Educational cooperation in Caspian region. Iranian vector
Looking at the history of cooperation between the countries of the Caspian region in educational sphere, it should be noted that implementation of joint projects is carried out both through multilateral cooperation in the format of the Association of State Universities of the Caspian States, a number of other integration projects, and through bilateral ties. In turn, bilateral cooperation has federal and regional dimension.
At the level of interstate relations, foundation of this cooperation is created by contracts and agreements signed between Ministries of Education of the regional countries. Usually this includes framework documents that determine possible formats of cooperation between universities and other educational institutions.
The second level of cooperation is determined by agreements signed at the level of Rectors' Unions - associations that include leading universities of the Caspian states. However, not all countries have such institutions. For exampleTurkmenistan doesn't have such organizations, which creates certain difficulties in coordinating international activities of universities.
Finally, the third level is direct inter-university relations, which help to form and implement various educational programs - agreements on opening of branches, double diploma programs, network programs, and education courses for teaching staff. Usually such joint programs and projects are mechanically included in the text of cooperation agreements.
This state of affairs is characteristic for significant part of higher educational institutions in all countries of the region and, of course, is a projection of more general problem that is characteristic for all international cooperation between universities.
At the same time, when it comes to certain areas, especially in Turkmenistan and Iran, capabilities of regions in some cases are much more effective compared to initiatives implemented by the capitals. This is demonstrated by interstate relations of the Caspian countries, which have been formed over recent years.
This trend can be seen based on example of educational ties between universities of Russia and Iran. For quite some time, contacts were limited to bilateral agreements between a number of universities in the two countries. Moreover, many agreements remained on paper, were not supported by real projects. The reason for this state of affairs is relative closeness of Iranian universities to external contacts. Any documents signed by local universities at high international level need long-term coordination, and it's almost never certain that they will be implemented.
That's one of the reasons that explains why for a long time opportunities for regional cooperation between Russia and Iran were significantly higher compared to cooperation at the level of centres departments. However, in recent years, situation has begun to gradually change.
Educational model of the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed after the events of 1979 revolution, retaining some elements of the higher school model created under the Shah’s regime.
Every year 20% of Iran’s budget expenditures and 5% of GDP goes to education sphere, which is one of the highest rates in the world. 21% of funds allocated to education are spent on higher education.
Education in middle schools is carried out in stages - through four age levels. Two final steps - Rakhnamai (10-13 years old) and Dabirestan (14-17 years old) are based on principles of systematic study of the entire range of subjects, both technical and humanitarian. Each subjects requires compulsory test during transition from Rakhnamai to Dabirestan (about 20 subjects in total). Specialization is introduced only in the last two years of school.
Complex, multi-stage system, according to Iranian experts, allows to fully reveal student’s abilities, to ensure correct choice of future profession.
In 1999 Russia and Iran singed agreement on scientific and technical cooperation, and an exchange program in the field of culture, education and science was developed.
However, according to experts, implementation of this document was not very dynamic. Scientists and representatives of rectors' corps of the two countries weren't really involved in joint research projects, they weren't informed about each other's achievements, although possibilities for such cooperation existed both in humanitarian and in technical fields.
Another serious problem in terms of educational cooperation between the two countries was low level of knowledge of the Russian language among Iranian youth. In the 1990s the same could be said about interest in Farsi among Russian audience. Language barrier was certainly present.
Situation began to change in the last few years, when new Russian language centers were opened in the province of Mazandaran (at the Mazandaran University), in the province of Khorasan in the city of Mashhad (at the Mashhad University), in the province of Gilan in the city of Rasht (at the Gilan University).
Many Russian universities, due to the lack of clear requirement to develop contacts with Iranian universities, didn't view this cooperation as effective. The exception is the Moscow State University, which not only focused on development of educational contacts with partners from Iran, but also attracted other partner universities to this work.
These efforts have brought great results. In 2015, the first Forum of Rectors of Russia and Iran was held. Thanks to these efforts, contacts, between Russian and Iranian universities acquired new dynamic, and in 2016 the Second Forum of Rectors was held in Tehran. 32 inter-university agreements were signed during it. It should be noted that the Moscow State University alone has signed 7 agreements at these forums, including 3 agreements on opening of Russian language centers in Mashhad, Isfahan and Shiraz.
Long-term agreements were signed by leading Russian and Iranian universities: Altai State University, Astrakhan State Technical University, Kabardino-Balkarian State University, Kazan (Volga) Federal University, Southern Federal University. These are main “communicators” in terms of contacts with Iranian colleagues.
All of it led to expansion of the contact zone, which resulted in signing of memorandum on establishment of the Association of Higher Education Institutions of the two countries in 2017. Document envisages cooperation in the areas of mining, environmental protection, natural sciences, humanitarian researches and other fields of science.
In the framework of the 3rd Forum of Universities of Russia and Iran, process of cooperation in scientific projects between leading universities of the two countries was launched. At the first stage, 18 projects were supported, 5 of which are being implemented at the Moscow State University.