Topic: International Education

June 19, 2015

The U.S.-led IIE delegation with representatives from the University of Tehran’s Faculty of Entrepreneurship.
The U.S.-led IIE delegation with representatives from the University of Tehran’s Faculty of Entrepreneurship.

Ken Holland, director of Ball State's Center for International Development (CID), paid a historic trip to Iran as part of a delegation of U.S. higher education representatives who visited the country with the Institute of International Education (IIE).

The June 6-12 trip was coordinated by the national nonprofit as part of an effort to increase academic cooperation between the two countries. Holland represented Ball State and was joined by peers from Pitzer College, Rutgers University, the University of Southern California and Wayne State University. Along with IIE officials, the group met with faculty from 13 Iranian universities and research institutes in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan.

While individuals from U.S. universities have visited Iran, this is the first university delegation to do so in decades. "We were there for people-to-people diplomacy, with education being a fundamental way in which the U.S. can open up dialogue with Iran," says Holland.

Multipronged approach to U.S.-Iran partnership

IIE's newly created Iran Higher Education Initiative will take a multipronged approach to expanding educational cooperation with Iran. Along with the delegation visit, the initiative will involve a series of activities in the coming year, including binational conference calls, a white paper, workshops and activities aimed at creating exchanges of students and faculty.

Holland was selected by IIE for the Iran delegation based on his involvement with a similar IIE exchange program spearheaded by the organization with Myanmar in 2013.

He said the Iran trip brought with it opportunities to speak with faculty in Iran—a number of whom were Ivy League-educated—about how U.S. sanctions have affected their research. "Many have had their resources limited, from lab to computer equipment, and so that's made their work exceedingly difficult," Holland said.

As a participating university of IIE's Iran Higher Education Initiative, Ball State wants to create an exchange program with Iranian universities that emulates current programs offered by CID with Pakistan, Iraq and African countries. Holland said the potential is great for faculty exchanges between Ball State and Iranian universities, short-term study abroad programs for Ball State students to Iran and study visits to Ball State for Iranian doctoral students.

According to IIE's 2014 Open Doors Report, in 2013-14, nearly 10,200 Iranian students were studying at U.S. colleges and universities. Iran is the 12th leading country to send international students to the U.S. Before 1979, it was the leading sender with more than 51,000 students in the U.S. At present, no U.S. higher education institutions report their American students studying in Iran.

The goal: restore trust between countries

Ball State's Shaheen Borna, an Iranian-born professor of marketing in the Miller College of Business, said he looks forward to the day the university can host students from his home country.

Borna left Iran to study in the United States in 1970 and has taught at Ball State since 1983. He's visited his home country twice, but his wife, whose family lives there, returns frequently.

"With the pending nuclear deal, and the lifting of the sanctions, I'm hoping the U.S. and Iran can rebuild trust," Borna said. "Then we can look to the benefits such a renewed relationship would bring to Iran in terms of science, education, tourism and industry."

What the IIE needs now is institutional frameworks to match research and exchange priorities on both sides of the initiative. If a nuclear agreement is reached on June 30, memorandums of understanding will have to be drawn up or revised with universities and colleges that have programs and industry in Iran. The IIE white paper, to be published in July, will provide specific recommendations for future collaboration.