Lower Saxony concerned over Turkish relations

Recent disruptions in Turkey’s higher education sector are having an increasing impact on Turkish academics and students in Germany. The government of Lower Saxony in northern Germany is concerned that these developments are obstructing exchange and research programmes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree in July enabling the closure of 15 universities in Turkey and the Council of Higher Education ordered a crackdown on academics in the wake of the failed attempted military coup on 15 July. A recent report stated that over 5,000 personnel from state and private universities in Turkey have been suspended.

“Partial restrictions on freedom of travel for Turkish academics decreed by the Turkish Higher Education Council and random restructuring measures at several of the country’s universities represent a break in international academic relations that is also affecting students in Lower Saxony and its institutions’ participation in collaborative programmes in higher education and research,” says Lower Saxony state’s minister for science and culture, Green Party member Gabriele Heinen-Kljajic.

“We have to assess individual cases of Turkish scholars and students to see whether an extension of limited contracts and grants can secure them an income. Where this is the case, the right of abode would be settled, and these people could stay on.”

Lower Saxony’s ministry of higher education and research has announced statistics concerning individuals being called back to Turkey or denied the right to travel abroad. So far, universities in the state have reported 10 such cases. Also, recent events in Turkey have caused around 60 Lower Saxony students to either withdraw from stays already arranged in Turkey or to postpone them.

Further, the impact on joint research has been severe. The closure of a number of Turkish institutions means that European Union collaborative projects can no longer be implemented there. A number of research projects and visits have had to be cancelled or cannot proceed in the current situation.

In all, Lower Saxony maintains well over 100 institutionalised collaborative relations with Turkish institutions. As a rule, they comprise mutual credit transfer, the exchange of students, teachers and researchers and collaborative schemes in research and teaching.

In neighbouring Hesse, the opposition Linke party has called on the ruling Christian Democrat/Green coalition to give details of how many Turkish academics there are at universities in Hesse and how many have been requested to return to Turkey or have already done so.

Die Linke also wants to know whether the government has taken measures to ensure that students and academics who have left Turkey recently but are not recognised as refugees can depend on German support.

Michael Gardner Email: