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Iranian students abroad hit as currency collapses

Iranians studying around the world are struggling to support themselves financially after the Iranian currency collapsed last month, due to the accumulative effect of foreign sanctions.

Students are now paying around three times what they used to for foreign currency conversions

The value of the Iranian rial has fallen around 80% since January, and students are now paying around three times what they used to for foreign currency conversions, after a subsidised government rate was ceased last month in response to the crisis.

Payman Kakhsaz, managing director of Fraz Negar Iranian – an education and migration agency in Tehran – told The PIE News: “It’s not affordable for people to spend money on studying abroad. They don’t know what to do: are they going to return to Iran, or are they going to stay in places like the UK with such expenses?”

Designed to halt Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme – which Iran claims centre around energy, but the international community fear is for a weapon – the sanctions prompted the Iranian rial to cascade in value earlier this month, reaching a record high of 37,000 to the dollar.

Around 35,000 Iranian students are believed to be studying abroad: students in Europe (particularly those that charge tuition fees), the US, Australasia and less familiar destinations such as Malaysia are reported to be suffering the increased cost of fees and living expenses.

A second year student in Metalwork and Jewellery (BA) at Sheffield Hallam University, UK, said she had worried about currency conversion since she started her course last year, but that recently the issue had got worse. “The truth is that I am starting to panic again for paying fees and even living costs because you never know if the pound price is going high again as we go forward, and it seems that is going to happen,” she told ThePIE News.

“The exchanges also refuse to transfer money these days, they prefer to wait till the prices reach some kind of stability which will never comes! The truth is I am not 100% confident that I could survive even this year.”

“She left just last week. She sold her belongings and went back to Iran”

Iran pulled its student conversion rate after foreign exchange reserves fell low, thanks to sanctions being ramped up in 2012 by the US. Bans on Iranian imports (including oil) and the a freeze on Central Bank of Iran assets have had particular bite.

Students must now buy dollars at a rate of 34,000 rials on the open market, up from 12,260 rials (a new “foreign exchange centre” is offering conversion at 25,000 rials but shortages have already been reported).

Some Iranians believe the government can afford the subsidy, however, criticising its removal. A Ministry of Education official, Hassan Moslemi Naeini, argued subsidies would cost a fraction of Iran’s total foreign exchange expenditures. Iranian students have also questioned the wisdom of sanctions which hit middle-class, educated Iranians hardest – the group most likely to condemn President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the regime.

“These sanctions are levied against the government but the government is not affected at all,” Ahmad, an Iranian graduate student in Belgium, told Reuters. ”Only the people and society feel these pressures.”

“UK universities are pretty experienced at putting temporary arrangements in place when financial support is interrupted”

Foreign universities will have some scope to support Iranian students but this may be limited. Of UK institutions, Dominic Scott, CEO of the UK Council for International Students, said: “Generally UK universities are pretty experienced at putting temporary arrangements in place for students whose financial support is interrupted due to difficulties in the home country.

“However, in the longer term if things don’t improve, it could mean some students having to abandon their studies and return home, as there are relatively few alternative funding sources for international students once they are in the UK. This is obviously a worrying prospect for those concerned.”

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