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Turkey: YOK as in NO?

One of the words for ‘no’ in Turkish is yok. Interestingly, YOK is also the acronym of the Council of Higher Education in Turkey. This little linguistic link might not be so relevant if there wasn’t an element of controversy around YOK which instantly brings to mind disgruntled academia protesting in the streets with huge ‘YOK TO YOK’ banners in their hands. 

So why a ‘no’ to YOK? According to a recent article by a Turkish professor, it is because this institution appears to be the government’s instrument to limit academic freedom and the autonomy of private universities. The Turkish government has proposed new legislation which, if adopted, will increase the control of YOK over universities. Out of the seven proposed instances of the legislation, the professor underlines the following three as detrimental to higher education in Turkey:

  • YOK will have the authority to review and decide on tenures and promotions, so far managed by an independent body. This brings to the foreground political issues and questions as to what happens to those professors who are not fully ‘in accord’ with the principles of the governing party. 
  • YOK will be able to decide on the board members at private universities, which basically means that no other individual or entity will have a higher power to decide on the functioning of these universities, not even those who have invested their resources of any kind in these institutions.
  • The proposed extended authority of YOK goes as far as the recognition of foreign degrees. Foreign MA or PhD degree holders who want recognition in the country may face problems in the highly politicised academic setting. If YOK does not regard them as appropriate to the political climate, they could simply be denied the equivalency of degrees. 

Public universities in Turkey accommodate for some 300 000 students while around half a million are enrolled in private universities, vocational or distance learning programmes. There are six times more universities today than in the 1980s, out of which 71 private institutions were set up since 1984.