Universities are the longest lasting institutions in history. How do I know that? Clark Kerr, the former president of the University of California, describes universities as the most enduring institutions, noting that universities represent 70 of 85 institutions founded in the 1500s that are still surviving. Kings and queens have disappeared, but those 70 universities continue to function in the same buildings, administered in the same way, and with professors and students busy with the same job. Let’s recall, meanwhile, that Istanbul University is one of the oldest universities in Europe. And then let’s remember that one of the oldest surviving institutions in Europe, the Orthodox Patriarchate, is also based in Istanbul.
So, what’s the purpose of this brief explanation? Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is determined to reopen the Halki Seminary, shut down without any reason in 1971. Asked whether he was not scared about reopening the seminary, Erdogan shattered yet another taboo, replying: “My ancestors were not scared. Why should I be?”
Hence, Erdogan is making the right decision by trying to reopen the school. He knows that such a move will ensure the continuity of one of Europe’s oldest institutions and bring about great economic benefits to both Istanbul and Turkey. Keeping the school closed not only damages the notion of university learning in Turkey, but deprives the Turkish economy of an alternative source of revenue.
How do I reach such a conclusion? Because the closure of one of Istanbul’s oldest institutions of higher education flouts the libertarian and pluralistic nature of the university concept. Similarly, the closure of a facility that has functioned for 127 years emerges as an obstacle to the global flow of students to Turkey. A mentality that shuts down institutions of higher learning is no longer acceptable in the world. Additionally, many countries today earn significant profits from services for higher education. Annual revenues earned through the enrollment of foreign students amount to $22 billion in the United States and $9 billion in Britain.
By the way, let’s recall another school here. In 1813, the Hellenic School of Commerce was inaugurated on the same island of Halki. It was the first school of commerce to open in Istanbul. It was shut down in 1918. That school, too, should be reopened in the name of continuity since the Sultanahmet High School of Commerce and Academy of Economics and Commerce (now Marmara University), founded in 1883, is currently said to be Istanbul’s first school of commerce. An education history that omits the other communities of the multi-religion, multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire is a misconception.
So Erdogan is correcting this mistake. Today [Sept. 16] he is taking another step by reopening the Greek Primary School on Gokceada [Imbros Island], closed since 1964, reconciling Turkey with its past. He is ensuring institutional continuity in education, making the economy sustainable with sustainable institutions.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly