January 29, 2014

Sanctions Cut Off Online Courses for Iranians


Contact: Jamal Abdi

Phone: 202-386-6408

Email: [email protected]

Washington, DC – NIAC calls on the Treasury and State Department to take immediate action to address restrictions that have cut off online courses for Iranians. The online education provider Coursera has announced that it will no longer provide access to individuals in Iran, Sudan, and Cuba due to U.S. sanctions. Under existing federal authorities, a license should be issued to Coursera to allow their continued provision of educational services in embargoed countries. NIAC urges Coursera to work with Treasury and State to facilitate the provision of this license.

“Denying Iranians the right to an education undermines American interests and values, and violates the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi. “The Iranian government has systematically denied education to students based on their political and religious beliefs. The U.S. should not be in the business of denying education to students simply because they are Iranian.”

NIAC has urged that scientific and academic exchanges are critical to improving U.S.-Iran relations and empowering moderate elements in Iran. 

Coursera is but one example of how broad U.S. sanctions have impacted Iranian students in recent years. Similar non-profit online education services MITx and EDx do not offer Iranians certificates of completion. 

In 2010, Educational Testing Service suspended the TOEFL English-language proficiency test for Iranians, which is required for studying in the US and UK, in 2010. Thankfully, that issue was resolved through grassroots pressure and the intervention of Treasury and State. 

Many Iranian students studying in the U.S. report difficulties in paying tuition and basic living expenses due to sanctions closing off financial channels. In 2012 in Minnesota, TCF Bank unilaterally terminated at least 29 Iranian students’ bank accounts. The bank is now being investigated for discrimination by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but such difficulties continue to plague Iranian students in the U.S.

Under Iran sanctions legislation passed by Congress in 2012, prospective Iranian students are now denied from studying in the U.S. in energy or nuclear-related fields. A directive was subsequently sent to U.S. universities operating abroad instructing them to deny undergraduate students from taking math, science, or engineering courses beyond the introductory level and requiring a U.S. government license to admit Iranian graduate students. Under sanctions pressure, scientific journals began rejecting Iranian authors last year. Many prospective students in Iran say they are being denied U.S. student visas due to security restrictions and because they are automatically disqualified due having fulfilled their mandatory military service in Iran.

“The patchwork of Iran sanctions is so broad and convoluted that the limited carve outs put in place are never able to prevent collateral damage,” said Abdi. “The end result is that we end up punishing ordinary people and jeopardizing our most important relationships with the next generation of Iranians who will decide Iran’s future.” 

Between 1974 and 1983, more students came to study in the U.S. from Iran than any other country, with approximately 50,000 Iranian students studying in the U.S. That number has dropped significantly. Recognizing the significant benefit of hosting Iranian students and building bonds with the people of Iran, the State Department has worked to expand Iranian student visas and nearly 9,000 Iranian students now study in the U.S.—more than at any other time in the past two and half decades. Unfortunately, sanctions continue to undermine these efforts.


The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. We accomplish our mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.






Back to top