THE MENA Uni­ver­si­ties Sum­mit in Jeddah: at­tract­ing at­ten­tion in Tur­key, in­vest­ing for suc­cess in Saudi Ara­bia, and cul­ti­vat­ing cre­ativ­ity

Head of Koç Univer­sity says in­ter­na­tional re­searchers are ap­ply­ing to the in­sti­tu­tion de­spite po­lit­i­cal land­scape. El­lie Both­well re­ports from Jeddah

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - el­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The pres­i­dent of Tur­key’s lead­ing univer­sity has claimed that his in­sti­tu­tion is still at­tract­ing top for­eign re­searchers de­spite the coun­try’s fraught po­lit­i­cal land­scape, be­cause schol­ars “look for a chal­lenge” and can make an im­pact there.

Um­ran İnan (pic­tured right), pres­i­dent of Koç Univer­sity in Is­tan­bul, said that he had been “afraid that there would be a sub­stan­tial re­duc­tion in tal­ent ap­ply­ing” to fac­ulty po­si­tions, given the “po­lit­i­cal and re­gional prob­lems in and around Tur­key” over the past two years since a failed coup.

How­ever, he said that high num­bers of lead­ing aca­demics were still drawn to the in­sti­tu­tion.

“In spite of [the prob­lems], the tal­ent pool that I have been in­ter­view­ing for this year has been amaz­ing and, of the 24 po­si­tions that we have been search­ing for, we have prob­a­bly filled about six of them with non-Turk­ish peo­ple,” he told del­e­gates at the Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion MENA Uni­ver­si­ties Sum­mit at King Ab­du­laziz Univer­sity in Jeddah.

Dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion, Pro­fes­sor İnan said he thought that in­ter­na­tional schol­ars wanted to come to Tur­key “to make an im­pact”.

If they went to a univer­sity in the US or Europe they would likely have a “more pre­dictable fu­ture” but there is an at­trac­tive­ness about an un­cer­tain re­search tra­jec­tory, he claimed.

“Peo­ple look for a chal­lenge. Peo­ple are not look­ing for easy cop- outs or high salaries or things like that,” he said. “They want to rub el­bows with qual­ity peo­ple, they want an en­vi­ron­ment in which non-lin­ear, un­pre­dictable things can hap­pen.”

Speak­ing to THE af­ter the de­bate, Pro­fes­sor İnan said that Tur­key’s grow­ing econ­omy pro­vided a “cre­ative sci­en­tific op­por­tu­nity” for schol­ars. “The things that you do have po­ten­tially more im­pact in Tur­key. You lift your fin­ger and no­body recog­nises it in the big coun­tries. Here you lift your fin­ger and you have a big im­pact be­cause the in­dus­try is still grow­ing…it is a dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­vel­oped coun­try and a de­vel­op­ing coun­try,” he said.

Dur­ing the panel dis­cus­sion, Pro­fes­sor İnan added that uni­ver­si­ties in the MENA re­gion could cap­i­talise on this by work­ing to­gether to cre­ate PhD schol­ar­ships to re­cruit “the bright­est” for­eign stu­dents who also want to make an im­pact.

This would help coun­tries such as Tur­key, which rely on in­ter­na­tional PhD stu­dents be­cause of a lack of lo­cal tal­ent, to com­pete with top uni­ver­si­ties in the US to fill such po­si­tions, he said.

Pro­fes­sor İnan also spoke about

aca­demic free­dom. Al­most 6,000 aca­demics in Tur­key have lost their jobs in the past two years be­cause of their al­leged ties to the Gülen move­ment that is blamed for the failed mil­i­tary takeover of July 2016.

Pro­fes­sor İnan said that while uni­ver­si­ties “should pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment of aca­demic free­dom” and that aca­demic out­put has “no re­stric­tions or guid­ance from ad­min­is­tra­tors”, in­sti­tu­tions “can­not pro­tect what would hap­pen to an in­di­vid­ual fac­ulty mem­ber if he or she says some­thing…that might ir­ri­tate the cur­rent gov­ern­ment”.

“The univer­sity is gov­erned by cur­rent con­di­tions of the state… What­ever a fac­ulty mem­ber can­not say out­side the cam­pus, he or she shouldn’t say in­side the cam­pus ei­ther,” he said.

Pro­fes­sor İnan said that the univer­sity has not seen any gov­ern­ment interference in terms of its ed­u­ca­tion and re­search en­vi­ron­ment and that schol­ars who have been tar­geted by the state have not been sin­gled out be­cause they are aca­demics.

“Some of our aca­demics may have done things them­selves out­side of the univer­sity op­er­a­tions. They might have signed state­ments that have noth­ing to do with their aca­demic out­put,” he said.

Re­search tra­jec­tory top aca­demics from abroad are ‘look­ing for a chal­lenge’ in Tur­key

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