Turkey and Arab states announce new HE collaboration

A cooperation plan was agreed at the First Turkish-Arab Congress on Higher Education held in Istanbul late last month. It includes setting up an Arab Turkish universities network, mutual recognition of degrees and enhanced student and staff mobility.

The plan also focuses on sharing information about trends and ways to strengthen higher education, and building cooperation between universities in Turkey and the Arab world’s 22 states, which include eight countries in Africa, six in the Arabian Gulf and eight in Asia.

The First Turkish-Arab Congress on Higher Education, or TACHE 2014 was held from 26-28 April and was organised by Turkey’s Council of Higher Education, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, the universities of Istanbul Medeniyet and Istanbul, and the Association of Arab Universities.

Future TACHE gatherings will alternate annually between Turkish and Arab universities.

Speaking to University World News, Orhan Alimoglu, general secretary of the congress, said the first congress was attended by participants from 145 universities in 15 countries.

An impressive 120 memoranda of understanding had been signed between Turkish and Arab universities, he added, which was “a good start to collaboration but can only be considered a preliminary step.

"Establishing an Arab Turkish network for higher education will be worked on in the future."

The plan

Under the plan, joint academic programmes will be encouraged at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in areas including history and culture, social sciences and humanities, fundamental sciences and engineering and health sciences.

Student and academic exchanges will be encouraged, and international conferences will be organised jointly by Turkish and Arab universities.

"This will allow the scholars from both sides the opportunity to dialogue, consult and promote accessibility and research cooperation," said Alimoglu.

Joint scientific and educational meetings will be planned around current issues of regional and global significance, with some dedicated specifically to the Arab world.

Alimoglu said acknowledgement of university members of the Association of Arab Universities would be recommended to Turkey’s Council of Higher Education, which “will make it easier for recognition of degrees”. The two bodies could sign an agreement and circulate it to all member universities.

The joint Arab-Turkey higher education programme has already started, with agreements signed between Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia during the North Africa tour of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June last year.

The agreements focused on university student and staff exchanges, and joint research projects between Turkish and North African universities. On 5 June, during his time in Algeria, Erdogan was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Algiers 2, according to the Algeria Press Agency.

Turkish HE and Africa collaboration

Higher education in Turkey is expanding, with 50 public universities and 36 private universities established between 2006 and 2011, bringing the total number to 165. During the same period, there was a 40% increase in the number of Turkish university students, according to a Study in Turkey report.

Eight Turkish universities appeared in the QS World University Rankings in 2011-12, all based either in the capital Ankara or the largest city Istanbul. Seven Turkish universities were placed among the top 500 universities in the world by the University Ranking by Academic Performance, or URAP laboratory which was established at the Turkey-based Informatics Institute of Middle East Technical University in 2009.

Turkey’s universities of Bilkent (31) and Koç (41) made it to the 2014 Times Higher Education 100 Under 50 ranking.

Ankara has become a hub of higher education, attracting students from Africa and Asia. Many top programmes are in English, to attract international students. And the country's universities are increasingly spinning off high-tech companies in avionics, information technology and advanced electronics, among other areas.

According to Study in Turkey, there were 1,552 students from 44 African countries studying in Turkey in 2011-12 – a more than four-fold increase in six years.

Under a scholarship programme initiated in 2012-13, Turkey provided 561 scholarships for students from Sub-Saharan Africa and 142 for students from North Africa.

"With a stronger higher education system to back up scholarship offers, its campaign to win the hearts and minds of Sub-Saharan Africa has the potential for success," said a 2012 World Policy Institute report.

In May last year a Turkey-Cameroon partnership was signed by the Turkish ambassador in Cameroon and that country’s higher education minister. It is setting up the headquarters of an institute to promote science, technology and innovation in Cameroon.

Expert's view

Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of the City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications in Alexandria, Egypt, welcomed the new Turkey-Arab higher education collaboration.

“This initiative will strengthen Turkey’s historical and cultural ties with the Arab states, which go back centuries,” Abdel Al told University World News.

"With Turkey declaring 2005 as the ‘Year of Africa’ and the 2nd Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit held in October 2013, higher education collaboration between Africa and Turkey will be deepened and its impact will be seen in developing a knowledge-based African society."