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A Statistical Conversation on the Controversial Topic of Brain Drain in Iran/

Facts and myths about “Brain Drain”

Facts and myths about “Brain Drain”

Advisor to the president of the national elites foundation stated: with regard to the importance of topic of elites in the government’s policies, it seems necessary to pay closer and more scientific attention to developments made in this area. However, reports on this issue are biased and with the purpose of destruction of the country in the majority of cases from the non-governmental individuals.

According to the public relations and information center of the Vice-Presidency for science and technology affairs, we have been familiarized with “Brain Drain” for many years. To date, several discussions, statements and contents have been published on this issue. However, what has made this topic more special these days is contradictory statistics on emigration of elites, graduates and students of Iran to other countries. Some people have reported high emigration rates of Iranian elites and some other have considered these statistics faulty. In order to find more accurate information in this area, we talked with Parviz Karami, advisor to the vice president for science and technology affairs and the secretary of the knowledge-based economy, technology and science development headquarter, about the quality and quantity of emigration of elites or, in other words, “brain drain”. In this conversation, Karami rejected many statements published in this area based on statistics and documents related to the international institution and provided new statistics.

The emigration of elites and scientific talents of the country to other parts of the world, which is known as Brain Drain, has been turned into a controversial issue for many years. Do your official statistics confirm this issue? For example, one of the authorities have currently announced that 180 thousand graduates of the country have traveled abroad in 2015. Statistics by the International Monetary Fund in 2009 have indicated the extensive emigration of elites from Iran. What is your opinion about these statistics?

These statistics are completely false or have been published with false pretenses since such a report has not been published by this fund. Sometimes, analyses are presented on the critical situation of the country in areas such as elite emigration, brain drain, and decreased IQ of people, which lead to serious and challenging discussions in political gatherings. There are two possible explanations: an optimistic view is that many analyses presented in the media are not based on valid and updated statistics or are based on personal experiences and interpretations of the people. On the other hand, the process of emigration and international displacement of graduated youth or, in other words, the elites society, is one of the issues that many countries present in the form of statistics and various official domestic and foreign reports are published on this issue, the basis of which is decision-making.

Therefore, with regard to the importance of elites in the system’s policies, it seems necessary to more accurately and scientifically assess the changes in this area. However, analysis in this area is biased in most cases with the goal of destroying the country presented by anti-system people. For example, false statistics have been presented by Parviz Dastarchi and Abbas Milani. This is a part of their statements: “according to the international monetary fund in 2009, Iran has been ranked first among 91 countries in terms of brain drain, and up to 180 thousand graduated people emigrate abroad on a yearly basis. Brain drain in the past few years has damaged the country 300 times more than the Iran-Iraq war.” Other statistics have been presented that more have a political aspect than truth. However, our accurate evaluations have shown the false nature of these statements. Statistics show otherwise. Following the mentioned false statements by Milani, one of the news headquarters announced last month that those who believe that we have the first rank of Brain Drain, can win one billion rials if they prove this issue with valid and legal international documents. I also announced that if Mr. Milani or any other person claim that this report is true, they can present valid documents and we will give them 100 million tomans.

Do you mean that research has been conducted on this topic? Or no study has been carried out in this area?

We have performed some studies and have seriously followed up the issues of this area. Therefore, through the Institute of Technology Studies, based on internationally validated data and available databases from institutions such as the United Nations, UNESCO, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as the information resources of some of the main immigrant-accepting countries (e.g., the United States), we have tried to make a clear picture on student emigration. The result of these efforts has been turned into a book entitled “comparative evaluation of the country’s condition in emigration and international displacement of graduates”, which is provided to you.

Could you please provide a summary of these studies and the comparative evaluation of emigration of elites, or as you mentioned, the graduates?

An important note is that the emigrant-accepting countries have designed and implemented two major policies of “attracting expert emigrants with great skills” and “integration of the emigrants with the hosting society”. On the other hand, countries that send emigrants have two main policies of maintaining their top talents and elites and preventing brain drain and using non-resident elites. In fact, a hidden quarrel among emigrant sending and emigrant accepting countries is that some of them have failed and some have succeeded.

So, what about all of the notes against your opinion that are presented in the media? Where are they coming from?

