Dozens of Turkish university rectors have no international research record but tweet prolifically in support of the Ankara government, scholars have warned, raising further concerns about academic independence as the country has moved towards autocracy.
In its annual review of academic freedom, Turkey’s Science Academy, a breakaway group formed in response to perceived government influence over the country’s established academy, pointed to a flurry of news reports raising questions about the academic qualifications of some rectors.
This follows a 2018 legal change that transferred complete power to appoint university heads into the hands of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, replacing a system in which academics played at least a partial role in electing their rectors.
The academy points to one particular study that has garnered attention in Turkey. It found that almost a quarter of rectors do not have a single published article in the Scopus database of research literature. In addition, 72 of Turkey’s 197 rectors have an h-index of zero. The h-index is a metric of scholarly influence that measures both papers published and how often they are cited. But what these rectors lack in research prowess, they make up for on Twitter.
There is a correlation between weak research record and social media activity, and more than three-quarters of rectors with an h-index of zero were tweeting more than 100 times a day when the study was conducted last year.
“The content of these posts includes their visits, hospitality services to government members and others, and activities with associations close to government, as a means to promote the university,” reported the paper ‘Academic (dis)qualifications of Turkish rectors: their career paths, h-index, and the number of articles and citations’, published in the journal Higher Education. “These posts also contained statements showing their support and loyalty to the government and to President R. Tayyip Erdoğan, who appointed them as rectors.”
These rectors are from leading universities that lag behind in international rankings and measures of research prowess, found the study, authored by Engin Karadağ, professor of education at Akdeniz University.
In one controversial appointment, made after the study was carried out, Necdet Ünüvar, a former MP for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was made rector of Ankara University. Although he does have a background in medical research, some of his statements as rector have been stridently nationalistic.
(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education and The Economist)