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Edx bans Iranians while MOOCs are specifically exepmted from sanctions
60 points by Fazel94 61 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 23 comments
Document exempting MOOCs from Iran sanctions is here [1] in part (iii) It clearly exempts Iranian students from sanctions for undergraduate MOOCs and some more.

Coursera does the same. As an important contributor to education access, I expected more than indiscriminate banning of people, because of the country they are in while the law allows it specifically. Especially that is more important for Iranians under current the government.

It is important to be informed, the other option is to fall victim to the propaganda fed on national television to us every day.

For more context refer to list of sanctions and exemptions of Iran in treasury.gov [2] Iran License (No.G) contains more context.

[1] (https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/126/iran_glg.pdf) [2] (https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/sanctions-programs-and-country-information/iran-sanctions)

I wonder if they are worried about the exception to that clause: "... provided that the courses are the equivalent of courses ordinarily required for the completion of undergraduate degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, law, or business, or are introductory undergraduate level science, technology, engineering, or math courses ordinarily required for the completion of undergraduate degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, law, or business."

I wonder if these MOOC providers don't want to go through the headache of proving that their courses are equivalent and therefore preemptively took them down.

I wonder if it could be that a significant fraction of their courses do not fall under that exception, and for some reason they do want to have to keep track on a per course basis of who is or is not allowed to take it?

Most STEM courses would not qualify, because most of them are not requirements for an undergraduate degree in humanities, social science, law, or business. Looking at the courses I've taken from EdX and Coursera, I think that the only one that might qualify for the exception is game theory--it might be required for some social science degrees.

All the others were equivalent to courses required for STEM degrees only.

Nice catch, I didn't even read it that closely to notice that it excluded STEM degrees.

It is interesting because my undergraduate degree in a social science, economics, required that I take at least 2 stem courses. Typically the requirement is filled by 2 introductory level science courses but I'm sure higher level science courses would have satisfied it as well. It would certainly be a risk to offer courses with out further guidance from the state department.

I tried to do Probability Theory and Statistics courses that, I think would qualify for the matter.

Me too, suspect that convenience is the issue here. Again I expected more of a non-profit like Edx.

I don't think it is entirely out of convenience. If edx gets shut down or faces fines for violating the US sanctions on Iran it hurts their broader goal of support global education. I can understand it is frustrating being in Iran and not having access to the course materials, but from the perspective of edx providing these materials in Iran might not be the hill they want to die on.

I think there might be space for a smaller company/non-profit to test this. If your organization's sole mission is to provide this content to Iranians. The legal uncertainty could provide a big enough moat to establish yourself.

Yeah, I mean, I really doubt Edx has a particular vendetta against Iranians. It's a huge legal problem if it turns out that one or another Justice Department decides you're violating sanctions, in exchange for... no real gain.

(I suspect that accepting payment from Iran is another huge risk in itself)

>in exchange for... no real gain.

well, except for accomplishing the first bullet on their mission statement.[0]

'Increase access to high-quality education for everyone, everywhere'

[0]: https://open.edx.org/about-open-edx/

That's awfully facile. Some exec has to sign off on this. Even if the attorney says X is probably okay, that exec is risking spending the next year talking to attorneys -- or worse -- if a xenophobic congressperson or racist treasury employee gets mad at his or her employer.

Or even here [1] from 2014

> Tena Herlihy, edX’s general counsel, said the company has since last May worked with the U.S. State Department and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and has so far applied for and received company-specific licenses for its MOOCs to enroll students in Cuba and Iran (a third license, for Sudan, is still in the works).

Is that the best use of extremely limited exec time, fully taking the mission into account?

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/28/state-dept-bl...

Payments on the exempted course are okay to process(according to the document) The real gain is people gaining access to quality education that really need it.

Coursera (or the third party api they use) couldn't verifying my identity with the Syrian passport, and justified that with sanctions, although I haven't been to Syria in a year and I'm living abroad.

I had to delay my online masters degree because of the fear of being denies access to the courses material, because I can't risk spending what is literally my three years work savings in Syria to get nothing.

They often think that it's easier for them to just deny all of the sanctioned countries access than having to get through a legal problem. And this applies to many things other than the MOOCs that are not sanctioned or sanctions don't apply to if you're living in another country.

What country are you in? Can you get a government issued ID there? In the US you can get a drivers license or even a non-driving ID even if you aren't a citizen. I'm sure other countries have something similar.

This is why sanctions are bad policy, they indiscriminately cause hardships to citizens of the affected countries. These sanctions it appears only serves to grow resentment against US in these countries.

That is exactly the case, but resentment is directed towards the policies that themselves are directed clearly against ordinary citizens that have nothing to with the government policies(it isn't a functioning democracy). High ranking official aren't disrupted by the sanctions, people's lives are.

IP addresses linked to North Korea and Crimea are also blocked or at least were several years ago. I believe the issue is certain advanced technical courses being subject to sanctions -- at least that's what I heard secondhand.

No surprise. Edx is genuinely terrible. Their policy of storing emails is ridiculous. I remember their suggestion for the fact that I had made and deleted an account under my university was to "get a new university email" and they refused to transfer the courses my uni paid for!


While it's tragic and infuriating, it just shows how powerless people of Iran are against their orthodox authoritarian government. I feel their government's atrocities against them should not be used as an excuse to deny knowledge to their people or to justify such denial by other governments. The logic of such sanctions against people until they "overthrow their government" is shaky.

"If you want to rule with ease keep the serfs uneducated and hungry." part of will of Shah of Iran Agha Mohammad Khan to his successor, 1742.

Tragic - and far deeper than a denied education. This is a deeply flawed society.

This is an odd hill to die on, OP. Geopolitics is complicated - there are tons of things to iron out before this. I assure you there are other parts of the sanctions hurting Iranian students more than EdX being [incorrectly] blocked. Also what is the propaganda you’re referring to?

I think you missed that OP is Iranian, that's how he noticed the problem. The propaganda is within Iran. His nickname is another hint, Fazel is an Iranian name.

Nice catch, that is my nickname, abbreviated of my family name, Fazeli. Fazel in its root is Arabic meaning "Scholar" and Fazeli means related to Scholars.

I am Iranian, just out of my master's degree in Iran, no need to tell me :D . In Iran most of platforms are filtered(twitter, youtube, ...) the TV is national and day and night shows obvious propaganda for government and against anybody they don't approve or anyone who is critical of them. Science, Logic and etc isn't really concerning the major outlets.

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