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Last Updated: Monday, 8 January 2007, 12:36 GMT
Huge cost of Iranian brain drain
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iranian students
The number of young Iranians wanting to leave is increasing
"Today we are going to talk about jobs," says the English language teacher to his class in Tehran.

And it's better jobs they're all after.

They're preparing for what's known as the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam - a requirement for emigration to many countries like Canada and Australia.

Everyone in the class wants to go abroad.

"The main point for going out of Iran is we have no job security here and there is economic tension," says 32-year-old travel agent, Nazaneen.

The number of educated young Iranians trying to leave the country appears to have increased in the last year since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office judging by the numbers sitting the IELTS exam.

The figures have increased two-and-a-half times this year over the same period last year, according to the Australian administrators of the test.

Student dreams

A year ago, the International Monetary Fund said Iran had the highest rate of brain drain of 90 countries it measured.

"We work from morning till night and still we cannot live off the money we make but over there we can have a better life with less hours of work," said Shabanzade, a hairdresser in Tehran who wants to emigrate.

Engineering students at Tehran university
Millions are being educated, only for a large proportion to leave
"There are economic problems and no job security and no freedom," says another student who hopes to go to Australia.

The teacher, who lived in England for many years, says most of his students dream of a better lifestyle abroad.

"They have friends and relatives abroad and they've heard lots about it but living abroad is not as easy as they think it's going to be," warns Mohammad Azadi.

Registering for the exam these students are preparing for is a nightmare in Tehran - let alone passing it.

Hundreds of students start queuing to put their names down more than 12 hours before the kiosk opens.

Best minds

"I came here at 2300 and it was so cold," says Azadeh, who has been standing on the pavement outside the ministry of education building all night.

She wants to study abroad and then find a job. She has no plans to return to Iran.

According to the IMF more than a 150,000 of the best young minds in Iran are leaving every year.

"They want to go abroad to find a decent job, well paid - that's the main purpose... A minority wants freedom and liberty, but the main point is jobs," explains Siavosh who's hoping to move to Australia.

It will be months before these students can do their language test. Then they will join the long queues outside foreign embassies in Tehran.

And the cost to Iran of not stemming this brain drain - one government estimate put it at nearly $40bn a year.

It is a terrible indictment of Iran's economic planning that it is educating millions of its youth, but cannot offer them a future worth staying for.

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