Turkey’s new HE laws are ‘assault on education and free speech’, critics claim

New rules enabling higher education board to shut down private universities seen as a threat to the government amount to ‘banditry’

December 1, 2015

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Private universities whose staff criticise Turkey’s government could be shut down under new laws, academics have warned.

The new powers for Turkey's Higher Education Board (YÖK) give it the authority to close private universities “that have become a focal point for activities against the state’s indivisible integrity”, Today's Zaman newspaper has reported.

“There can be no criticism coming from private universities any more,” said Sedat Laçiner, a former rector of Çanakkale 18 Mart University (ÇOMÜ) and professor of international relations.

“Unfortunately, after being given the power to harass universities, YÖK has now been given the power to close them down entirely,” he told Today's Zaman.

Professor Laçiner was removed from his post as the rector in April and moved to a faculty 100km from Çanakkale as a form of punishment for criticising the government, he claims.

“Professors are having lawsuits piled up against them, or being fired from their jobs,” said Professor Laçiner, who added it was clear that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was behind the attacks.

The new regulation was also branded an attack on free speech by Ertuğrul Kürkçü, one of the founding members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

He told Today's Zaman that the government’s move to allow YÖK to be able to close universities was nothing but “banditry”.

“This is nothing but part of the plan to attack all of the values of the public,” he said.

“This regulation is an assault on education, culture and free public platforms using political force; it is banditry,” he said.

Concerns about the new regulation follow a court decision in October to seize the management of companies owned by Koza İpek Holding – including television stations Bugün TV and Kanaltürk and the Bugün and Millet daily newspapers – on charges of supporting the Hizmet movement, run by US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. The company also owns İpek University, in Ankara.

Some 17 private universities were recently accused by a pro-government columnist of not doing enough to combat the Gülen movement, whose alleged members have faced criminal investigations instigated by Mr Erdoğan’s AK Party.

 jack.grove@tesglobal.com

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