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VUB reaches out to Turkish academics and students

23:17 11/09/2016
In response to the thwarted military coup in Turkey and the suspension of academic exchanges to the country by Flanders’ five universities, Brussels’ VUB is launching a working group to figure out how it can assist members of academia

Every year, students from Flanders travel to Turkey to study at the universities there as part of their degree programmes. But following the failed coup attempt in July, Flanders’ five universities have decided to put these exchange on hold.

Last week, the Flemish Interuniversity Board (Vlir), which represents all five collectively, has reached the decision that no students would be allowed to travel to Turkey as part of an exchanges until the situation there becomes more stable.

“The rectors from the universities have discussed the situation in Turkey and have decided to stop all outgoing mobility,” says Steven Van Luchene, Vlir’s policy officer for quality control and internationalisation. “The reason is that the situation there just isn’t clear enough.”

The failed coup in Turkey has prompted the government there to close several universities for their suspected links to the perpetrators. Every university dean in the country was also arrested on the grounds that they could be connected to Fethullah Gulen, the presumed spiritual leader of the coup.

This has raised fears among Flemish universities about the quality of the education students could expect during their exchange. They have also expressed concerns about the students’ safety, given the vast numbers of arrests in the immediate aftermath of the coup.

Safety concerns

“We received the news that a lot of universities have closed and that some academics have been sent away,” says Paul De Knop, the outgoing rector of the Free University of Brussels (VUB). “We don’t know if any courses are taking place, and as for the safety situation, it remains uncertain. We are looking at what is happening with students over there.”

The coup has compounded existing fears about the safety of students in Turkey. In the week before the coup, Ghent University banned travel to the country because of concerns about further attacks by Islamic State, following the terrorist attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on 28 June.

Vlir has suspended all outgoing exchanges for this academic term. The board will continue to monitor the situation and is yet to make a decision about the second semester.

Meanwhile, the universities say they remain interested in having students and academics from Turkey come to Flanders. The VUB’s new rector, Caroline Pauwels, says she plans to set up a working group to examine how the university could play a greater role in assisting Turkish academics.

The working group will examine what the coup and the government’s crackdowns mean for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. It will also look into how it can assist Turkish academics who have been forced into exile.

Van Luchenes, meanwhile, stresses that while academic exchanges to Turkey are on hold, this doesn’t affect students coming to Flanders. “All Turkish students are welcome here,” he says.

Photo: The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Bosphorus University, one of the largest academic institutions in Turkey. Bertil Videt/Wikimedia

Written by Emma Portier