All Turkish rectors face sack

July 25, 2003

Turkey's state university rectors all face the sack as part of sweeping legislation being introduced to parliament this month.

The reforms will end the autonomy of higher education, in effect bringing it under the control of the government. All elected members of the higher education authority (Yok) also face dismissal.

The main aim of the reforms is to rein in the power of Yok, which has strictly administered universities under its centralised authority. Yok has been in the forefront of the banning of religious students from wearing headscarves, much to the anger of the Islamic-based government.

Yok has been widely criticised by politicians and academics for its centralised powers and its inflexibility.

Huseyin Celik, minister of education, said of Yok: "The emperorships have collapsed. You'll see that the oxygen of our universities will increase after the change. A more democratic environment will be formed."

If the law is passed, all the rectors would be dismissed and elections for their replacements would be held. The rectors would then be short-listed by a government-dominated body, which would then submit the list to Turkey's president.

Kemal Guruz, head of Yok, told The THES: "I have warned people so many times that this government comes from an Islamic tradition that wants to turn universities in an Islamic direction. We will resist these reforms."

Although Turkey is predominantly Muslim, the country has been strictly secular since 1923. Education is seen by many as a cornerstone of this secular state.

Kadir Erdin, a member of the Academicians' Association and a strong critic of Yok, has also voiced concerns. Professor Erdin said: "There is widespread agreement about the need for change, but it is not understandable why the preparations regarding the draft law have been hidden from the public until last week. It's a contradiction to come with a draft law without consulting the academic community and argue that it is a democratic reform."

Although the government enjoys a large majority in parliament, the growing wave of criticism has led to speculation that the reforms may be delayed.

The government is also aware that among its critics is the army, which has repeatedly warned of its concerns over interference in higher education.

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