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Turkey expands ‘soft power’ through new deals with North African universities

Özer says Turkey has the potential to become a safe and reliable option for all international students and academic staff, especially for Muslims. Source: Shutterstock

Turkey has joined forces with North African Arab states through its educational cooperation plan with universities there, the latest in its series of deals in higher education to consolidate its “soft power” and relations in the Middle East.

According to University World News, the cooperation plan envisions a joint Tunisia-Turkey university, collaboration between the two countries’ educational institutions and more student and faculty exchanges.

The plan is a “win-win deal” as North African states can build its “human scientific capacity” while Turkey enhances its “regional soft power as well as deepening and strengthening its political, economic and cultural relations”, according to Samir Khalaf Abd-El-Aal, research professor at the National Research Centre in Cairo.

The Tunisian-Turkish University will join two other Turkish schools in the North African region – Morocco-Turkey University and Sudan-Turkey University, both currently under development.

The plan will also set up a master’s degree programme in Turkish language at the Tunisia University, study programmes in Islam and Arabic language for Turkish diplomats and students at the University of Istanbul.

It is the first of the list of recommendations reached at the Turkish-Tunisia Universities Collaboration Forum 2016, which forms part of a wider Turkish game plan to harness cooperation between universities in Turkey and the 22 states in the Arab World.

Turkey’s influence maintains its clout by placing just above the top 30 countries in last year’s global ranking of countries’ soft power last year, which took into account higher education, cultural production and technological innovation.

Despite its weak show of leadership in handling Islamic State and in certain areas of the migrant crisis, Turkey’s soft power also makes it the highest-ranking in the Middle East and Muslim-majority state.

Hub for Muslim students

Turkey’s “soft power” expansion also includes plans to establish itself as a hub for Arab students in the midst of political instability in the region.

The country has allowed North African institutes to set up shop on home soil, such as the first branch of a Sudanese university by Neelain University, which opened in Istanbul last year and a future branch of the Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages of the University of Tunis El Manar at Istanbul University.

This year, the Arabic-language Nation University of Science and Technology opened in Turkey to serve as an academic base for Arab students and scholars to flee from their home countries because of political insecurity.

Writing in the journal Insight TurkeyTurkish academic Mahmut Özer said the country “has the potential to become a safe and reliable option for all international students and academic staff, especially for Muslims”.

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