EghtesadOnline: University students-to-be have just selected their major of choice after sitting for the so-called Concours, the nationwide entrance exam, last month.
The upcoming new academic year in Iran starts Sept. 23.
Concours, originally a French word for contest or competition, in Iran refers to a standardized test used as a yardstick to gain admission to higher education. The academic future of students is determined based on their score in the exam.
At least 10% of all applicants who become eligible for applying for higher education institutions use consultancy services for choosing their future majors, Financial Tribune reported.
Counseling packages can cost between 6 million rials ($50) and 20 million rials ($170).
Consider the 83,000 applicants paying an average of 13 million rials ($110) for counseling and the market size exceeds 1,079 billion rials ($9 million). This turnover only pertains to one week, as applicants have no more than seven days to select their future majors.
According to the National Educational Assessment Organization (locally known as Sanjesh), 832,000 people have become eligible this year to enter universities, IRNA reported.
The above costs are only a fraction of overall expenses applicants bear on the long road to Iranian universities.
According to Mohammad Bathaei, former education minister, institutes running Concours preparatory courses have a turnover of up to 150 trillion rials ($1.28 billion).
Unofficial estimates put the figure much higher at 400 trillion rials ($3.4 billion).
These costs are paid for throughout the year as university students-to-be prepare for the big day.
Rasoul Khezri, a member of Majlis Social Commission, says the turnover of these institutions is double the total budget of Education Ministry.
The Concours fever remains unbelievably high among Iranians, as students spend some important years of their education on preparing for attending the three- to four-hour exam instead of acquiring knowledge.
In fact, experts have long disputed the validity of this exam for assessing candidates’ knowledge and aptitude.
Time and again, authorities have raised the issue of getting rid of Concours, but to no avail.
Science Minister Mansour Gholami has said that abolishing the university entrance exam is a priority for the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. But why is there still resistance against abolishing the exam and keeping the status quo?
The answer lies in the huge turnover of the business and the beneficiaries' reluctance to let go of the cash cow, according to Farhad Rahbar, former president of Islamic Azad University.
Aside from referring to the issue that many people greatly benefit financially from Concours classes, mock exams and publications, Gholamreza Zarifian, an official with the Science Ministry, believes the real problem lies in finding a better alternative for the university entrance exam.
“If Concours is abolished without introducing a viable alternative, then problems regarding assessing candidates will persist and the mafia would still operate in a different form. Eventually, we might jump out of the frying pan into the fire and face a less trustworthy system,” he said.
Concours has created a plethora of job opportunities. Institutes, instructors, question designers, organizers of conferences, classes and mock examinations, educational and school counselors, print house workers, electronic educational tool, smartphone application designers and many more are thriving on the back of Concours.
The exam is held in five groups, namely mathematics and physics, applied science, humanities, arts and foreign languages in 372 counties across the country.
Since it was established in the Iranian year starting on March 21, 1969, the multiple-choice exam has been geared to select students for Iranian universities equitably.
Statistics on Concours and the capacities of Iranian public schools indicate less than 5% of the candidates will be able to gain a seat in elite, oversubscribed universities, making the competition really fierce.
In an interview with Financial Tribune, veteran educational coach, Ali Bakhtiari, said over two million people are estimated to be active in the Concours business.
Asked whether a student can pass the exam by only relying on the mainstream education system, Bakhtiari said this is possible when the system nurtures a learner’s autonomy—the ability to set appropriate learning goals and take charge of one’s own learning process—in the primary school years.
“There are many students from deprived backgrounds who have entered elite universities without a tutor or attending preparatory schools,” he said.