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Iran's Brain Drain Is the West's Gain

The best engineering and science grads leave with no plans to return
A conference at University of Tehran on Dec. 3, 2013
A conference at University of Tehran on Dec. 3, 2013Photograph by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Drawing on a cigarette in his flat in central Tehran, Araz Alipour can count on one hand the number of friends who stayed in Iran after college. “Easily 90 percent of them have gone overseas,” the 29-year-old software developer says, reflecting on the flight of many of the nation’s science and engineering students. “Of my 45 university classmates, maybe five remain.”

Tens of thousands of Iranians have left the country of 77 million in recent years, largely for Europe and North America, in search of jobs and higher salaries. During the past two years, at least 40 percent of top-performing students with undergraduate degrees in science and engineering left the country to pursue advanced degrees, according to Iran’s National Elites Foundation, a government-run organization that supports academically gifted and high-achieving students. “Mostly they want to go to Canada, Australia, Germany, or Sweden,” says Bahram Yousefi, 26, a translator who works with college students on their graduate school applications. “There’s no job security, no life security here,” he says.