Protests greet speeded-up Turkish reforms

May 28, 2004

Legislation to reform Turkey's higher education, including the dissolving of the Yok board, has been rushed through parliament, leading to protests and a 20 per cent fall in the stock market.

The reforms united the military, university rectors and the business community in opposition, while academics have held protests across the country.

But the government pushed through the law in an all-night parliamentary session lasting 18 hours. It wanted to introduce it in time for the national university entrance exam on June 20.

The legislation lifts restrictions that barred children from religious schools entering university.

The law also "retires" all members of Yok, the governing higher education board, which will be replaced by a commission under greater government control. Until now Yok has been largely autonomous.

The appointment of all staff from associate professor, upwards will transfer to the government-controlled commission.

Erdogan Tezic, head of Yok, said: "The legislation reveals the hidden political intention of the government. To fulfil its goal, the government tries to dissolve Yok, which it sees as an obstacle."

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the president, is expected to veto the law and send it back to parliament. But the government can simply pass the legislation again.

The government claimed it had the support of many rectors, including Vural Akbulut, the rector of Middle East Technical University. But Professor Akbulut rejected that claim. "I only learnt of the final version of the reform in the press. I will resign if this bill comes into force."

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