Role of Awqaf in education in Turkey
Endowments (Awqaf in Arabic and Ottoman, plural of waqf) were one of the cornerstones of the Ottoman state in its economic and social systems. The Awqaf were so widespread and integrated into all aspects of Ottoman society that someone could be born, raised, educated, work, live and die, and be buried in or by a waqf.
Recently, the presence and role of foundations in higher education in Turkey have increased. The number of universities created by the waqf increased to +70, against +6 between 2007 and 2013. Soon, further increases in the role of university foundations are expected for education and the preparation of the next generation of citizens. Although there are many, the current university endowments are not fully functional. Partly because of the regulations and restrictions imposed by law through the Council for Higher Education (YOK), but also partly because that they are not (or cannot be) designed, established, endowed and administered according to real means and according to the Waqf culture of Islamic civilization developed over the centuries, and lost in the 19th century. It is, therefore, essential to understanding their status, role, and mechanisms in the past to better use their contributions in the future.
The fundamental pillars of the Ottoman state can be discussed as follows: a land management system, a state system, professional organizations, Awqaf, an understanding of an economy based on openness and equity, and leadership who manages all this, selected on meritocracy and not on blood or kinship.
The waqf has been defined, in many versions, as the property of God the Almighty, who approves the trust of a human-based on his God-given right to own and spend capital for the good of all creatures. Thus, the foundations and their properties were carefully protected by the state during the Ottoman period. As a result, the awqaf prospered considerably, as they were simply the best example of citizen empowerment and a productive society as one of the best beginnings and instruments of Islamic civilization.
Although the exact statistics on the Ottoman endowments are not known and well documented, to demonstrate the size and their number, some information gives us clues:
According to existing records from the Directorate of the Administrative Foundation (VGM) of Turkey, approximately 26,000-35,000 documents are creating the awqaf (waqfiyye) of the Ottoman era.
There were 171 awqaf founded by women in a small town of Antep in the province of Aleppo (a large city in Syria today) only between the 17th and the 19th century (until 1923), which corresponds at around 10 to 15%.
In 1546, there were 2,515 foundations in Istanbul alone. Between 1718 and 1800, 687 foundations were created in Aleppo. It has been reported in several publications that foundations during the Ottoman era touched on just about every aspect of society and human life, including, but not limited to:
- Support the poor and needy,
- Support all creatures (animal, forest, flowers, etc.),
- Support and maintain the environment,
- Establish and maintain civil infrastructure,
- Establish and keep educational institutions, students, and teachers.
Until 1850, all the awqaf of Ottoman lands were established, managed, and maintained locally and independently. After the 1850s, a central agency called “Awqaf and Shariyya Ministry” was created to support and help preserve them. Still, ultimately this organization took control of many endowments using their resources for government purposes, which adversely affected their decentralization and their independence.
After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, this ministry was abolished, and all awqaf were placed under the authority of a state organization, newly formed and named “Directorate of Endowments (VGM)” only temporarily. However, since then, under this new state agency, the number and size of awqaf and their properties have inexplicably decreased. Either they were sold, lost, or transferred to third parties or the state.
History of higher education and the role of waqf
First madrasa system organized under Seljuk and at the start of the Ottoman period (1000-1300)
The first higher education institutes organized on the lands of present-day Turkey were created in the 10th century by the Grand Vizier (Nizam ul Mulk) of Seljuks. They were known as Madrasa Nizamiyah and spread around the Seljuk lands that stretch from eastern Iran to central Anatolia. Nizamiyah madrasas were founded in more than 20 cities in Seljuks. Each Madrasa Nizamiyah was financially supported by one or more awqaf (endowments), for which several aqar (income generators) were donated by the wealthy of the city (usually military and civilian administrators of the time). Their existence and their impact on the training of civil and military officials of the government continued at the beginning of the Ottoman era (1300-1450). They had various other facilities to meet almost all the needs of students and teachers as well as visitors, such as classrooms, student rooms, health centers, public baths, kitchen, home ‘hosts, planning management, and maintenance of the house, primary school, library, etc.
