The UK government has been called upon to “stand up for higher education and freedom of expression” in light of the Turkish government’s recent “unprecedented assault” on academic freedom.
It follows a statement signed by more than 30 academic organisations across the world, including the UK's Political Studies Association (PSA), which condemns Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government for moves that have seen nearly 1,600 university deans asked to resign, travel restrictions imposed on academics, and the requirement of all Turkish scholars abroad to return to the country.
Matthew Flinders chair of the PSA said the “shunning” of academic freedom sets a “worrying precedent” and poses a “severe threat” to the global academy.
“UK excellence in research and education relies on close collaboration with international colleagues including victims of the current crackdowns,” Professor Flinders said. “The UK government must pull its weight and stand up for higher education and freedom of expression in all dealings with Turkey.”
In the collective statement, the Turkish government is criticised for moves described as an attempt to dismantle the structure of higher education through “purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control”.
“As scholarly associations, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression,” it says.
“The recent moves in Turkey herald a massive and virtually unprecedented assault on those principles. One of the Middle East region’s leading systems of higher education is under severe threat as a result, as are the careers and livelihoods of many of its faculty members and academic administrators.
“The crackdown on the education sector creates the appearance of a purge of those deemed inadequately loyal to the current government. Moreover, the removal of all of the deans across the country represents a direct assault on the institutional autonomy of Turkey’s universities.
“We collectively call for respect for academic freedom – including freedom of expression, opinion, association and travel – and the autonomy of universities in Turkey, [and] offer our support to our Turkish colleagues.”
The statement, which is signed by the World History Association and the American Council of Learned Societies among others, also requests that other nations’ diplomats and scholarly organisations “advocate vigorously” and “speak forcefully” for the rights of Turkish scholars and the autonomy of Turkish universities.