Sanandaj (Kurdish: سنەSine; Persian: سنندج‎) is the capital of Kurdish culture and Kurdistan Province in Iran. With a population of 414,069, Sanandaj is the twenty third largest city in Iran and the second largest Kurdish city. Sanandaj's founding is fairly recent, (about 200 years ago), yet under its short existence it has grown to become a center of Kurdish culture.

Organisation reference

University of Kurdistan


Iran has a large network of public and private affiliated universities offering degrees in higher education. State-run universities of Iran are under the direct supervision of Iran's Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MSRT) (for non-medical universities) and Ministry of Health and Medical Education (for medical schools). According to article 3 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran guarantees "free education and physical training for everyone at all levels, and the facilitation and expansion of higher education." The Ministry of Science, Research and Technology in the Islamic Republic of Iran is the main ministry involved in higher education, science, research and technology. There are other public or private bodies/institutions with related functions including 'Ministry of Education’ which is responsible for schooling and tertiary education, the ‘Ministry of Health and Medical Education’, and other scientific and technological institutions affiliated with other state or private institutions in the country. MSRT is a public body of executive power, which carries out functions on elaborating state policy and normative-lawful regulation in the sphere of higher education, science and technology, innovative activity, and intellectual property. The MSRT's mission is directed at realization and development of intellectual potential of the nation (a key component of stable and dynamic development) of the country. It considers the national, regional and international goals, interests, policies and ambitions, and is seeking sustainable development for welfare, peace and prosperity in the country and across the world.

Ministry of Science, Research and Technology mandates to:

  • Support and encourage Universities and Research Institutes (public/private),
  • Develop basic and applied research,
  • Support Incubators and Technology Parks ( at least 36 Technology Parks and 140 Incubators),
  • Focus on fields such as Engineering, Basic Sciences, Art, Human Sciences and Agriculture,
  • Promote and support research through funding, human resource development and the provision of the necessary research facilities,
  • Facilitate the creation of knowledge, innovation and development in all fields of science and technology(including indigenous knowledge),
  • Contribute to improvement of Life quality of all the people of the country,
  • Provide services to the research community especially at higher education and research institutions.

However, the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology governs almost 2800 Universities , 49 Research Institutions , and the total of 205 Science Technology Parks (38) and Incubators‌ (167). At the same time, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education governs 47 Medical Universities throughout the country. In Kurdistan in addition to the University of Kurdistan, Frahangian University (Teacher Training University), Medical University and University of Technical and Vocational Education, there are several non-state and private universities and higher education institutions serving to over 70000 students[1].      

University of Kurdistan as the main state university in Province of Kurdistan operates under the supervision of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology which provide guidelines for universities and higher education institutions both public and private institutions to practice the country's policy for higher education. In addition to observing the “Act of Higher Educationas the national strategy in this respect, the universities have to operate towards the aims which have been set in other national documents too including "IRAN's 2026 VISION, The Country's Comprehensive Scientific Map, and The Sixth Development Plan (2015-2020). Although these documents are encouraging universities to be engaged actively in any efforts to foster the country’s socio-economic development, but by nature they are general guidelines with no clear objectives for engagement of universities in urban development. Despite this and in the light those national guidelines, the University of Kurdistan based on its own “Strategic Vision” (The University of Kurdistan Strategic Plan 2015-2020) has committed itself to have a close tie with regional and provincial organizations and playing an effective role in developing urban and rural areas encouraging the university’s staff to work and cooperate with national and local partners collectively and even individually. At the same time, University of Kurdistan is the main state university in Kurdistan Province and monitors and audits all the other universities in the province.