Many stores, shopping centers, squares, hotels (in today’s terms), and vast lands were given in waqf, which made it possible to support the madrasa under a signed and honored orientation document (waqfiyyah) by the sovereign and judge of the time and of the region.
Ottoman period between 1450 and 1600
The waqf was relatively common and robust due to the administrative and economic system of the Ottomans. The accumulation of excessive wealth was almost impossible: the most significant difference between the richest and the poorest did not exceed 5 to 7 times in any sector of activity. Wealth was mainly in the hands of the military and Sultan’s officials (administrators), and it could not be inherited. It was to be returned to the government based on the presumed fact that wealth had accumulated as a result of the rights and titles given. Thus, the wealth of many pashas, vizirs, other administrators, and their families was simply transferred to awqaf, which in turn helped to build the country: mosques, roads, caravanserais (hotels), fountains, schools, madrasas, hospitals, and even nest boxes for migratory birds.
At the start of the Ottoman era (1300-1450), the Nizamiyah madrasa system was continued under the sponsorship of local leaders and government officials through endowments. Different madrasas in almost all cities operated independently, interacting only by transferring teachers and students to each other for various reasons.
After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Sultan Muhammed II (aka Fatih) established the largest madrasa of his time in Istanbul (Fatih kulliyah or Sahn Seman) between 1462 and 1470. Sahn Seman madrasas provided the highest level of his time until 1560. It also included lower-level madrasas (madrasah Tetimme) to allow other students to benefit from its system. The teaching included Islamic, social and scientific subjects offered by teachers transferred from different regions and countries. A waqf founded by the Sultan sponsored each student, teacher, and assistant.
With the creation of Sahn Seman’s madrasas, all the madrasas in the country were reorganized according to the level of education they provided, each madrasa in different cities and villages supplied for the needs of students to the next level. All knowledge from early childhood schools was pretty much-taken care of by the awqaf in every town and village. In some cases, students had to travel to other cities and towns to obtain a higher level of education.
In 1559, Sultan Suleyman (aka Kanuni, the legislator) founded the Suleymaniya Kulliyah Mosque, which included the Madrasa of Sulaymaniyah. It included six madrasas focused on the highest level of education in medicine, mathematics, science, religion, law, and literature. It also included the primary and secondary school, the library, the public baths, the exercise and health center, the kitchen, the health center. A waqf founded by Sultan Suleyman supported Sulaymaniyah Kulliyah. Sahn Seman continued his service, focusing on religious subjects while Sulaymaniyah concentrates on social, science, medicine, and the higher level of religious issues. All the madrasas in the country were reorganized according to the level of education they offered, the highest level being that of the madrasa of Sulaymaniyah.
Although it was the best and highest moments of higher education with the establishment of Sulaymaniyah Kulliyah, the very earliest stages of corruption in the education system were also seen during this period. The selection and appointment of professors based on merit have been neglected in a few cases, leading to “inherited” teaching positions and classification of scholars in society. Finally, these irregularities and these appointments without merit led to a deterioration in the quality of education and human capital in the country in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
Ottoman period between 1600-1920
Breakdowns and uncompetitive administrative practices resulted in a series of losses in the wars with mainly Russians and Western countries in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The Ottoman economic, administrative, and military system did not work as intended for various reasons, but mainly due to unprepared, poorly educated, and uncompetitive human capital.
At the end of 1700 and the beginning of 1800, few Ottoman sultans had the courage and the vision to reform the administrative, economic, military, and educational systems. It was simply too late. The sultans were too weak. But, mainly to reorganize military power, few educational reforms have been initiated (all supported by the government) as follows:
- 1730- School of canonry (Humbarahane and Tophane);
- 1770- Schools of military engineers (Muhendishane I Bahr I Humayun, Muhendishane I Berr I Humayun)
- 1830- Military academies (Erkan I Harbiye) and faculty of medicine.
