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Recruiting Intelligence

Iranian Students Seek Graduate Study Opportunities in U.S.


A lot of big news has come out of Iran this past year. With the finalization of a nuclear weapons agreement, U.S. and European sanctions have been lifted in Iran and political relations are improving, meaning there is more opportunity for recruiting international students from Iran. The numbers are looking promising for U.S. institutions.

Bottom Line: Iran’s number of university students is growing. But the number of slots available in Iranian universities is extremely limited. Resourceful Iranian students are looking beyond their borders in growing numbers. Iranian institutions want to ensure their smartest students devote their talents to Iranian ventures at home rather than abroad. There is a move to foster university partnerships where students receive only part of their education abroad. European institutions have been quick to jump on this trend and you might want to consider doing the same. But, if you are going to break into this market, you’ll want to focus on graduate level STEM programs and you’ll want to get to know the culture before you devote your resources.

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Read on for more perspective and some interesting stats about international student recruiting in Iran…

Get to Know the Market

ICEF Monitor has a nice post about Iran’s international student scene and a video that speaks to the cultural elements you’ll want to learn about when you decide to do more international student recruiting here.

There is an interesting article on how Iran is trying to avoid brain drain as the country watches 900,000 students apply for graduate study in-country and only 6% of them find seats. It is important to note that in this market, roughly 60% of Iranians are 30 or younger.

The labor market is full and many are looking for work as more and more graduates enter the labor market. The value of credentials on your CV is increasing, especially in the STEM areas. What can your institution offer these candidates to help them become more employable back home? Focus your marketing messaging there.

Many U.S. universities have Iranian students on campus already. Between 2013/2014 school year and the 2014/2015 school year, IIE's Open Doors Data reported the number of students leaving Iran to study in the U.S. increased by 11.2%. Projections by the British Council suggest the number in the US will continue to rise toward 12,000 from 11,300 over the next 8 years. The U.S. remains the top choice destination for Iranians after Germany which has half as many Iranian international students studying there.

An important note: according to the IIE Open Doors data, 80% of Iranian students in the US were here for graduate level work in STEM fields. This is an excellent place to start your targeting efforts.

Graduate-Level Study - Image Found: ICEF Monitor /Data Source: Open Doors, IIE

Why Focus on Iran?

Iranian students have become very mobile in the last few years. Especially graduate students. Iran is second only to Saudi Arabia in this region’s market size for outbound postgraduate studies. One of the key issues is the lack of program seats available within Iran. The number of master’s students accepted to programs within Iran was only 6.6% of the 900,000 applicants. Only 4% of doctoral hopefuls were accepted to programs. These statistics show that there are plenty of graduate hopefuls waiting to find a program to enroll in.

Social Engagement in Iran

While many Iranians used social media sites with software that bypassed censorship prior to sanctions being lifted, this year more Iranians are finding they can easily tune into sites like YouTube or Twitter. Access to statistics on Iranian’s internet usage is still new so there is very little out there. But, we do know one key to engaging Iranian students is content, content, content. Don't send them generic recruitment content; focus your outreach so that it speaks to Iranian interests and goals. Let them know that your programs can meet their needs and address the real challenges they face. Let them know they are welcome on your campus.

Iran has the 3rd largest blogging community in the world, after the U.S. and China. This is huge considering its relative size. With the number of bloggers in Iran hovering at 700,000, how can you break through the clutter? Start with mobile! The number of mobile subscribers is rapidly increasing. Seek help finding blogging channels that have a large student following and build relationships with the bloggers. Standard PR strategies apply.

And why mobile? Between 2004 and 2009 there was a 61.5% increase in mobile subscriptions. If you want to get through to your audience, you’ll have to be mobile adapted. A major factor here is making your blog and website mobile friendly and easy to use.

University Partnerships in Iran

In addition to going mobile, partnerships between your institution and Iranian institutions are ideal as the Iranian government is encouraging these relationships. Iran is planning for the future. They realize their higher education institutions have not quite caught up with the enrollment demand, but they don’t want to encourage students to leave altogether. In March 2016, ICEF Monitor reported that many partnerships had been initiated between Iranian, and mainly, European institutions, and especially in the area of joint programs at the Master’s and doctoral levels.

These kinds of partnerships can take quite a while to set up. As you evaluate the recruitment options, there are a few important factors to consider when engaging Iranian students and in-country academic staff. Kyle Mack from the Equilibrium International Education Institute spoke with the ICEF Monitor in June and answered questions about recruiting in Iran. His “5 keys to the market in Iran” include:

  1. Be respectful

  2. Build relationships

  3. Be patient and flexible

  4. Have a strong local contact

  5. Embrace Iranian hospitality

Iran is a large market that is now becoming increasingly more accessible. With the Iranian government looking for ways to partner with universities abroad to cater to the needs of their students, it is a great time to consider how Iran fits into your international student recruitment plan. With the limited knowledge that exists, start with mobile and digital marketing and find blogging communities to connect with.

Let us know how you’ve been successful in this region.