Turkey backs British courses

December 17, 1999


British universities' marketing campaign to attract Turkish students was aided last week by the reappointment of Kemal Guruz as head of Turkey's higher education authority, YOK. Dr Guruz, a self-proclaimed anglophile, is seen by the British Council in Turkey as a key ally in building stronger education ties.

YOK sends more than 50,000 students overseas, while a similar number study abroad independently. With more than half the population under 30, Turkey is seen by foreign universities as a major developing market.

British universities were once a popular destination for Turkish students, but rising costs have seen them shunning the United Kingdom in favour of the United States, Australia and Germany.

Dr Guruz recently hosted British higher education minister Baroness Blackstone on a visit to the Turkish capital for a British universities' fair. Dr Guruz said: "I am very happy to support the UK, I have a great admiration and respect for the British education system, which we see as a source of inspiration ... I am looking for an expansion of relations in all fields."

Such sentiments are in marked contrast to four years ago when Dr Guruz savaged British universities as being over-priced, exploitative of Turkish students and of dubious quality.

He said there have been improvements: "We have come a long way and we have resolved many of our disagreements, but problems still exist. We are still very unhappy about the fact that our students have to pay higher tuition fees than European Union students."

But UK hopes of securing a larger slice of the market could face a setback as Dr Guruz is in the eye of a political storm and is facing growing pressure to resign.

His reappointment this week by President Suleyman Demirel provoked anger from both in and outside the government. Deputy prime minister Devlet Bahceli accused Dr Guruz of being "insensitive" and "inappropriate to head the country's universities".

Criticism has been growing of Dr Guruz because of his tough stance on enforcing a university ban on headscarves worn by Islamic women. His view has drawn praise from the country's secular establishment, in particular the army, but made him a target of anger from Muslims and conservatives.

But Dr Guruz still remains defiant: "I have no intention of resigning and there will be no change in policy by YOK."

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