First Iranian Students Sent Abroad


M. Saadat Noury
by M. Saadat Noury

INTRODUCTION: The practice of sending Iranian students abroad for higher education has a long history and it traces back to the Saffavid era (1501-1722). Though during Qajar era (1794-1925) different groups of students were sent to Europe, it was firstly during Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled 1925-1941) that upon a well-defined legislation the governmental scholarships were allocated and various groups of students for further studies were annually sent to the accredited universities and institutions in some selected foreign countries. In this article, the early efforts of sending students abroad during Saffavids and Qajars, the relative active program during Pahlavi era (1925-1979), and a list of some famous students in the various groups will be presented and reviewed.

EARLY EFFORTS DURING SAFFAVIDS AND QAJARS: According to a document published online by the National Library and Archives of Iran, during Shah Abbas II (1642-1666) portraitist Mohammad Zaman, the son of Haaj Yousef, was the first Iranian student who was sent to Rome (the capital city of Italy) to study the Art of Painting (in Persian: Honar-e Naghaashi).

By the early 19th century Iranian reformers had become keenly sensitive to what they perceived as the relative weakness of their society in comparison to the growing threats from Russia to the north and the British authorities in the south. In order to transform Iranian society, reformers in the Qajar government sent students to Europe in order to study the new scientific and technological developments that were seen as the secrets of European strength. Among the first of these students to travel abroad was Mirza Saleh Shirazi, who was sent to Britain in 1815. He brought back with himself upon his return to Tabriz in 1837 the necessary printing machinery, equipment and materials. Mirza Saleh moved his publishing house from Tabriz to Tehran in 1846 and printed the first lithographic newspaper of Iran.

It should be also noted that while Fath Ali Shah Qajar was in power (1797-1834) his Crown Prince Abbas Mirza noticed the importance of modern technology at the time and it was Abbas Mirza who first dispatched a group of Iranian students to Europe for a western education and especially for the military techniques. It is documented that during Mohammad Shah Qajar (1834-1848) a group of Iranian students selected and they were sent to France. This group, upon their return home, worked as translators and helped the Austrian Teachers of Darolfonoon when established. During Naasereddin Shah Qajar (ruled 1848-1896) his Prime Minister Amirkabir founded Darolfonoon, the first European-style university of Iran in 1848, in which modern sciences and languages used to be instructed. Prior to the establishment of Darolfonoon and during Naasereddin Shah Qajar, groups of students were also sent abroad for higher education and upon their return home some of them were appointed as the Darolofonoon instructors. In 1855, seven years after the establishment of Darolfonoon, 42 students were also selected and they were sent to France for higher education. The first Ministry of Science and Culture (in Persian: Vezarat-e Oloom va Farhang) was also established during Naasereddin Shah Qajar and Aligholi Mirza Etezaadsaltaneh was appointed as the first minister of science and culture in 1858. In 1911 the Parliament of Iran passed a law by which the Ministry of Science and Culture of the Iranian government could send 30 students to Europe in order to obtain higher education and training in different fields (Teaching 15 students, Military Techniques 8 students, Agriculture 2 students, Road and Construction Engineering 2 students, Industry 2 students, and Chemistry 1 student).Upon the selection of 30 students, Ebrahim Hakimi, the Minister of Science and Culture at the time, appointed Monsieur Richard (the French Instructor of Darolfonoon) as the Supervisor (in Persian: Sarparast) of the group who accompanied and stayed with the students while they were studying in Paris, France.

THE EFFORTS DURING PAHLAVI ERA: During Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941) the concept of modernizing social, economic, military, and cultural institutions in Iran on the one hand, and the shortage of a professional workforce to make these changes possible on the other hand, encouraged young people to go abroad for further studies. As the first steps for effecting necessary changes had already been taken and only the required personnel was lacking, actions were taken both internally and externally. Inside the country, schools were expanded at various levels to provide higher education for the applicants. The academic curriculums were reformed and foreign scholars and professors were invited to teach in Iran, alongside the Iranian experts. Nevertheless, the experienced politicians or the statesmen of Iran still considered sending students abroad a necessity due to the lack of advanced teaching facilities and the limited number of qualified teachers and professors in many specialized fields. In 1928, upon a well-defined legislation the governmental scholarships were allocated and various groups of students for further studies were annually sent to the accredited universities and institutions in some selected foreign countries. Some historians have mentioned the following reasons for the need to send students abroad:

A. To train specialists in science and technology at various levels.
B. To satisfy the personnel requirements of various high schools and centers for higher learning.
C. The need to train a work force of specialists within the political establishment.
D. To meet the needs of a new army as well as the prerequisites for industrial development and the development of new services in the country.

According to the documents reported by Iran Chamber Society, "The first batch of 110 students left for France on October 15th of 1928 under the supervision of Esmail Meraat and Faradjollah Bahrami. Their chief supervisor was actually Hossein Alla, who was then Iranian Ambassador to France. The second group was sent in August 1929. The fifth group, consisting of 100 students, went in 1932, while the sixth group of 82 students traveled in 1924. Up to 1924, the total number of students sent abroad to enroll in various advanced scientific and technical disciplines totaled 640. In addition, others were sent by the Ministries of Science, War, Justice, Finance, Roads and the Post and Telegraph, as well as by the Bureau of Agriculture and the Industrial Bureau. All the affairs of students sponsored by the government, including their fields of study, lodgings, food and financial requirements, fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau for the Supervision of Students Abroad, located in Paris".

During Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1941-1979) the legislation of 1928 was modified and firstly the students term was defined as the first grade graduated students (in Persian: Faregholtahsilan-e Rotbeh-e Aval) of Tehran University. Later, the term of Tehran University was replaced by all universities of Iran. The legislation of sending the first grade graduated students of all universities of Iran abroad was valid and effective until Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was in power.

In their analytical review on the Roles of Graduated Iranian Students Abroad on the Changes in the Society of Iran (in Persian: Naghsh-e Tahsilkardegan-e Kharej az Keshvar dar Jaame-ey-e Iran), Hossein Moradi and Parviz Pajooh wrote that upon their return home, most of those graduates held administrative, teaching, political, and journalistic positions in Iran which led to a rapid development of new ideas and attitudes to modernize Iranian society. The same research work also indicates that the age average of the students sent abroad was 21.30 and Tehran was the birthplace of 59.10 per cent of those students. And the capital cities of all provinces in Iran were the birthplaces of 21 per cent of those graduates.

A LIST OF SOME FAMOUS STUDENTS: On the basis of information provided by reliable sources, the names of some famous and notable Iranian students sent abroad together with the positions held upon their return home may be listed as follows:

Mohsen Hashtroodi (University Professor & a Distinguished Mathematician), Mehdi Azar (Physician & Minister of Culture), Taghi Nasr (Lawyer & Minister), Haaj Ali Razm Ara (Army Officer & Prime Minister), Abdolhossein Nooshin (Founder of Modern Theater in Iran), Ali Shayegan (University Professor & Member of Parliament or MP), Abbas Eghbal Ashtiani (Scholar & Cultural Consul to Italy), Reza Afshar (CEO of Iranian Airline & MP), Mohammad Ali Mojtahedi (Dean of the Alborz College), Mostafa Mesbahzadeh (Founder of Kayhan Institute), Mohammad Hossein Maymandi Nejad (Dean of Veterinary Faculty), Aziz Raffii (Director of Razi Institute), Esmail Azarm (University Professor in Genetics), Abdullah Riazi (Engineer & Speaker of the Parliament), Ahmad Razavi (MP), Mehdi Bazargan (Engineer & Prime Minister), Khalil Maleki (Political Party Leader & Journalist), Bozorg Alavi (Author), Sadegh Hedayat (Author), Mojtaba Minoovi (Scholar & University Professor), Gholamhossein Saddighi ( Dean of Sociology Faculty & Minister), Nasrollah Entezam (Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations; he also held the position of the President of the UN General Assembly during the fifth session in 1950), Mohammad Ali Varasteh ( Minister of Finance), Mozafar Baghaii Kermani (Political Party Leader  & MP), Abolhassan Ebtehaj (Director of Plan Organization), Hassan Ameed (Dean of Law Faculty), Hamid Zanganeh (University Professor and Minister of Culture), Karim Sanjabi (Minister of Culture, Minister of Foreign Affairs), and many others.

EPILOGUE: In the academic year of 1963, a group of about 100 first grade graduates of Tehran University was sent to Europe and to the USA. Parviz Parsa, Mohammad Edalat, Behrooz Nabavi, and this author were among the members of that group. Upon their return home, Parviz Parsa, Mohammad Edalat, and Behrooz Nabavi were appointed as CEO of Kourosh Bank, Dean of Dentistry Faculty, and Deputy to the Minister of Rural Affairs respectively.

Iran Chamber Society Website (2001-2008): Online Article on History of Higher Education in Iran.
Moradi, H. and Pajooh, P. (1974): Roles of Graduated Iranian Students Abroad on the Changes in the Society of Iran (in Persian), ed., Tehran, Iran.
Saadat Noury, M. (2008): Online Note on A Historical Moment, the Short History of Sending Iranian Students Abroad.
Saadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on First Iranian Newspaper.
Various Sources (2008): Notes on Higher Education in Iran and the Names of Notable Iranian Students Sent Abroad.
Website of National Library & Archives of Iran (2008): Online Notes on Sending Iranian Students Abroad, (in Persian).
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2008): Online Notes on Saffavids, Qajars, Pahlavi Dynasty, Amirkabir, Darolfonoon, and Nasrollah Entezam.



more from M. Saadat Noury

ازنخستین کسانی که برای تحصیل به اروپا رفت


حاجی بابا افشار: یکی ازنخستین کسانی که اولین بار برای تحصیل به اروپا رفت

جستجو: //

 مجله ٔ یادگار، سال اول شماره ٔ پنجم، مقاله ٔ اقبال


Anahid Hojjati

Thanks for this information

by Anahid Hojjati on

Your article was very informative.  I was surprised to know as early 17th century, students were sent out of Iran to further their studies.

Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi

New Legislation

by Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi on

The new legislation of sending Iranian students abroad

 قانون اعزام دانشجو به خارج از كشور

Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi

A good history of sending Iranian students abroad

by Homan Mohabadi Ebrahimi on

A great piece of work on the history of sending Iranian students abroad. Thank you.