Geographical context

Kurdistan Province, covering an area of 29,137 square kilometers lies in northwestern Iran and is the region of focus. It is one of 31 provinces in the country and has over 200 kms of shared border with Iraqi Kurdistan. Its neighbouring provinces are West Azarbaijan (north) and Zanjan (north and east), Hamedan (east), Kermanshah (south). The province has 10 counties, 31 districts, 29 towns and 86 rural districts based on 2014 official state divisions. Its capital, Sanandaj, is situated in the south of the province. The western half is mostly a mountainous region with an average altitude of 2000 meters above sea level, making it the highest province in the country. The highest and the lowest points of the province are Mount Shaho and Aloot region with altitudes of 3300 and 900 meters, respectively which are part of the Zagros mountain ranges. The heights of the Zagros mountains cause this western half to have greater average rainfall and thus a greater share of the natural green environment such as forests and rich rangelands. The province has an average annual rainfall of 500 mm but figure could vary anything between 350 to 1200 mm depending on the location in the province.  In addition, the province has many rivers, lakes, mineral water springs and natural ice-stores. The province's rivers normally join two river basins: the Caspian Sea basin and Lake Uremia Basin and some also enter Iraq.

The eastern half of the province is covered by plains which contain rich agricultural lands producing wheat, barley, potato, alfalfa, fruits and vegetables. This province has 374084 hectares of forestlands, 1414000 hectares of rangelands and 806065 hectares of rich agricultural lands.  The forests are home to many varieties of trees, animals and birds. Moreover, Kurdistan Province is home to over 2,200 species of plants.

Social context

The province has a population of 1,493,645 based on the 2011 census of which 66% are urban dwellers and 34% rural dwellers. In the period 2006-2011, migration to cities increased by 22.89% and is likely to increase more rapidly. One of the main reasons that citizens migrate to cities in the province is to have better access to educational facilities and other basic services and consequently better employment opportunities. 

Most of the rural districts have primary level education only and higher education institutes in all forms are non-existent and thus to continue to a higher level, migration is needed. In addition the majority of the rural population is 15-30 years olds who require educational and vocational training skills to enter the job market. Thus, there is a great need for better access to educational facilities and technological centres.

Because of the physical geography of the region and the fact that the province is mountainous and in extreme climatic conditions (especially winter season), it is difficult for villagers and other rural dwellers to travel to bigger centres of education on a daily basis and financially cumbersome. In terms of gender, it is more difficult for young girls / females to travel from rural areas to cities due to conservative cultural values, so that the Kurdish region is suffering from an increasing uneducated girls (nearly 70% of girls in rural areas are unable to continue their education in  secondary level). Indeed discriminatory state policy has prevented many children from accessing education and is a contributing factor to the extremely high levels illiteracy in Kurdistan. Whereas Article 15 allows the use of minority languages in public, this is not implemented in practice making the government’s actions illegal under Iran’s Constitution.

Economic context

Most people in Kurdistan Province are engaged in agricultural industry, animal husbandry, and horticulture. The natural climatic conditions of the region as well as its fertile lands make the province an ideal place for the aforementioned industries. Wheat, barley, potato, grains, fruits and vegetables are the major agricultural products. As agriculture is a major industry in the province, agricultural machinery is also of great importance. Hence, currently the province has 125 workshops that specialize in agricultural machinery. On a smaller scale, the province’s economy is dependent on metal and non-metal mining, food and drinks industry, car tyre production, petrochemical plant, cement factory, tile factory, cigarette and tobacco production and traditional handicrafts such as carpets, rugs and backgammon boards that are world-renowned.

There are 372 registered mines in the province but only a small number are active and extract metals and non-metals including gold, iron ore, manganese, feldspar, lead, zinc, silica, barite, marble, granite and building materials. The mining industry is mainly involved in the raw extraction of materials and on a limited scale in processing. The total number of active mines in the province is 96 and 7 are in the process of being equipped for extraction to start.

