important component of its educational strategy has involved foreign training for students in a variety of fields. Of almost 50,000 Iranian students who study abroad, there are approximately 4000 sponsored scholarship students, one fourth of which attend Canadian universities.

The main branches currently offered in the Iranian universities comprise Natural and Basic Sciences, Humanities, Medical and Health Sciences, Arts and Literature, Engineering, and Agriculture. The highest number of students, 25.5 per cent, was found in engineering branches. This figure is followed by 24.2 per cent for medical and health field of study, 13.4 per cent for pedagogic and teachers' training, and 8.2 per cent for literature, humanities and academic theology. The admission is based on the results of National Entrance Examination (KONKUR).

In order to be recognized as formal, higher education institutions, which are operated by either Ministries other than the MCHE/MHME, or by private groups should be accredited. Either the MCHE or MHME should also approve their programs. Recently, the MCHE has given permission to some non-profit post-secondary education institutes to operate providing that the Ministry approves their program.

One thing that has not changed since the Islamic Revolution is that admission to university remains extremely competitive and thus very difficult. Although all universities work with full capacity, demand for post-secondary education still far exceeds supply. For example, of the 752,343 applicants in the academic year 1989-90, only 61,000 or one-twelfth were admitted to various post-secondary institutions. In order to alleviate this problem at least partly and in order to enable all talented, interested individuals to pursue their higher education, two measures were taken. First, an Islamic Azad (open) University was established after the revolution in 1981. Its activities quickly expanded throughout the country, so that today thousands of students are benefiting from its high educational standards. Not relying on government funding, it charges students with tuition fees. About 180,000 students in 80 towns and cities were enrolled in this university in 1988-89, studying single subjects or taking full time day or evening courses. Applicants do not have to produce specific educational certificates to enter this university, but its entrance examinations match those of other universities.The certificates issued by this university should be recognized upon evaluation by the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education.

The other way to alleviate this problem has been to establish correspondence universities. The PAYAAM-E NOOR University was set up in 1987. It, too, charges tuition fees and principally aims at providing teachers and civil servants the opportunity to continue their education. Courses are given through television and correspondence and students write exams at local university offices.

Courses and Awards

Associate Diploma

Admission Requirements: Students with high school diploma should take the nation-wide entrance examination in order to be admitted to this program.


Some universities and higher education institutions as well as primary and guidance teachers’ training centers award the associate degree. Students should complete 72-78 units, which normally takes two years.

Bachelor Degree

Admission Requirements: Admission is based on completion of secondary school, plus the "Konkur" university entrance examination.


Full-time bachelor students will normally be expected to finish their degree in 4-5 years. No part-time programs are available and there are time limits on the completion of all degrees. The following standing must be held as a degree is being completed:

(A) Registration for a minimum of 14 units, and depending on academic performance, registration up to a maximum of 21 units per semester.

(B) The completion of a minimum of 153 units.

(C) An overall Grade Point Average of 12 out of 20.

Master Degree

Admission Requirements: The master program is intended for high achievement graduates from honors undergraduate programs. Students, who have completed a bachelor or an equivalent degree with an average of at least 14 out of 20 or above, may be admitted to the program. Bachelor holding students who want to be admitted must pass the entrance exam.


Full-time master students will normally be expected to finish their degree in two years by choosing one of the following options depending on the field of study:

  1. The completion of 38 units;
  2. The completion of a minimum of 30 units, and a thesis;
  3. The completion of a minimum of 22 units and a research-based thesis.

Continuous Master Degree

This degree is offered in the fields of dentistry, medicine, pharmacy and veterinary medicine as well as some other fields. Since this degree is taken up after high school graduation, it requires the completion of 210-290 units with a dissertation.

Doctoral Degree

Admission Requirements: A master degree, or an equivalent degree, with at least high second class standing (overall average of 16 out of 20 or more) is required. Graduates with master degree must participate in the Ph.D. entrance examination in order to proceed to doctoral program.


Full-time doctoral students will normally require a minimum of three years (and a maximum of 6 years) of study following a master degree. Since the whole master and Ph.D. programs comprise 60 units of course work altogether, the Ph.D. student is required to complete up to 60 units. Thus, if the Ph.D. candidate has already completed 30 units during his/her master studies, he/she is required to take the reminder, which is 30 units. If the Ph.D. candidate has completed 28 units during the master program, he/she is required to take 32 units during the Ph.D. program and so on. The Ph.D. student must successfully complete the required units with an overall average of 14 out of 20 in each semester. When all course work is done, the candidate sits for comprehensive examinations. Writing a dissertation is the final requirement to be fulfilled by the Ph.D. candidate in order to be awarded the degree.


Promotion through the Iranian education system is based on end-of-year examinations at primary, intermediate, and secondary cycles, and end-of-term examinations (sometimes both middle- and end-of-term examinations) at post-secondary cycle. At primary, intermediate, and secondary schools, system of grading is based on a 0-20 scale. An average scale of at least 10 is required for promotion. At the post-secondary level a system of grading based on a 0-20 scale is used too. The letter grade equivalents are

  • A = 17 – 20
  • B = 14 - 16.9
  • C = 12 - 13.9
  • D = 10 - 11.9

The minimum grade for a subject credit in undergraduate programs is 10, in graduate programs is 12 and in PhD. programs is 14. The Grade Point Average (GPA) of 12 in undergraduate programs and 14 in graduate programs is required.

Students from institutions under the jurisdiction of MCHE or MHME should be able to obtain transcripts unless they owe to their university. Official transcripts are issued and translations sealed by either the related Ministry or the Justice Administration of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some universities such as Amir Kabir University, Sharif University of Technology and Shiraz University issue transcripts only in English. This includes transcripts issued directly to students.

Education system in Iran Appendix A, Chart and Details Informative Statistics
Appendix B, University Information Appendix C, Medical Universities