The first civilian higher education institute was designed in 1845 (Dar ul Funun), but it did not last long. Dar ul Fununu Shahane was formed in 1900 at the time of Sultan Abdul Hamid, but after a series of tests, he failed between 1850 and 1900. It was Sultan Abdul Hamid who reformed the education system and made it so that different levels of education are provided throughout the empire:
- Elementary schools
- Middle schools
- High schools
- Higher Education
- Vocational schools, military schools, girls’ schools, etc.
At the end of the Ottoman era, there was a conflict between the reforms of the education systems and the educational establishments supported by the Awqaf (madrasas and Sibyan schools (elementary)
The madrasas opposed the improvements to the education system mainly because it copied the western style, but also because of the deficiencies and the degradation of the madrasa system and its human element, as mentioned previously. The old madrasa system was closely associated with waqf, while the new education system and Dar ul funun were fully funded, supported, and controlled by the government. Although this led to improvements and helped reforms, ultimately (especially the end of the Ottoman era and the whole era of the Republic), too much government involvement, hence political control, was not in the interest of the education system, therefore of the universities, for the people.
The first era of the Republic (1920-1950)
Even if there was a new regime, a new government, and reforms in all aspects of life, the people were the same as at the end of the Ottoman era. Therefore, the improvements were, in a way, the continuation of the recent past (i.e., the administration of the end of the Ottoman period). The Turkish Republic and its administrators were determined to wipe out any Ottoman in a secular revolutionary approach. The whole education system (including higher education) has had its share. The main revolution was the change of alphabet from Arabic letters to Latin letters overnight in 1928. The second was the reform “Unification of Education,” which ensured that there would be only one type of education, and that would be the one controlled by the government, not the foundations. Of course, specific exclusions have been granted to minority funded schools and western schools. Third, all awqaf and their governing bodies (Awqaf and Shariyya Ministry) have been abolished. The madrasas were closed, and the property of the awqaf was returned to government control. Even today, no precise account of the quantity of Awqaf goods and wealth lost, given, forgotten, demolished, etc. cannot be accomplished.
The University of Istanbul was created in 1933 to replace the Darulfunun. At least two-thirds of the teachers have been dismissed, and more than 60 new teachers have been transferred from Germany and Austria. These transfers were facilitated indirectly because of the Nazi difficult period, especially for Jewish academics. Later, a new university was created in the new capital, the University of Ankara, mainly by German professors. Until 1950, higher education followed the von Humboldt system in Germany, where a university included various educational and research institutes, and each institute was headed by an influential professor appointed by the government.
Period of intermittent democratization of the Republic (1950-1980)
The first democratically elected government created few new universities in 1950 under different jurisdictions (for example, Middle East Technical University-METU). METU and other new universities adopted the American model due to the growing influence of the United States around the world after the Second World War. Many have obtained direct human and financial support from the United States (METU, Ataturk University, KTU, etc.) in recent decades. In consecutive cycles of a decade of military coups and coalition governments between 1960 and 1980, higher education was politicized entirely between the flows of students, professors, and left and right politicians. Due to the strong influence of communism and the leftist political currents of the 68s, anarchy, and unrest, universities were far from training the next generation of competitive workers, scientists, and administrators. Between 1960 and 1971, there was a trial of private higher education institutes, which offered training in a few selected fields (engineering, architecture, commerce, economics). However, this trial ended in a Supreme Court decision in 1971. Until 1981, several fragmented higher education models and institutes were operating roughly in chaos; but none was a waqf institute:
- State Universities,
- Engineering and architecture academies,
- Academies of commerce and economics,
One of a kind universities that had their legislation (like METU).
Era under the Higher Education Council-YOK (1980-2007)
Following a military coup in 1980, the higher education system was entirely reformed by constitutional law in 1981. The Council for Higher Education (YÖK) was formed to supervise, control, and direct all higher education institutions in the country. All universities and institutes have been reorganized, some renamed, some divided into two or three establishments; new ones have been created. A cumbersome central administration approach was adopted to the point where student quotas for all departments of each university or even the hiring of teaching assistants were centrally controlled.