The region of Kurdistan in Iran is rich in natural resources and provides a significant percentage of water to the rest of Iran.[1] Nonetheless there has been little invested in Kurdish economic development, which is reflected in the wider system of discrimination. In direct contradiction with the Iranian constitution’s Article 48; “There must be no discrimination among the various provinces with regard to the exploitation of natural resources, utilization of public revenues, and distribution of economic activities among the various provinces and regions of the country, thereby ensuring that every region has access to the necessary capital and facilities in accordance with its needs and capacity for growth”, Kurdistan remains underfunded and exploited.[2] Consequently the Kurdish population has relied on agriculture as a source of revenue, which itself has been affected detrimentally by government policies of laying land mines in agricultural fields and closing borders and land vital for the relocation of livestock for agricultural production in the region. For this and based on HDI reports Kurdistan is among the most disadvantaged provinces.




Environmental issues

Both urban and rural regions in Kurdistan particularly, the capital city of Sanandaj are facing environmental problems such as water, air and noise pollution. Regional political instability, ethnic tensions, politically motivated decisions, wars and economic sanctions and lack investment and sufficient funds, are major contributors to the environmental problems. In fact these problems are causing serious health issues for the inhabitants and sometimes death.

Furthermore, over-use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture due to lack of awareness threaten food security. The global climatic changes have had an impact on local weather conditions causing greater instances of freak weather. Deforestation and greater instances of droughts and dust storms also threaten food security.  Drinking water sanitation is at a high level and well monitored but there is lack of water to meet agricultural needs. There is 60% water wastage in agricultural usage. [1]



Social issues

Although based on the latest Human Development Report life expectancy at birth has increased to 75.6 years, but due to health circumstances,  one of the the lowest life expectancy is observed in Kurdistan. Therefore, despite of many health centers and facilities which exist in the province, there is a lack of specialist health workers that carry out specialist treatments. Residents must travel great distances ( the capital which is an 8 hour journey by car) to receive highly specialized treatments.  There is a minimal welfare system offering very limited services. However, studies which applied a composite index of social welfare based on six dimensions of social welfare, including health, housing, social security, economy, education, and employment in Iranian provinces, after Sistan and Balochestan the worst values of SWI has been devoted to and Kurdistan respectively. Education is administered by a highly centralized system. for this, local educational authorities have no significant role to play towards school improvement, quality learning and teaching strategies and practices. In higher education institutions which are led by the ministry of Sciences, Research and Technology are slightly different. The Board of Trustee is responsible for revising the universities’ policy and practices. Therefore universities are enjoying certain degree of autonomous. In brief, the literacy rate in the province is 82.3 %:  88% male literacy rates and 76.6 % female literacy rates. Only primary school is compulsory and secondary and tertiary educational systems are not skills and practice-based and this is a weakness since employable skills are not learned and does not prepare the young for the work environment and global-knowledge economy.

Economic issues

The following can be considered as key economic issues which need to be tackled critically:  

  1. High unemployment rate with increasing number of unemployed young graduated people.
  2. Current status of road infrastructure could be improved for better linkages to the rest of the country.
  3. Transportation systems are weak. There is 1 airport in the province with daily flights to only the capital. No rail networks exist which are all important for national and ultimately international relations.
  4. Lack of investment from international investors.
  5. Lack of entrepreneurship – unable to change innovative ideas into sellable and marketable products or services.
  6. Education systems have no links to industry.

Other regionally-specific issues

Kurdistan Province and Iran enjoys relatively high political security in the Middle East considering that it is surrounded by highly unstable political regions such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Migration to cities in the province has increased dramatically impacting the agricultural industries causing the abandonment of villages and the rural life. Most migrate in search of better employment opportunities and educational facilities. Moreover, in major cities in the province such as Sanandaj and Saqez, there is the problem of illegal habitation which impacts local council planning.  The recent national and local elections in Iran demonstrated high levels of participation. But in general civic participation is weak.

Organisation and management

Although under the supervision of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, University of Kurdistan has a non-centralized administrative structure managed by a Board of Trustees. It is financed by the aforementioned ministry and was officially given university status in 1991 by the Ministry of Higher Education and Culture. Prior to that, it was first an affiliate of Tehran Teacher Training Institute and then an off- campus faculty of Razi University (Kermanshah).

