EghtesadOnline: Less than a decade ago, education, especially in prestigious universities, was considered a powerful cultural asset, but now the phenomenon of non-conformity of education with what a person does to earn a living is a serious issue facing Iran.
Add to this the pervasive unemployment of young university graduates.
There are many reasons for this development and solutions have been proposed to alleviate the harm it has caused.
What follows is an excerpt from a study conducted by academicians in the fields of economy, development and education on the underlying reasons for this dilemma and its possible remedies, as reported by Financial Tribune’s sister publication Donya-e-Eqtesad.
Degreeism and Consequences
A study carried out by Nader Habibi, professor of Middle East economics at Crown University in the US state of Minnesota, and Gholamreza Keshavarz Haddad, associate professor at Sharif University of Technology, shows that the number of university students has constantly increased over the past decades.
The annual enrollment rate in higher education institutions increased from 146,115 students in the 1991 academic year to 1.17 million in the 2015 academic year. Similarly, the total number of students studying in the higher education system rose from 588,228 in 1992 to 4.34 million in 2015.
The increase in enrollment was a result of rising social demand for education, which attracted the support of policymakers for social and political reasons, as well as the expansion of Islamic Azad University and private higher education institutions, which had no financial burden for the government.
Contrary to the rising number of college graduates, the number of job opportunities did not grow significantly. The outcome of this situation is apparent in the high unemployment rate.
While unemployment has fluctuated between 10% and 12% over the past decade, the youth unemployment rate is between 15% and 20%.
The situation has also become more pronounced in the domestic mass media and is referred to as the unemployment crisis of university graduates. Labor market statistics in the fiscal 2016-17 show that there were 185.1 million unemployed graduates in the country, accounting for 36% of the unemployed population. Approximately 797,000 have undergraduate degrees, 224,000 are associate degree students and the remaining 163,000 are graduates and postgraduates.
However, the high rate of unemployment among graduates is not the only consequence of the surplus of academic graduates: An increasing number of graduates are compelled to take up jobs that do not require an academic education, meaning they are depriving non-college members of job.
According to Amir Hossein Khaleqi, a development researcher, the most important reason for the surplus in the number of educated people is government interventions. Some critics say the government’s presence in this area is necessary to carry out fundamental research, for the so-called public good.
But this is not an accurate account, as there is evidence that when the private sector and market are trustworthy, there is no need for government support (read intervention). For example, in the 1930s, DuPont, a private company, invested in fundamental research for a decade, which led to the invention of nylon.
Khaleqi suggests that the government allow the private sector to take over academia, because this would help mitigate issues facing the current academic populace of the country.
Universities Are Still Relevant
According to Ahmadreza Roshan, PhD student of higher education economics and university lecturer, the 21st century marked a rapid increase in the number of students at the graduate level or higher due to the marriage of higher education with economic development.
The expansion of higher education is therefore key to the country’s development. The trend for Iran seems to be faster than the world average. That is why a university degree has become the employers’ second priority, the first being expertise.
However, not all employers have the knowledge to distinguish between the able and the not-able. This is where university degrees enter as a relatively reliable criterion.
At the same time, the employer can hire a worker, based on his or her university degree and then provide on-the-job training necessary for working in that particular company.
So, as long as universities exist, degrees will not lose their value for the job applicant. In addition, the university is one of the oldest and most stable organizations and the main reason of its survival is that it meets the needs of societies and has tangible outputs.
Those who believe that universities have lost their value are in the wrong, although it is true that many graduates today do not possess the skills required to make their mark in the job market.
The reasons for this incompetence lie in the fact that many open universities merely aim to keep the student satisfied, while the supervisory bodies are not doing a good job of ensuring the quality of higher education institutes. But these ailments can be easily treated.