The European Union (EU) should step up its opposition to the crackdown on academic freedom in Turkey following the failed coup in the country, say nine rectors from leading Norwegian universities.

The forced resignation of 1,577 university deans and 15,200 academic staff by the Turkish authorities has already been strongly condemned by the European University Association (EUA) which says the government’s reaction to the military coup is going in ‘the wrong direction’.

Since then, as University World News and other media have reported, four university rectors in Turkey have been forced to resign and a travel abroad ban has been imposed on the higher education sector and Turkish academics out of the country have been recalled.

Now Vidar Haanes, chair of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions, and eight of his colleagues want the EU to spell out to the Turkish authorities that their actions are irreconcilable with academic values and the country’s researchers participation in the EU’s research programmes.

Although not a member of the European Union, Norwegian universities are active in the European University Association.

Open letter to EUA

In their open letter to the EUA, which has 850 members across 47 countries, the Norwegian rectors call on the association to raise their concerns with EU’s Commission for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas.

The Norwegian rectors say: “We believe that recent developments in Turkey and the specific targeting of the education sector by the authorities are irreconcilable with the democratic ideals and critical thinking underpinning all work in research and higher education.

“This may damage the opportunities for Turkish academics to participate fully and freely in the EU’s research programmes.

“There must be made no concessions to authorities in Turkey, or any other country for that matter, when it comes to the integrity and freedom for researchers involved in programmes funded by European institutions.

“In this critical hour it is of the uttermost importance that we stand together with our Turkish colleagues, so that they can participate freely in these programmes.”

Threat to research and education

Curt Rice

Oslo and Akershus University College rector, Curt Rice. 

Curt Rice, rector Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, said: “Challenges to academic freedom of the type we have recently seen in Turkey threaten not only the continued development of Turkish society, but given the important contributions of Turkish academics, they threaten the continued development of research and education everywhere.”

The letter to the EUA was signed by Vidar Haanes, rector Norwegian School of Technology and chair of The Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions, Dag Rune Olsen, rector University of Bergen; Gunnar Bovim, rector NTNU; Ole Petter Ottersen, rector University of Oslo; Curt Rice, rector Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences; Anne Husebekk, rector UiT The Arctic University of Norway; Bjørn Olsen, rector Nord University; Marit Boyesen, rector University of Stavanger and Mari Sunddli Tveit, rector NMBU and board  member EUA.

European Students’ Union condemns purge

The European Students’ Union, or ESU, has also condemned what it calls “Turkey’s purge of the academic community”.

Lea Meister, ESU President, said: “The Turkish authorities extending their repressions to the education sector is in no way a legitimate response to the attempted coup and shouldn’t be perceived as such.

“By doing so the authorities have started a large scale attack on academic freedom in the country. The rapidity and scale of the arrests evoke a purge rather than a procedure based on any evidence.”

Young Turks want to study abroad

The number of young Turks wanting to study abroad nearly tripled overnight, reports international study choice platform, StudyPortals.

Almost three times as many Turkish students are looking for opportunities to leave their country and find higher education abroad, says the platform.

StudyPortals spokeswoman Carmen Neghina said: “Over the weekend following the failed coup we saw traffic from visitors of Turkish origin grow daily and by the end of July 18, we received 2.6 times as many education seekers from Turkey compared to the average of June 2016.

”While the growth in Turkish visitors could be seen on all of our portals, including BachelorsPortal and MastersPortal, the largest spike was observed on PhDportal, which saw a 4.4-fold increase in traffic from Turkey. If these patterns continue, the country might be facing considerable brain-drain in the near future,” she said.

‘Forced resignation’ of deans – EUA

The EUA statement following the coup attempt in Turkey said: “The education sector, including the higher education sector, has been targeted, as have many other public sectors.

“15,200 education staff have been suspended while Turkey’s Hurriyet reports that the Higher Education Council (YÖK) has ordered the resignation of all Deans from both Turkey’s public and foundation universities, 1176 from state universities and 401 from Foundation universities.

“EUA condemns strongly and unconditionally this action against universities and university staff, and expresses its heartfelt support for the higher education community in Turkey at this time.

“While there has been global and unanimous support for the democratically elected government of Turkey in reaction to the military coup, the measures introduced to-day go in the wrong direction.

“More than ever Turkey needs freedom of speech, public and open debate, as advocated by its strong university sector, committed to internationally recognised university values, the principles of academic freedom, free expression and freedom of association.

“EUA calls on all European governments, universities and scholars to speak out against these developments and to support democracy in Turkey, including institutional autonomy and academic freedom for scholars and students.”