EU talks to drive reforms

October 21, 2005

European Union membership talks with Turkey will lead to a major overhaul of the way the
country’s universities are run, according to Hüseyin Çelik, the Education Minister.

Yok, the higher education council that controls the country’s universities, would have to be overhauled, Dr Çelik said. “The EU progress report states that Yok can’t continue with its centralist structure, which controls everything related to universities. Actually, the change in Yok is a necessity for the efforts for democratisation in Turkey.”

For the past three years, Yok has been at loggerheads with the Islamic-oriented Government over its contentious drive to impose a headscarf ban on Islamic female students. Despite intense grassroots pressure, the ruling AKP has balked from curtailing its powers because of the fear of a backlash from Turkey’s powerful secular establishment.

Yok has wide-ranging powers over universities and is accountable only to the President. But Dr Çelik appears prepared to reform it. “We are trying to democratise in every field — it is impossible for Yok to stay with its centralist structure.”

In the 2004 progress report on discussions with Turkey, the EU says of Yok: “This highly centralised structure prevents universities from having sufficient academic, administrative and financial autonomy.” It concludes that Yok’s co-ordinating role “should be re-examined”.

But there are concerns over the nature of any change. Dr Çelik said he wanted to transfer power back to universities, but this month he blocked all new appointments of academic staff lower than assistant professor. An assistant professor at an Istanbul University who wanted to remain anonymous said: “This is about the Government wanting to control appointments so it can place
its own people in universities.”

Fears are growing that any reform of Yok could result in the politicisation of universities.

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