Turkey’s Erdoğan, who has dismissed some 7,000 critical academics, complains about quality of universities

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has dismissed thousands of academics from their jobs due to their critical thinking, complained on Friday about the quality of Turkish universities and said: “Why are the universities in Turkey not among the best 500 universities in the world? It means that we have lost something, there is a problem somewhere.”

President Erdoğan, who is also chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), gave a speech at the academic year opening ceremony of Dokuz Eylül University in İzmir on Friday.

In his speech Erdoğan discussed the problems at Turkish universities, saying: “The institutions of higher learning that we have today are successors to the oldest educational institutions of the world. The Harran School in the province of Şanlıurfa is considered to be one of the oldest universities in the world… Why are the universities in Turkey not among the best 500 universities in the world? It means that we have lost something, it means that there is a problem somewhere.”

Claiming that they have made a huge investment in education, Erdoğan said: “But, I cannot, unfortunately, say that we were able to achieve the desired results. We still have problems in terms of the content and system of education.”

Since September 1, 2016, at least 6,817 academics have been discharged by the Turkish government by 12 government decrees issued under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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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