As I mentioned earlier, some have distributed false statistics and information out of unawareness and lack of knowledge and some other have done so to destroy Iran and create disappointment in our youth. A news-analytical headquarter has announced a 100-million reward for anyone who can prove the claims that have been allocated to the World Bank. However, no one has come forward with proof to this date. However, the research I explained about is derived from documents, which do not belong to us and are related to reports of international institutes and emigrant-accepting countries. They have shown our reverse emigration rate and significantly decreased emigration of our graduates to their countries. According to the report by the emigration office of Canada presented on its website, the number of Iranian students of this country was 2354 in 2015, which showed the 12th rank of Iran in terms of foreign students in Canada. In addition, the total number of Iranian emigrants in Canada was 6485 in 2017, which showed a significant decrease compared to 2016 (11665). On the other hand, the emigration office of the United States has reported that the number of Iranian students in this country has decreased by five times, compared to the beginning of the Islamic revolution, when Iran was ranked first with 57000 students in this country. However, according to the statistics presented by the emigration office of this country (CIS) until 2016, China has the first rank in terms of emigration of students. In this report, the exact number of 328547 Chinese students was presented, followed by countries of India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico. In this regard, Iran is ranked 11th in terms of Iranian students in the United States. Meanwhile, the number of students from Saudi Arabia in the United States is five times higher than Iranian students. In another part of the report by CIS, we observe that despite the increased population of students of Iran by 27 times, the number of students in the United States has decreased by five times, compared to the beginning of the Islamic revolution. As you can see, this report confirms the false statements on the brain drain of Iran in the past few years in the media.

Could you further explain about this issue and provide exact numbers?

Yes, of course. An interesting note is that Iran was not among the top 20 countries according to the report of economic development organization, and was not among the first 30 countries with highest emigrant-sending rank presented in the report by the World Bank. This means that Iran is not among the major emigrant-sending countries of the world.

Could you provide an accurate statistic on the level of emigration of Iranians?

Of course. I have to say that the emigration rate of Iran was 1.5% to the total population up to 2013, which is lower than the global mean (3.2%) and the majority of countries with similar conditions. The references of all of these statistics are presented in the book of “adaptive evaluation…” and enthusiasts of the field can receive the PDF file of the book online.

Are these statistics related to the emigration of Iranian elites or the net migration rate of Iranians?

This is the net migration rate of our compatriots.

Let’s talk about the hot topic of emigration of Iranian students and graduates!

Before that, I wanted to provide some explanations. Let me present brief information on the world’s situation in this field. A review of the global statistics of international students and their displacement in the past two decades show an increase in this area by four times. According to the statistics reported by the international education and laws counseling institution, the number of international students increased from 1.2 million in 1990 to five million in 2014. The most important destinies of international students in the 20th century were English-speaking countries, including the United States, England, Canada, and Australia. However, other countries, especially Asian countries, have attempted to attract students, and competitions in attracting students has increased. These statistics are related to valid international institutions. However, regarding our country, I have to say that Iran is not among the high-ranking countries in terms of emigration of students to advanced countries. Meanwhile, China, Russia, South Korea and India have the highest rank of emigration of students to developed countries.

Are there specific statistics on this area?

Yes. According to the valid and updated international reports, a total of 231.5 million people have left their homelands in 2014. In this regard, Iran is not among the main emigrant-sending countries. In addition, Iran was not among the 20 and 30 first emigrant-sending countries in the reports by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2015) and the World Bank, respectively. In this respect, the rate of emigration of Iran to the total population was 1.5% in 2015, which is lower than the global mean of 3.2% and most countries with similar development condition. In addition, according to the statistics and information of the American Institute of International Consultation and Law, the number of international students increased from 3.1 million in 1990 to five million students in 2014. Iran is not among the high-ranked countries that send students to advanced countries. China, Russia, South Korea, and India are the first countries that send students to developed countries (OECD, 2015).

With 32,758 students, Iran is not among the top countries that send students to other countries. According to latest OECD report on the emigration of individuals, a total of 845000 Iranian emigrants exist in OECD countries, which is equal to 1.5% of the total population of the country and below the half of the global mean of 3.2% and less than one-third of the 5% mean in European countries. On the other hand, according to the American Institute of Immigration Statistics ( in 2015, America hosted more than 1.4 million foreign students. This information is issued on the basis of the number of F1 visas for a period of more than one year and a study visa. The countries of origin of foreign students in the United States have also considerably changed in the past years. During 2015-2016, China sent the most foreign students to the United States (31%), followed by India (14%), South Korea (7%), Saudi Arabia (6%), and Canada (3%), respectively. In this regard, Iran was ranked 11th with a total of 12,356 students.

What is the cause of this decrease in the emigration rate of Iranian graduates?

I think it is because of high penetration and expansion of academic education and presence of knowledge-based companies and startups in Iran in the past few years.

So, according to your sayings and statistics and documents collected from valid international institutions, the issue of Brain Drain is not serious in Iran.

As I said earlier, statistics show that the number of emigrants of graduates of Iran, meaning those with academic degrees, is significantly lower than other countries. According to the joint report by the national organization and OECD, Iran has the lowest rates of brain drain and emigration of graduates with a rank below 2%. Therefore, based on the documents of international units, it could be expressed that Iran does not have a high rate of brain drain. In this condition, media can help prevent the spread of rumors on this issue. In addition, the authorities must be more sensitive toward this issue and provide a quick and justifiable response to diminish the current condition. It should be noted that even losing one person is bad for us and we must try to return those who have left the country. We can return these individuals with one-tens of the cost of a fellowship. However, we have challenges in some specific fields and universities and individuals must leave for those fields but return to the country.

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