In reversal, YÖK lifts B2 Turkish proficiency requirement for French academics

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by Leo Kendrick

As of early September, Turkey’s Higher Education Council (YÖK) has lifted a requirement introduced in February stipulating that French nationals teaching at Turkish universities pass a B2 level Turkish proficiency exam.

The requirement was to have outsize impact on Istanbul’s Galatasaray University, which teaches in French and employs numerous French faculty. The change was originally made by YÖK in response to a requirement instituted in France whereby foreign teachers and imams must possess B2 level French proficiency for employement in the country.

Four French faculty members have already departed from Galatasaray due to their failure to meet the requirement. A May 29th Turkish exam was held at Yunus Emre Institute, after which these four academics were dismissed. Two other faculty members were given until September to reach B2 level. According to information from Galatasaray University, the requirement was formally lifted on September 2nd.

French academics who spoke to Medyascope said that the requirement and its sudden reversal had shaken their faith in the Galatasaray University institution and YÖK: “It will be difficult for these institutions to regain our confidence, and I will always be scared that this situation could repeat itself.” 

Dr. Elgiz Yılmaz Altuntaş, director of Galatasaray’s foreign language school, had spoken to Medyascope in August while negotiations to lift the requirement were still ongoing. The professor expressed at the time that Galatasaray’s rector was in talks with Turkey’s Foreign Ministry to find a solution to the issue, saying that “Talks are underway to find reconciliation within a framework of reciprocity.”

Despite some conciliatory overtures and statements made by university spokespeople, the Turkish requirement instituted by YÖK was in fact the result of bitter diplomatic dischord between the two countries, whose relations have often been strained. Following the introduction of France’s French language requirement for imams and teachers from several countries, Turkey introduced a similar requirement in ad hoc fashion, requiring French professors to enter a Turkish exam on short notice last fall. The majority of the French faculty failed to pass the exam, jeopardizing the renewal of their work permits. Details regarding the language requirement such as dates for make-up exams, and deadlines for reaching B2 Turkish level remained unclear with many faculty members complaining they had been caught in the two countries’ diplomatic crosshairs.

Prior to its reversal earlier this month, French faculty had also noted that their inability to renew their residency permits since September 2020 had made it difficult or impossible to rent a home, sign new internet and telephone contracts, or even take public transportation.

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