Erdoğan claims Turkish universities stronger, freer than ever

Turkey’s universities have never been as strong and as free as they are today, Russia’s Sputnik news quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying on Saturday.

Erdoğan’s statements at Erciyes University in Kayseri follow a decree issued in June by Turkey’s strongman that strips much of the supervisory powers of the country’s education watchdog, YÖK, and grants himself the sole authority to appoint university rectors.

The Turkish president stressed the increasing number of universities in Turkey during the past 16 years of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule and lashed out at support given by university rectors to the Feb. 28, 1997 post-modern coup, when the Turkish military ousted the Islamist prime minister and launched a comprehensive investigation into civilians, universities, businessmen and NGOs of the time.

”We took universities to the students instead of having them search for universities,” Erdoğan said. ”This is where our success lies.”

Erdoğan also noted that disseminating terrorist propaganda would never be allowed on Turkish campuses, in an apparent reference to support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey is home to 112 state and 74 foundation universities and vocational schools. However, the crackdown on critical thinking in Turkey with an unprecedented witch hunt targeting teachers, academics and other professionals in the education sector has dealt a huge blow to free thought in Turkey, according to a report released by SCF.

The government of President Erdoğan has jailed some 20,000 instructors and arbitrarily fired 34,185 public school teachers and 5,719 academics including professors from state universities within the last two years alone. They were branded as “terrorists” and “coup plotters” without any effective administrative or judicial probe and as such marked for life.

The government shut down 1,069 privately run schools, most of which were the nation’s best performing science schools and were affiliated with the Gülen movement, and closed down 15 universities that were run by privately held foundations. As a result, 2,465 academics and 54,350 teachers instantly became unemployed. With the support staff who worked in these schools, the total number of people who lost their jobs reached 65,214. The government also canceled the licenses of 22,474 teachers, making it impossible for them to continue working as teachers in other institutions.

In total, 96,719 teachers and academics were purged from Turkey’s public and private educational institutions. This number does not include the support staff that was hired to run schools and universities in administrative and other capacities.

Most of the shuttered institutions were transformed into religious schools that are designed to raise a new generation of Islamist supporters for Erdoğan’s AKP.

When all the closed institutions are taken into account, the total loss in value including fixed property and land is around $100 billion, one source estimates. The crackdown included foreign students who came to Turkey for study or Turkish students who were sent abroad on government scholarships.

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