The quality of our universities

The quality of our universities

I listen to politicians attentively, whoever they may be, when they do not shout and when they speak civilized and with content.

I listened carefully to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s speech delivered at the Higher Education Board (YÖK). It was an academic-level speech. I especially noted these remarks: “There are students who do not know the meaning of a PhD. There are professors who do not have any serious publications. In 12 years, the number of universities has increased from 73 to 184. But what about academia? Can that academia meet the challenge of growth and quality? When it can't, then we are faced with a serious illusion.”

Truly, “quality” in every field of science and life is one of our most important problems. Without improving the quality of our universities, we cannot develop further in the economy either; that is the reason we have been stuck at an annual GDP per head of $10,000.

Quality of science

When we talk about universities, we look good in terms of simply counting departments and heads. But the issue of “quality” shows itself in international indexes.

I am quoting from a Scientific and Technical Research Council of Turkey’s (TÜBİTAK) publication from 2008. The number of scientific publications originating from Turkey that have made their way to international science indexes is 120,000. This figure is 101,000 in Greece. We cab hardly be called extraordinarily brilliant considering our population, but at least we are ahead of Greece.

However, when the “impact factor” showing the quality of scientific publications is reviewed, Turkey scores 4.55 points and Greece scores 8.06. The “impact factor” is measured by how many times the published scientific article has been cited in the world scientific community and how effective it has been. From that point of view, Turkey’s scientific qualify is about half of Greece.

Turkey and Iran

I have previously written about how Iran has surpassed Turkey in international indexes. This is the case even though Iran has only 44 universities, while we have 184. The truly rooted ones that we have are, of course, of a better quality than Iran’s, but still Iran, with its elite universities and research institutes, has overtaken Turkey in scientific publications.

Turkey must advance its elite universities further in certain scientific branches. It must allocate postgraduate studies to quality universities.

More resources should be allocated to science and research. Universities should be more open to international communication and competition. Also, instead of the election of rectors and their appointments being made by the president, and a board of trustees for each university should be gradually adopted. Also, YÖK should be made into just a coordinator agency. All of these things are vast subjects that may be covered in maybe several books.

I want to draw the prime minister’s attention to two points in particular.

First of all, the priority should be given to quality in public management. In the justice package that the government has sent to Parliament, there is a grave arrangement for lawyers who want to become judges or prosecutors. In the past, those who were over 35 and who had practiced law for five years were able to become judges and prosecutors. In the latest bill, the age threshold has been lowered to 30 and the minimum period to work as a lawyer has been lowered to two years. This means openly training lawyers who have not shown a particular achievement in practicing law in order to become qualified judges and prosecutors. As if political interventions in the judiciary were already not enough, quality will be lowered even further.

The second point I want to emphasize is that the prime minister is complaining about the disproportional student demonstrations at certain universities. He is right about this. Extreme politicization has always damaged the scientific mind. However, when there is such extreme politicization in the society, will it not be reflected on universities?

The tension must be lowered. Politicians should themselves speak in the way that they want student leaders to speak.