Turkish-German University

Academic Lighthouse on the Bosporus

Berlin and Ankara are founding a joint university in Istanbul. The institution on the Bosporus has been planned since the 1990s – the first students should be starting in 2009. Christiane Schlötzer reports

photo: dpa
New phase of German-Turkish friendship: German foreign minister Steinmeier, center, and his Turkish counterpart Babacan, left, presented the concept of a joint university

​​There are plenty of respected universities in Turkey that teach in English or French. Germany now also wants to get its foot into the door of the Turkish education market, with a Turkish-German university (DTU) in Istanbul. The German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Turkish counterpart Ali Babacan signed the foundation document for the new university on the Bosporus in Berlin on Friday, and the first students from both countries should be admitted before 2010.

"This is a glorious day for Turkish-German relations," commented Edzard Reuter (80), visibly moved. The former Daimler-Benz CEO grew up in Ankara, where his father Ernst Reuter had found refuge from Nazi persecution from 1935 to 1946.

Ernst Reuter later became mayor of Berlin, and his name inspired the "Ernst Reuter Initiative" set up by the foreign ministers of the two states in 2006. This initiative aims to find new ways for fostering understanding between cultures, in the wake of the Danish Mohammed caricatures incident. The DTU is the initiative's ambitious showcase project.

Ambitious plans

Ali Babacan (photo: dpa)
New educational perspectives: Turkey's foreignminister Ali Babacan in Berlin

​​The idea for a Turkish-German university, however, is much older, with a long history of setbacks behind it. The Kohl government had planned a similar project as long ago as the early 1990s, which ultimately failed for financial reasons. It was not the only one. The current plans are also yet to be approved by the Turkish parliament.

"The Turkish education bureaucracy is renowned for its stubbornness when it comes to clearing up issues of national autonomy," says the politics professor Claus Leggewie, one of the DTU's many fathers.

But none of the other plans ever got as far as the current project. The building work is scheduled to start in 2009, although Babacan did not state a precise date in Berlin. The first students should be enrolled as soon as autumn of next year. Turkish construction work is generally fast-moving.

Open for "excellent students from Turkey"

The Turkish side will provide the premises and cover running costs, while the Germans are to send lecturers, develop curricula and pay grants. Berlin is currently anticipating annual costs of 3.5 million euro. Four faculties are planned to start with: Engineering, Economics & Social Sciences, Law and Cultural Studies. Teaching will be mainly in German.

Campus of Istanbul University (photo: dpa)
German professors helped found a university in Turkey once before: Istanbul University celebrates its 75th anniversary this year

​​Students gaining a Bachelor's, Master's or PhD should receive a certificate for both countries, as far as possible. The DTU hopes to admit 5000 students in total, and will be open for "excellent students from Turkey" and also Germany.

There are several secondary schools in Turkey that teach entirely or partly in German. In Germany, pupils can also learn Turkish as a foreign language at several schools. The Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan unleashed a storm of indignation during a visit to Germany in February, when he warned Turkish people living in the country against "assimilation" and also suggested more Turkish secondary schools.

Steinmeier, Babacan and the German education minister Annette Schavan described the project on Friday with words like "lighthouse", "signal" and "new phase". In fact, German professors helped found a university in Turkey once before. In 1933, the founder of the Turkish state, Kemal Atatürk, encouraged Germans living in exile from the Nazis to create the first Western-oriented university on the Bosporus. It became a long-term project – the Istanbul Üniversitesi celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Christiane Schlötzer

© Süddeutsche Zeitung / Qantara.de 2008

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire


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