Scientific level in Turkey and targets

Scientific level in Turkey and targets

The economy is recovering but for this recovery to be permanent, structural reforms must be made, according to many experts. This is what the World Bank is saying. So is the head of the Turkish Business and Industry Association (TÜSİAD), Erol Bilecik: “We have reached the end of growth based on loans or abundance of liquidity in the Turkish economy.”

What should follow this, if we do not want to fall into the middle income trap, is an increase in productivity, technology and the size of the educated workforce.  

At a bell-ringing ceremony at Borsa Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “We have failed on education and culture policies, as well as the decrease of the real interest rate; this is a self-criticism.”

The interest rate is not my theme but I would like to make a reminder from history. At the time of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, the interest rate was around 12 percent in line with Shaykh al-Islam Ebussuud Efendi’s fatwa, while it was around 3 to 4 percent in mercantilist Europe. The reason was, indeed, not that the Ottomans thrived on interest rates. The reason was, as economic historian Mehmet Genç has explained in his excellent book “State and Economy in the Ottoman Empire,” unproductivity and inadequate capital accumulation.

Especially in our times, it is education that is key to productivity based on technology and a trained workforce.

Iran ahead of us

When the subject is education, science and university, countries such as South Korea are so successful that they seem like a farfetched dream for us…

For this reason, I am comparing us with Iran. According to internationally recognized Scientific Journal Rankings data, Iran was 34th in the scientific publication ranking in 2005. Iranian scientists published 8,182 scientific articles that year. In 2005, Turkey was way ahead of Iran, in 20th place. Turkey’s scientific community published 20,519 works that year.

By 2015, Iran had jumped from 34th to 16th place. That year the country’s number of scientific publications was 39,727. In 2015, Turkey was two slots behind Iran, in 18th place, with 39,275 scientific publications.

Can there be a more significant alarm than this?

Moreover, I should cite a concern of mine. Articles sent to scientific publications that enter the indexes actually have a waiting time of three to four years because of screening and procedures. I am concerned whether or not we will fall much further behind Iran in the 2020s.

I wonder if the unquestioned expulsions from universities as part of state of emergency decrees (KHK) will have a negative effect on our writing of articles for international scientific publications. We can all take a note and look at the situation in 2020. I do hope I will be proven wrong.

This “environment” problem is actually a new issue. Between 2005 and 2015, there was no such tense environment in Turkey; then why we could not perform as much as Iran?

Deans, rectors, the Higher Education Council (YÖK), the Education Ministry and the president should think about this issue…

Prioritizing science

Pondering the issue is not enough; an “impartial and independent” council of experts made up of scientists who are “not from us” and who can thus spot “our” faults should be assigned to research this.  

It was in 2014 when I first wrote that Iran had surpassed us. Professor Celal Şengör confirmed this, saying university departments and state institutions carrying out geological research in Iran were better than ours.

When I wrote that our universities “mediocre” with only a few exceptions, YÖK head Professor Yekta Saraç said they were actually “below mediocre.”  

Now, as part of a correct first step, certain changes are being introduced so that merit ratings will count in the exam and points system.

As much as YÖK has to become a fully autonomous institution, YÖK should not be expected to solve the issue by itself.

The real issue is not prioritizing science in the belief that erecting university buildings is enough. If Turkey continues like this, then the targets for 2023 and 2053 will remain as mere rhetoric.