YÖK has created new universities, named rectors, deans, presidents, and even assistants. It generated kingdoms (universities) with kings (rectors) who were all loyal to YÖK and the president of the country. At that time, university foundations, rather than awqaf, dominated. Almost all universities have created awqaf and several associated companies to generate additional income for the university. These times of YÖK until 2008 were marked by oppression of freedom in universities. Government and politics were in all aspects of higher education life; appointment of faculty, allocation of budgets, etc. But most memorable, the lack of freedom for students and the faculty with the hijab was the legacy of those years. It is interesting to note that no such case has occurred in the country’s first founding university.
Between 1984 and 2008, around 25 other waqf universities were allowed to open and operate, especially after the new government in 2002 (Erdogan-AKP government).
Changements récents dans le YOK et émergence des universités fondatrices (2007-2012)
Due to partial constitutional changes in 2007, the president of the country was directly elected by the people (Hn. A Gül was the first president of this type). Thus, since 2008, the presidents of the YÖK (Council for Higher Education) and therefore the rectors of all universities have been appointed by this president, reflecting the will of the people, at least to some extent. This brought significant changes to the universities and YÖK offered freedom to all students and teachers; equal opportunities for university entry for all students (problem of vocational high schools). The number of universities has increased remarkably to more than 170:
- 100+ state universities
- 70+ university foundations
- 5+ basic institutes for vocational training
- 5+ others (foreign affiliated universities, military academies, etc.)
The number of higher education students has increased to around 3 million (including night shifts and the open university system). However, age-old and accumulated problems continue to arise, in particular:
Lack of autonomy and academic, administrative and financial responsibility,
Lack of accountability and transparency,
Lack of flexible management and funding models,
Lack of quality assurance systems,
Lack of well-prepared teachers and their training,
Lack of classrooms and equipped laboratories,
Lack of access to quality higher education for all.
In 2012, the basic universities only served 10% of the student population. They hold a high ranking in terms:
- Attracting the best students (university entrance exams),
- Low student / faculty ratios (~ 16 – 18),
- Respected researchers attracted from Western countries;
- Relatively high external research funding by faculty (~ $ 50,000 / faculty)
- Relatively good publication by faculty (~ 1 / faculty / year)
- High number of foreign students and teachers (~ 5 – 10%)
Between 1984 and 2008, around 25 other waqf universities were allowed to open and operate, especially after the new government in 2002 (Erdogan-AKP government).
The basic universities offered relatively more freedom, a better environment for university production; increased research and publications, etc. mainly since they hired administrators and teachers trained in the United States. Conflicts between the government, YÖK and the courts have left their mark during this period.
Higher education today and tomorrow with expected changes
Although the history of university awqaf at the time of the republic is quite recent, some important and common problems with their creation and functioning can be listed as follows:
- Most are run as “a business” of the main sponsor, not in the spirit of waqf.
- Lack of leadership and administrative autonomy (the dominant sponsor chooses to work with academics who are good at learning, loyalty, reliability, but weak in leadership)
- Lack of financial autonomy due to the low level of financial support from sponsors on an annual basis, which could be reduced or interrupted at any time :
- Most do not have space (land) to grow;
- Most lack autonomous and long-term endowments,
- Most are concentrated in three major cities (Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir),
- Most choose to avoid colleges and departments requiring significant investments (mechanics, materials science, and civil engineering).
In Turkey, recent economic progress is expected to continue, but slowly. Therefore, there will be an increasing need for higher education, especially when the size of the student population in primary and secondary schools is around 16 million. Also, the preparation of a new civil constitution is underway, which should provide a more civilized, free, and respectful environment for all aspects of life in Turkey. It should also pave the way for a more flexible, autonomous, but responsible higher education system. Under these circumstances, the number and variety of founding universities should increase to encompass medium-sized cities in Turkey.