Leader of Yok intends to talk

January 30, 2004

The newly appointed head of Turkey's higher education council (Yok) has launched a charm offensive aimed at avoiding confrontation with the government.

Erdogan Tezic's appointment comes as Turkish higher education contends with its largest overhaul in decades. University reform is at the centre of a battle between supporters of the secular state and the Islamic-oriented government.

Professor Tezic was chosen by president Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who is at odds with the government. But unlike his predecessor, Kemal Guruz, who accused the government of wanting an Islamic state, Professor Tezic said he would seek consensus over higher education reform.

"The (reform) bill should be our common product - that is, all sections related to education should harmoniously work on it," he said.

Professor Tezic has already met the minister of education and - in another marked change from his predecessor - student representatives.

Professor Tezic's conciliatory approach is seen by the Turkish media as an attempt to build support for Yok, which was set up by the military after it seized power in 1980 but has since been criticised by academics, students and politicians.

Professor Tezic, a former rector of Istanbul's Turk Franco Galatasaray University, has to deal with the vexed question of the ban on religious headscarves in universities. His initial statements indicate that he supports the ban.

While Professor Tezic appears more conciliatory than his predecessor, he will not be a pushover.

"We're not expected to fight with the government before the eyes of the public, but we will fight if necessary. We have to say what is right and what is wrong," he said.

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