Galatasaray University: Key in Turkish-Europe diplomacy

Prof. Tolga: It is not only an academic institution; it is also a place for diplomacy.

Prof. Tolga: It is not only an academic institution; it is also a place for diplomacy.

By Ayse Humeyra Atilgan

ISTANBUL - Galatasaray University plays a major role in diplomacy by building bridges between Turkey and France and also with Europe, Rector of the university Prof. Ethem Tolga told Anadolu Agency (AA).

The 500-year-old University "is a mutual treasure of the Ottoman and Republic periods, which has always attracted people's attention." Tolga said. "The university is not only an academic institution; it is also a place for diplomacy. Its role is quite different when compared to other universities across the world," he added.

Located at Ortakoy, a populated central district on the European side of Istanbul, the university offers graduate programs in two institutes, and undergraduate programs in five faculties and 12 departments.

Tolga referred to the high-level visits to the university as numerous statesmen have come to give lectures or attend to be briefed on bilateral relations.

"This bridging mission has a huge impact on relations with France and Europe," he said noting the visit of French President Charles De Gaulle to Galatasaray High School in 1968; the visit of President Francois Mitterand in 1992 to Galatasaray University; that of President Jacques Chirac in 2010; and the most recent visit of the incumbent president Francois Hollande to the university in January, 2014.

The rector, when asked about the impact of French culture on the university's education system, denied claims that the university is a French institution, and confirmed that it is a Turkish state university where the medium of instruction is French. All Galatasaray institutions, including the elementary school and the high school, are national and state-based.

Within the framework of the Academic Cooperation Treaty, Galatasaray University has been supported both academically and scientifically since its foundation by a consortium of over 30 French higher education institutions, Tolga told AA.

"We are trying to achieve a distinguished education, with French and English being compulsory languages, and many others like Spanish, or Italian as elective courses," he added.

"What matters for us is both the academic success of our institutions and the fact that our work is appreciated by the public. In many departments, Galatasaray University ranks among the most successful universities in Turkey, in law in particular," he stated.

Tolga underlined the international projects when they hosted over 150 Erasmus students in undergraduate programs, which has around 3,000 students in total. He said that the university has signed cooperation agreements with numerous prestigious universities in Europe, particularly in France, within the scope of the Erasmus Programme. "Erasmus student mobility develops at an increasing rate, which shows the multi-cultural structure of the university," he declared.

The university was first established in 1481 by Sultan Beyazit II as an “Enderun School” (Imperial School) with the aim of training civil servants for various ranks in the state administration.

In 1868, the school was opened under the name of “Galatasaray Mektebi Sultanisi” (Galatasaray High School) by order of Sultan Abdulaziz, the first Ottoman emperor who visited Europe and was highly influenced by educational institutions there particularly in France.

"The school then could unite students from all types of religions and ethnicity," Tolga said, "from Damascus and Baghdad to Bulgaria and Macedonia."

"The greatest supporter of the school was Abdulhamit II, and the school made significant progress during his time in the empire," said Tolga.

Galatasaray received the name of “Galatasaray High School” in 1924 within the framework of the new Turkish Republic.

In 1992, the then Turkish President Turgut Ozal after negotiations with his French counterpart Francois Mitterand, made Galatasaray High School the first public university in Turkey to be founded on the basis of an international agreement.

Despite its university status, however, the institution keeps the character of being an integral education and training institution, with Galatasaray High School and Galatasaray Elementary School connected to the rectorship.

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