Iranian academic achievements

As a result of recent Iranian success in science and engineering there is some discussion about Iranian educational outcomes in the blogosphere.

Two semi-related comments:

1. Iranians in Sweden are currently the only major immigrant group that significantly outperforms native Swedes in higher education. Of course this is partially or entirely due to selection, but most other immigrant groups are also selected, and do not perform as well.

About 45% of native Swedes start college. The figure is a little over 30% for non-european immigrants as a whole. By contrast, 60% of Iranian immigrant kidds in Sweden start college. The figure for Iraqi immigrants is 26% and for Somali immigrants 16%.


Iranians are also overrepresented in selective programs, such as in medical school and in engineering. About 4% of all of Sweden’s medical students and 2% of Sweden’s PhD students originate from Iran.

Naturally, the success of this single non-European immigrant group (the exception) is used by the Swedish media as an argument to take in more unskilled immigrants from unsuccessful countries such as Iraq and Somalia (the rule). Classical Bait and Switch.

2. For some reason a lot of Americans are under the impression that Azeris constitute some sort of Iranian intellectual elite.

It is certainly true that Azeris are not second class citizens in Iran. It is also true that they are as stanchly nationalistic as most other Iranians and have little separatist tendencies (in both cases unlike Iranian Kurds).

But in my opinion it is misleading to describe Azeris as an elite.


The Mede provinces of Iran – Azeri and Kurdish – both have lower than average per capita income, even excluding the oil producing provinces.

Furthermore, I have never seen any evidence that Azeris are over-represented in Iranian academia, and some evidence that they are under-represented.

According to Iran’s Statistical Yearbook, the Azeri provinces are underrepresented in their national share of college students. This alone doesn’t tell us much since they could move to other cities to study, and because those Azeris who have already migrated to Tehran are not included.

Azeris are a little less than 20% of the population. The American estimate of 25% is often circulated, but self-identified survey data shows a smaller share. Non-Farsi speakers are probably a little less than half the population. Yet, according to this guy, research by Alireza Sarafi shows that only 10% of Iranian PhD students are non-farsi speakers.

Obviously Iranian official statistics is not all that reliable. However we need more than anecdotal evidence to claim that Azeris are over-represented among the Iranian elite.

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