Every year, hundreds of international students travel to Richmond to fulfill their dreams of completing their college degrees in the states. However, VCU has created new criteria for its international students. Iranian students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in mechanical or nuclear engineering are banned from admittance into those programs.
VCU changed its policies for this specific demographic of students because of sanctions placed on Iran by the federal government in 2012. If an Iranian student is applying to pursue a graduate degree in mechanical or nuclear engineering, they are countered with the following message: “VCU regrets to inform you that we are not able to admit Iranian citizens in the graduate fields of mechanical and nuclear engineering or in programs that have nuclear content.”
Though it is not clear when VCU changed its policy, it has been brought to light because another university has made headlines for changing their policies regarding Iranian students.
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst has also made it increasingly difficult for international Iranian students to apply to the university if they have the intention of pursuing an engineering or science related field. The university’s Iranian Graduate Student Association and the Persian Student Association released a statement on Feb. 17, which criticized the university for closing doors on an entire population of individuals. Their statement said, “UMass-Amherst is voluntarily punishing us as a collective, because of what our home government does.”
This statement holds weight. Iranian students who wish to come to the United States to pursue higher education are a key factor in increasing the social development of the country as a whole. The tensions between the
U.S. and Iran have existed for years now, especially over the topic of oil. However, the growing population of young adults in Iran should not be held accountable for the political and economic disputes their government is involved in.
The U.S. prides itself on being an advocate for democracy in the eastern world. If the core of democracy is socialization then allowing potential international students to pursue an education and take it back to their home countries is the most effective way to increase democratic influence.
Diversity is the backbone of VCU. Denying Iranian students entrance to a program that specializes in engineering is cracking that vital building block to our institution’s structure. The university does not know what the student is going to do with the degree when they return back to Iran. It is rather paranoid not only for the federal government, but also the university to assume that the student will definitely apply their degree to a field that may compromise the United States’ sanctions on Iran.
What if a student applies within an approved program, but decides to switch over to a prohibited one? The university would technically be discriminating against a student if they denied access to the program due to their nationality.
As a university, VCU should consider each applicant on an individual basis, especially when these special circumstances are present. Why and where the student is going to apply the degree can never be predicted. Circumstances change, and students change as well. The university should pride itself on providing an equal opportunity for education, something many Iranian students don’t receive in their home country.
In the 2013-14 school year, roughly 10,194 Iranian exchange students were admitted to U.S. universities. According to the Iranian student organizations on UMass-Amherst’s campus, 79 percent of the admitted Iranian students studied sciences or engineering. If further restrictions are placed on students seeking academic visas, the U.S. is hindering the social progress of Iran. As for VCU, by incorporating these sanctions, it too is aiding in this process of punishing a group of prospective students for something they have no control over.