The Board of Trustees members are the Chancellor of the University, Minister for Education, Assistant Minister for Education, Provincial Governor, an academic staff member, two well-known public figures (i.e in industry or parliament). All new university policies must be put to the Board of Trustees and then when approved are executed by the University Chancellor and Vice Chancellors for Educational Affairs, Research Affairs, Student Affairs, Financial Affairs, and Cultural & Social Affairs.

Main priorities of HEI in the region

  1. To have own special identity and specialize in areas that are of importance to the region such as Agriculture and Agricultural Machinery, Forestry, Water, Mining and Kurdish Studies. Currently UOK is the only university in the country that offers a degree programme in Kurdish Language and Literature and has a very active Kurdish Studies Research Institute. 
  2. Internationalization of Higher Education in order to compete on a global level.
  3. Establishing strong links with industry.
  4. Towards improving ranking through scientific and practical research development. 
  5. Establishing greater links and academic cooperation with HEIs abroad.
  6. Providing qualified workforce in relevant area with close link to local and regional development requirements.
  7. Facilitate equal access to higher education with particular reference to disadvantage groups and marginalized areas.
  8. Providing work-based and work-related education (University of Technical and Vocational Education).
  9. Providing in-service training to all employed staff and workforce in state and private organizations (Islamic Azad University and private HEIs)

In comparison with previous populist and hardliner government that purposefully limited universities to have a significant contribution in developing society, the Rohani’s Administration has considered the universities as transforming agents towards an advanced level of socio-economic development. So it seems that for the regional authorities too universities and HEIs can play a vital role in developing regions from different aspects. For this they are insisting that improving the quality of HEIs must be improved, the policy of mass higher education must be reconsidered and qualitative indicators have to be observed when any higher education expansion is discussed. Furthermore they have decided that budgets of state universities including the University of Kurdistan need to be increased sharply. Quite recently the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology has urged HEIs to prepare their strategic plans in which a particular reference has to be given to the regional competitive environmental, agricultural, economic, socio-cultural advantages. 

Although according to MSRT’s policies and other national policies, rules and regulations state universities are operating nationwide, but universities are encouraged to pay attention to the local and regional challenges and dilemmas ad to seek appropriate and effective solutions to resolve them. For example based on this policy and at the individual level the application of promotion of those faculty members who has been continuously engaged in civil society’s capacity building from different points of view is treated positively. 

By emphasizing that universities have to go beyond their traditional teaching and research practices and pay a close and deep attention to their third mission (serving their surrounding local, regional, national and even global societies) the universities have been asked and also supported to create new establishment and unites respectively. Among these fresh unites and departments Entrepreneurship Unit, Growth Center, Science and Technology Park, Knowledge-based companies, Students Fund supported by staff for helping poor students and  Staff and Students’ NGOs for their proactive social engagement are important which have been focusing on the following goals:

  1. developing cultural and intellectual foundation of the community;
  2.  expanding social capital development;
  3.  addressing social and environmental issues in the community;
  4. carrying out productive research project that are, among other things, socially robust;
  5. improving human capital development;
  6. accelerating  regional economic growth;
  7. linking the community and the world (boosting local/global connectivity);
  8. re-conceptualizing regional sustainable development;
  9. developing corporate and private citizenship attributes; and
  10. facilitating social change including helping to solve critical social problem with particular reference to marginalized and deprived areas.

destabilizing environmental balances and drying many lakes and rivers throughout the country. The current government has given a high priory to redefine national and regional policies to remove barriers and obstacles on the country’ sustainable development. For this universities are encouraged to participate and play a greater role regarding challenging environmental issues including carrying out relevant research projects, running conferences on the local, regional and national levels on the environmental agendas, giving effective advises to key policy makers, middle managers, practitioners and civil society, introducing fresh relevant programmes, and short courses and running workshops for increasing public awareness.

Although the University of Payame Noor (Distance Higher Education Institute) operate nationwide via its several braches, but very recently the state universities have been supported to establish their own LLL units to facilitate access to higher education opportunities from one hand and to utilize advanced technologies to extent the higher education institutions contribution and engagement regionally and nationally on the other hand. Indeed LLL will promote the universities’ regional engagement effectively if both appropriate infrastructures (hardware and software) and technical and financial support are provided.     

