Statement concerning universities in Turkey
In January, the Observatory was one of 20 international education organisations which wrote to the Turkish President expressing concern. The letter expressed ‘grave concern about recent reports of widespread pressures on members of the Turkish higher education and research community, including investigations, arrests, interrogations, suspensions and termination of positions, in apparent violation of internationally recognized principles of academic freedom, free expression and freedom of association; principles on which quality higher education and research depend’. Recent measures taken by Turkish authorities after the coup attempt of July 15th signal a systemic mistrust of the higher education and research sector. This is seriously undermining its functioning in and to the benefit of society.
The Observatory exists to promote the fundamental values which have enabled universities world-wide to enrich their societies for generations. In summary these are that the university should be an autonomous institution; the research and teaching must be morally and intellectually independent of all political authority and economic power; teaching and research must be inseparable and there must be openness with freedom for staff and students with concomitant responsibility to society. Some 33 universities in Turkey have signed the Magna Charta Universitatum in which these values are expressed. It is of grave concern to the Observatory that these universities in particular and all universities in Turkey in general are not currently able to operate in accordance with these values.
The Observatory calls upon Turkish authorities to restore, guarantee and protect the institutional autonomy of universities and the academic freedom of academic staff and students. Open and independent academic communities are crucial to the wellbeing of a democratic society, also in times of crisis. This is precisely what our Turkish partner universities are committed to promote and protect. The Observatory also calls on the authorities to restore normal working conditions for academics and students including international co-operations so that universities can serve society fully.
The Observatory expresses its support for academics in Turkey. It is exploring with other international educational bodies how it might best assist in the resolution of this grave situation and will be keeping the situation under review.
Council of the Magna Charta Observatory
25 July 2016