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A vision for higher education in Turkey, Part II

Istanbul November 2006


To follow up on the Magna Charta first visit , two workshops were organised – back to back – on 30 November and 1 December 2006 in Istanbul under the sponsorship of the Education Initiative launched by the Istanbul Policy Centre (IPC) and its President, Prof. Üstün Ergüder, and with the support of the EU delegation in Ankara. With the help of the Magna Charta, the aim of the meetings was to discuss specific elements for a new vision of higher education in Turkey, financing on 30 November and quality on 1 December. At the end of year 2006, after the publication of the ‘New Vision’ report and that of the World Bank on The Situation of Higher Education in Turkey, the Higher Education Council had been preparing its own analysis of the issue, taking advantage of the two earlier papers. The role of the Magna Charta was to offer an outsiders’ viewpoint as a catalyst for an intra-Turkish dialogue involving the various partners in higher education in the country. Ensuring the continuity with the February session, Lucy Smith and Andrei Marga represented the Collegium of the Observatory with the Secretary General’s support: they were accompanied by academics with a wide experience of international affairs and of the International Evaluation Programme of the European University Association, Carlès Sola (former Rector of the Autonomous University in Barcelona and recent Minister for the Universities in Catalunia), Bernard King (Principal of Abertay Dundee University and a member of the Board of the Association of Commonwealth Universities) and Bertrand Weil (former Vice-President of Paris XII University and an expert for the EUA quality project).



On 30 November - at the Metallurgy Employers’ Union - some 35 participants joined the six foreign members of the Magna Charta team to discuss the financing constraints in Turkish higher education and the ways to simplify the existing straightjacket of regulations by giving more responsibility to the institutions in charge of higher education. The main topic was introduced by Üstün Ergüder on the basis of a revised section of the report entitled New Vision that had been discussed by the IPC-led think tank, a paper that exists in Turkish only. On the basis of that presentation, Magna Charta representatives reacted and engaged in a dialogue with the Turkish participants, people representing industry, banking, workers' unions, the media, government, YÖK, the EU, the World Bank - and university leaders, both from foundation (private) universities and from state institutions. The points made by the various speakers during an intense exchange of perspectives will now be woven into the section of the report on finances – thus updating on-going reflection.

On 1 December, this time at the Sabanci Conference Centre, some 20 people present the day before joined a few new participants - more acquainted with quality questions - to debate the role of quality in higher education development, especially in relation to the quality moves that have been ushered by the Bologna Process with the active support of the EU Commission. The Magna Charta Secretary General had been asked to prepare a background paper that described the European landscape in quality management, a rather long document paper whose main points were introduced at the seminar as the 'theoretical' backdrop to the European evaluation scene, a Turkish expert of the EUA evaluation programme, Prof. Öktem Vardar, completing this presentation with a description of the progress and blockages existing in Turkey as far as quality assessment is concerned. Then followed a few hours of discussion set in a global context by the Magna Charta representatives, the results of such debates having to be included in the revised 'quality section' of the New Vision report.



On Friday afternoon, the coordinator of EU sponsored programmes in Turkey, came from Ankara to take stock of the progress of the project, especially as the support of the EU was coming to an end - the project from which the grant came being completed at the end of 2006. The participants expressed the hope that some other linkages to a EU programme could be found - even if higher education as such is not a key priority for EU-Turkey cooperation plans. Anyway, drawing lessons form the success of the Magna Charta project in Turkey, the IPC would still like to organise five other seminars on specific issues of university development with the support of the Observatory in order to feed in the future discussions at Parliament on possible changes in higher education structures in Turkey. Year 2007, however, could prove difficult year for such a programme since policy in the country will be dominated, in terms of reform, by the elections for Parliament in the Autumn as well as, in the Spring, by the election by the present Parliament of the new President of the Republic - a process that could induce greater tensions in the country as far as its long term organisational prospects are concerned.

Participants at the two seminars, both Turkish and European, felt however that there existed a window of opportunity for envisaging the future that could be taken advantage of as soon as possible. Turkish partners hoped that the Magna Charta could pursue its active involvement in future discussions – when they could be organised.