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Rectors condemn attack on academic freedom in Turkey

turkey and EU flags

European university leaders have condemned the crackdown on academic freedom following the failed coup in Turkey, writes Nic Mitchell.

The European University Association (EUA), which represents 850 members in 47 countries, said the education sector, including higher education, has been targeted, with 15,200 education staff suspended and Turkey’s Higher Education Council (YÖK) ordering the resignation of all Deans from both Turkey’s public and foundation universities.

Four university rectors in Turkey have also been forced to resign and a travel abroad ban has been imposed on the higher education sector with Turkish academics who were out of the country at the time of the coup being recalled back to the country.

EUA condemns action against universities

EUA_logo_CMYKIn a statement, the EUA said it “condemns strongly and unconditionally this action against universities and university staff, and expresses its heartfelt support for the higher education community in Turkey at this time.”

The EUA went on to say: “While there has been global and unanimous support for the democratically elected government of Turkey in reaction to the military coup, the measures introduced to-day go in the wrong direction.

“More than ever Turkey needs freedom of speech, public and open debate, as advocated by its strong university sector, committed to internationally recognised university values, the principles of academic freedom, free expression and freedom of association.”

Responding to the call to support democracy and defend institutional autonomy and academic freedom for scholars and students, nine rectors from leading Norwegian universities have asked the EUA to raise the matter with European Union (EU) Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas.

Warning over participation in EU programmes

In an open letter, the Norwegian rectors say recent developments in Turkey “are irreconcilable with the democratic ideals and critical thinking underpinning all work in research and higher education and may damage the opportunities for Turkish academics to participate fully and freely in the EU’s research programmes”.eu_turkey_jigsaw

The letter goes on to warn: “There must be made no concessions to authorities in Turkey, or any other country for that matter, when it comes to the integrity and freedom for researchers involved in programmes funded by European institutions.”

In defence of academic freedom

The French Conference of University Presidents (CPU) also took a strong stance, describing the action taken by the Turkish Ministry of Education as ‘a real purge’ and saying the move to stop academics travelling is the ‘final blow to higher education and to Turkish research.’

Their statement says: “The French rectors conference denounces an unacceptable attack on democracy and fully supports the whole of the Turkish academic community.

“The CPU requests to the French government and the European Council to take their full responsibility to guarantee fundamental rights, the defence of academic freedom and scientific pluralism at the gates of Europe. It calls (on) all of the European stakeholders to protect the scientific capital of Turkey and safeguards its worldwide development everywhere in the world.”

The Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI) has also expressed ‘unanimous and firm condemnation’ of the measures taken by the Turkish government following the attempted coup of July 15.

In its response, the CRUI said these measures affect the civil rights of individuals and communities and denigrate the freedom of research, teaching and self-government of longstanding universities.

“Even more immediately, the measures of the Turkish government cause severe damage to today’s active collaborations.”

The CRUI said while condemning the abuses, it stood in solidarity with the Turkish university community: teachers, researchers and students.

European Students’ Union condemns purge

esu logoThe European Students’ Union, (ESU) also condemned what it calls “Turkey’s purge of the academic community”.

Lea Meister, ESU President, said: “The Turkish authorities extending their repressions to the education sector is in no way a legitimate response to the attempted coup and shouldn’t be perceived as such.

“By doing so the authorities have started a large scale attack on academic freedom in the country. The rapidity and scale of the arrests evoke a purge rather than a procedure based on any evidence.”

Increase in young Turks looking to study abroad

The turmoil has already led to a sudden increase in the number of young Turks wanting to study abroad, reports international study choice platform, StudyPortals.

Almost three times as many Turkish students are looking for opportunities to leave their country and find higher education abroad, says the platform.

StudyPortals spokeswoman Carmen Neghina said: “Over the weekend following the failed coup we saw traffic from visitors of Turkish origin grow daily and by the end of July 18, we received 2.6 times as many education seekers from Turkey compared to the average of June 2016.

“While the growth in Turkish visitors could be seen on all of our portals, including BachelorsPortal and MastersPortal, the largest spike was observed on PhDportal, which saw a 4.4-fold increase in traffic from Turkey. If these patterns continue, the country might be facing considerable brain-drain in the near future,” she said.