Turk students face study ban

December 10, 1999

Turkish students face the prospect of political restrictions on studying abroad following concern that they are coming into contact with radical Islamic groups.

Parliament is proposing introducing laws to curb the country's powerful Islamic movement. If passed, students' background and the place they choose to study will be screened before students are allowed to study abroad.

A row erupted last year over charges by the Turkish government that students studying at Egypt's Al Hazar University were being trained to become Islamic militants. Al Hazar strenuously denied the allegation.

Turkey's secular military is the main backer of the proposed controls, which have divided the ruling three-party coalition. Two junior members have joined the opposition to block the proposals.

Opponents of the legislation are expected to appeal to the constitutional court, as the constitution guarantees education without interference.

But Ismail Torsum, deputy president of YOK, Turkey's ruling authority for higher education, supports the proposal. While addressing the parliamentary commission discussing the proposed legislation, he said that there was "a great danger to students who study abroad independently, without the supervision of YOK".

Professor Torsum estimated that up to 55,000 Turkish students study abroad each year. He added that some of Turkey's neighbours were trying to subvert the country through scholarships. "A country, for instance, that is eyeing Turkish territory with expansionist desires provides scholarships for 1,000 Turkish students each year," he said.

But YOK president Kemal Guruz has reservations. "I feel it (the proposed legislation) is a little overdone and I am not 100 per cent behind it. It is creating unnecessary controversy."

Turkish universities are at the centre of the battle between the country's secularists and Islamists. According to parliamentary deputy Mehmet Ali Sahin, of the Islamic Virtue Party, "the proposal is not designed to protect students, but aimed to protect the state from the students".

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