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Thus spoke the central authority…
Let’s say that there are 100 theology faculties in Turkey. YÖK asks their opinion on such a resolution and 99 of them votes for it.
In the early 1980s, Robert Frank wanted to offer a new elective course at the Cornell University on behavioral economics, a newly sprouting field then that combines psychology with economics. Noting that undergraduate students did not know about this new field, he tried to come up with an appealing course title so that he could attract them to enroll.
One of the main research interests of behavioral economists is to identify the reasons for and economic repercussions of systematic errors of individuals. The economic theory mainly assumes that individuals do not make systematic errors but make rational decisions. Frank therefore decided to name the course “Departures from Rational Choice” (this information relies on the preface of Robert Frank’s appealing 2011 book The Darwin Economy, Princeton University Press).
The above citation from the book, which had resided on my desk for more than a year when I finally decided to read yesterday and immediately regretted not having done so earlier, reminded me of the latest decision of the Higher Education Council of Turkey (YÖK): the decision to remove history of philosophy courses off the curriculum of theology faculties. The YÖK will probably or perhaps already did call this senseless step back. But that’s not the main issue. Here it is:
The US pioneers the world in almost all fields of science. A lot of students from all around the world endeavor to study in American universities and a vast majority of American universities are on top of the world. Keeping ahead of the world in science is not a God-given blessing. There are prerequisites, such as freedom of science. For instance, a professor teaching in an American university is free to choose the title of the course he is planning to teach. He certainly exchanges views and discusses with and convinces his colleagues beforehand. But at the end of the day, he has the freedom to teach such a novel course. He does not have to get the blessing of the central authority. Here in Turkey, however, the central authority has the power and the presumption to remove a centuries-old course off the curriculum.
Let’s say that there are 100 theology faculties in Turkey. YÖK asks their opinion on such a resolution and 99 of them votes for it while one of them votes against. Will the latter faculty that wants to keep offering the course have the freedom to do so? Such question would be quite out of place in an advanced country since the answer would be a straightforward, “Sure, it will.”
Quite a lot of countries have so far achieved high growth rates for a five-year period or a decade. But only a few were able to sustain those rates and hence catch up with rich countries. One key feature of those successful countries is that they have a high average education level. They perform well in terms of both the rate of tertiary education graduates and the quality of education.
So, let me repeat the question I raised last Tuesday: What does YÖK do for closing and preventing the spread of shanty house-like low-quality doctorate programs bunching all around Turkey while it is occupied with things that it has no business with?
This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 21.09.2013