Turkey ‘attracting foreign academics looking for a challenge’

Head of Koç University says international researchers are applying to institution despite political landscape

March 20, 2018
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The president of Turkey’s leading university has claimed that his institution is still attracting top foreign researchers despite the country’s fraught political landscape, because scholars “look for a challenge” and can make an impact there.

Umran İnan, president of Koç University in Istanbul, said that he had been “afraid that there would be a substantial reduction in talent applying” to faculty positions, given the “political and regional problems in and around Turkey” over the past two years following a failed coup.

However, he said that high numbers of leading academics were still drawn to the institution.

“In spite of [the problems], the talent pool that I have been interviewing for this year has been amazing and, of the 24 positions that we have been searching for, we have probably filled about six of them with non-Turkish people,” he told delegates at the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit in Jeddah.

During a panel discussion, Professor İnan said he thought that international scholars wanted to come to Turkey “to make an impact”.

If they went to a university in the US or Europe they would likely have a “more predictable future” but there is an attractiveness about an uncertain research trajectory, he claimed.

“People look for a challenge. People are not looking for easy cop-outs or high salaries or things like that,” he said. “They want to rub elbows with quality people, they want an environment in which non-linear, unpredictable things can happen.”

Speaking to THE after the debate, Professor İnan said that Turkey’s growing economy provided a “creative scientific opportunity” for scholars.

“The things that you do have potentially more impact in Turkey. You lift your finger and nobody recognises it in the big countries. Here you lift your finger and you have a big impact because the industry is still growing…it is a difference between a developed country and a developing country,” he said.

During the panel discussion, Professor İnan added that universities in the MENA region could capitalise on this by working together to create PhD scholarships to recruit “the brightest” foreign students who also want to make an impact.

This would help countries like Turkey, which rely on international PhD students because of a lack of local talent, to compete with top universities in the US to fill such positions, he said.

Professor İnan also spoke about academic freedom. Almost 6,000 academics in Turkey have lost their jobs in the past two years because of their alleged ties to the Gülen movement that is blamed for the failed military takeover of July 2016.

Professor İnan said that while universities “should protect the environment of academic freedom” and that academic output has “no restrictions or guidance from administrators”, institutions “cannot protect what would happen to an individual faculty member if he or she says something…that might irritate the current government”.

“The university is governed by current conditions of the state…Whatever a faculty member cannot say outside the campus, he or she shouldn’t say inside the campus either,” he said.

Speaking to THE, Professor İnan said that the university has not seen any government interference in terms of its education and research environment and that scholars who have been targeted by the state have not been singled out because they are academics.

“Some of our academics may have done things themselves outside of the university operations. They might have signed statements that have nothing to do with their academic output,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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