In fact based on Iran’s 2025 Vision, the country should achieve the first position in Middle East in terms of Science, Research and innovation. [1]   So innovation and research policies at the national and regional levels have urged universities and faculty member to work hard to achieve those prioritized innovation and research goals. According to these policies the number of papers and publications, joint projects and so on must be increased sharply. Those staff that have not shown a reasonable academic and research performance will not promoted ad they may be the subject of redundancy. Despite this and based on international ranking Iranian universities are losing the lead comparing with their regional counterparts particularly Turkish Universities, and some universities in Saudi Arabia[2] (Azizi, 2017).

The current administration tends to revised higher education system critically in a way that some courses and programs or and even some department and universities may be closed down if they do not fit themselves with quality indicators and guidelines. It means reducing number of teaching hours, lowering the number students and focusing on graduate and post graduate education. By these policies, lectures, professors and researchers have more free time to work on the universities’ third mission. Consequently higher education institutions can allow their staff to work effectively engage in regional development fields.

As it was mentioned earlier emphasizing the third mission in higher education has created new focal points for universities by in which new HE’s policies and practices are to be implemented in universities. This changing and complementary direction has been perceived positively by universities and has encouraged them to follow national guidelines and gain more strategic and logistic support offered by the ministry (technically and financially) create new required establishments such as LLL centers, incubators, growth centers, science and technology park I a competitive way. Indeed it has been understood as an opportunity to revise the universities’ current programmes and courses in a way to serve the society at large effectively. Moreover, in addition to elite universities which deserve to maintain their leading role, non-elite HEIs too are eager to not be left behind.   

The economic globalisation as an international phenomenon faces regions with realities such as extremely strong economic competition, particularly with regard to investment and localisation of economic activity. Although, globalisation of economy provides our region with new horizons for its own regional development policies and access to financial markets, but it has several concerning consequences in terms of ecological, social and cultural policies. These have opened new bases for research and work which needs to be done by faculty members and researchers and even it creates new research topics for postgraduate students to focus on. 

Based on political and economic trends from one hand and potential capacities for regional development in Iran’s Kurdistan (rich environmental, huge natural resources, and cultural traditions) on the other hand, it seems that we can concentrate on collaborating with other regions in ecotourism, SME development and social capital development plans.



[2] Azizi, N. (2017). The Necessity of Reform in Higher Education: A reflection on the Contemporary Challenges in Iran’s Higher Education. Tehran: Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, Institute for Cultural and Social Studies. 

Cultural issues

Kurds are a minority group with unique cultural identity. The vast majority of Iranian Kurds are Sunni Muslims whose ancestors converted during the 7th Century Arab conquest. There are also a large number of Shi’a Muslims within the Kurdish population primarily living in the Ilam and Kermanshah provinces of Iranian Kurdistan.[1]

A small minority of the population are also still followers of traditional and indigenous religions worshipped before the proliferation of Islam. These religions are Yazdanism/Yazidism and Ahl-e Haqq, and both have been practiced by the Kurd’s for nearly 2000 years. Kurdish heritage is rooted in one of the world's oldest cultures. The earliest known evidence of a unified and distinct culture (and, possibly, ethnicity) of the inhabitants of the Kurdish mountains dates back to the Halaf culture of 5400 - 6000 B.C. This was followed which was a foreign introduction from Mesopotamia.

Both music and dance play a vital role in Kurdish culture.[2] Using ancient instruments and songs are used to celebrate festivals and pass on traditional stories. Kurdish musicians have been highly successful both in Iran and worldwide and have contributed to the musical heritage of the region. Dance similarly plays a large part in the cultural celebrations of the Iranian Kurds. Traditional round dancing is used to celebrate festivals, birthdays and marriages. Kurdish people have also upheld the tradition of carpet weaving for centuries.