Background Briefing

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

Human Rights Watch’s Concerns with Regard to Academic Freedom in Higher Education, and Access to Higher Education for Women who Wear the Headscarf

In November 1981, the military junta issued Law 2547 on Higher Education, which imposed firm political prescriptions on Turkey’s higher education system. The military junta reinforced this law in the 1982 constitution, which established the Higher Education Council (HEC)4 to administer the system. The HEC exercises central control over the university system and violates international standards on academic freedom. It restricts the liberty of professors to write, teach, and take an active role within society, and limits the autonomy of universities in their staffing, teaching, and research policies and practice. The HEC has also implemented a ban on access to education for women who wear the headscarf for religious reasons. This restriction of women’s right to choose their dress violates their right to education, their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, their right to privacy, and is discriminatory.

In July 2003, the Justice Ministry, in collaboration with the Education Ministry, introduced a draft Law on Higher Education. There was widespread criticism that this draft did not resolve longstanding infringements of academic freedom by the state. The Inter-University Council, composed of academics, reviewed the draft and in December 2003 produced its own draft Law on Higher Education. The HEC president Professor Erdoğan Teziç conducted a review of both drafts, and produced a third draft Law on Higher Education in January 2004. On May 4, 2004 the Justice Ministry produced a further Draft Law Concerning Amendments to the Higher Education Law and to the Law on Higher Education Personnel, which the Turkish parliament passed into law on May 13, 2004 as Law no 5171 Amending the Higher Education Law and the Higher Education Personnel Law. At the time of writing it appeared likely that President Necdet Sezer would veto the law as contrary to the constitutional principle of secularism. On May 7, 2004 the Turkish Parliament passed a constitutional reform law5 which included a measure to remove military representation on the Higher Education Council.

Neither the constitutional changes nor the legislative texts provided conclusive and effective protection for the freedom of professors and students to teach and learn.

This briefing paper describes longstanding human rights concerns relating to academic freedom and access to education for women who wear the headscarf, and suggests steps that the government could take to address these concerns in shaping further legislative and constitutional change.


[4] Yüksek Öğretim Kurulu (YÖK).

[5] Law 5170.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>June 2004