Overhaul of Turkish institutions shelved

November 14, 2003

The Turkish government has shelved plans to assume direct control of universities and dismiss their rectors and deans after a wave of criticism from academics and the media.

The Islamic-based government's proposals were seen as an attempt to undermine the secular education system. Eight rectors opposed to the move held meetings with a senior general from the Turkish army. The army, the guardian of secularism, has unseated three governments since 1960. It is deeply suspicious of the current administration.

Rectors will now submit their own reforms to the ministry of education by the end of the year.

Late last month, 40,000 students and academic staff took to the streets in Ankara to protest at the reforms. But a banner bearing the slogan "Army do your duty" created dissent among opponents of the plans.

Nusret Aras, rector of Ankara University, said: "I did not approve of the banners and wanted them to be brought down."

Kemal Guruz, head of the autonomous higher education body, Yok, also disassociated himself. "The banners belonged to a marginal group - Turkish universities do not approve of such banners."

The government remains committed to ending a ban on religious headscarves in universities. The ban was part of legislation to protect secularism by forbidding religious dress in state buildings.

It extends to visiting academics. Samira Moosa of Sultan Qaboos University in Oman was barred from attending an international symposium at Istanbul University because of her headscarf.

Dr Moosa said: "It gives me more pain because this is a Muslim country."

The university refused to apologise but issued a statement: "We did not realise she was a woman, otherwise she would not have been invited."

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