Young Iranians Struggle With More Than Student Loans

broke student in front of Iranian flag
American students aren’t alone in their ongoing struggle with debt and student loans. The economic sanctions against Iran have massively impacted the lives—and budgets—of the many young Iranians who study abroad.

Take for example Neda, a 27-year-old young woman that was set to study communications in Cyprus. Unfortunately, monetary sanctions against Iran’s central bank have caused the rial—Iran’s currency—to plummet in value this month. Her $1,500 tuition costs are now out of her upper middle class family’s reach, according to a recent report by Reuters.

“I had been accepted to the school and everything was ready to go. But when foreign currency became so expensive, I had to cancel my plans,” she said in a Reuters phone interview.

The sanctions—imposed as a result of Iran’s continued nuclear program—have caused the nation’s currency to lose nearly a third of its value against the U.S. dollar.

Neda, unable to afford student loans or the cost of living outside of Iran, has been left with little choice but to remain in Iran.

“This term especially my parents were encouraging me to go before things get worse in Iran,” she said.

According to figures from the Iranian government, there are 35,000 young Iranians are students studying abroad. These students obtain degrees—at times through the use student loans—and upon their return they contribute greatly to Iran’s economy. Perhaps just as important, these students also maintain a link with a world that Iran has become increasingly isolated from as a result of their continued development of a nuclear program.

Despite continuing tension between the Iranian government and many Western or foreign governments, young Iranians still have managed to study abroad, with or without student loans, in the last few years. Many of Iran’s current top officials are actually former students of prestigious colleges located here in the United States, such as MIT and the University of California.

Young Iranians partly seek an education abroad due to the massively competitive entrance exams for Iran’s own public universities. Obtaining a degree abroad can allow returning students to find prestigious and high-paying jobs—provided their families can even afford the tuition, student loans, and costs to send them overseas.

Unfortunately for these families, the Iranian government now views foreign study as a luxury. In September, the government announced that it would no longer allow students to purchase dollars at a subsidized government rate of 12,260 rials. Now students have to pay the open market price, which is nearly double.

“We have the capacity to educate students inside the country, and except when it is urgent, there is no need for our foreign exchange to exit the country,” said Economic Minister Shamseddin Hosseini, according to Reuters.

More and more students continue to criticize Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a result of the sanctions’ effects. Thousands of students have signed letters of protest against the President’s policies. In another incident, several dozen families of students protested in front of the Iranian central bank.

Many Iranian students ponder whether they should even return to their home country—which continues to struggle under economic sanctions—such as food shortages.

“When I left Iran, I swore I would go back. Now it is less likely that I will return. There is no stability,” said Hasan, an engineering student in the U.S.

Even though the student loan debt crisis burdens many students here in America, college remains within a close, albeit costly, reach.