The question Iranian students hear these days is: If you don't like the United States, why don't you just leave?

A long pause and then Hooshang Daneshvar, 29, draws a deep breath and says, "We are part of the struggle."

In his eyes, and in those of many other Iranian students, that struggle is for the Iranian people -- to become educated and return home to help Iran. And it is a struggle to take their revolutionary cause past the American government, into American streets and to the American people. To leave now would just slow the struggle.

"There are a lot who want to go who are going to stay," said one student. "They want to learn and go back to help later."

This is a common answer, but not the only one offered by the Iranian students gathered outside the international student office at Texas Southern University. Here, 922 Iranians account for 10 percent of the student body, and they intend to stay. $"Eighteen more hours," said one student, referring to the number of credits he needs for graduation.

"One thousand, eighty dollars and forty-four cents," says Hossien Alizade, 28, showing his receipt for the current semester's tuition.

All the students in the group -- which varied in size and composition as the students came and went between classes -- offered their views on the shah, their countrymen at home holding hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and the American government.

All supported the students and wanted the shah returned to Iran. When they spoke of the United States, they distinguished between its government and its people. They contended the Carter administration was trying to mislead Americans into supporting the shah, and seemed unable to realize that for many Americans the issue is no longer the shah and his sins, but national prestige.

Yet for other students, the decision to stay in the United States, if possible, is not so much a matter of choice.

"I would not be safe at home," said a 23-year-old University of Houston Iranian, who declined to give his name, but said he had been given 30 days to leave or be deported. "My father helped Americans in Iran. I would not be given a job. I would not be safe."

He spoke as he stood in the hall of the federal courthouse after being told by immigration officials he must leave because he has overstayed his student visa. Outside, a group of American protesters chanted, "Let our people go!" and desecrated an Iranian flag. One man carried a "Nuke Iran" sign.

"We are not fighting with you," said Najid Kiani, 28, an electronics major at Texas Southern who has been in the United States for one and a half years. "We're trying to say that your government is wrong."

To do just that, Kiani and about 74 other Iranians demonstrated in Houston last week to call on the United States to return the shah to Iran.

Two days after that demonstration, hundreds of anti-Iranian protesters poured into the streets. They waved American flags, burned an Iranian one and chanted, "Iranians, go home!"

"The American people, we're not against the American people," Kiani said. "The government is doing wrong. The U.S. government is making war and always the U.S. government is supporting some people like the shah."

So why does he want to be in a country with that kind of a government?

"I am trying to finish up my school and go back home and do the best that I can to learn," Kiani said. "And if I leave right now, I cannot try to tell them [the American people] what is wrong with the U.S. government."

"I have a very nice feeling about the country, the people, but not the system of government -- especially in relation to foreign policy," said Daneshvar. He is a building construction technology student who has been in the United States almost four years.

"I think U.S. should recognize the right of the Iranian people in this matter and hand over the ex-shah to the Iranian nation," Daneshvar said "I guess everything is wrong [with U.S. policy]. Everything is wrong.

"However we have to struggle, we can learn a great education in this country. We are against what the U.S. government is doing with my country. cIf the system of education in this country is of very good standing, it doesn't mean the whole system is good."

Heshmat Rezaee, another 23-year-old University of Houston student, has been in the United States for four years and hopes to stay long enough to earn his doctoral degree. He was held for three days recently in Iran by persons who thought he was a former secret police agent.

Rezaee said he never has demonstrated for or against anything in the United States. The bumper-sticker philosophy, "Love it or leave it," was quoted to him.

"That's my opinion, too," Rezaee said. "To me, I'm not going to leave. I'm going to finish, get knowledge and go back to help my people. I came over to study. I am very happy to stay here right now. I'm hoping that everything will be cool."