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Higher education in the Ottoman Empire

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Before the early part of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman state never accepted responsibility for the basic education of its citizens or subjects. Hence no formal system of public education then existed. The state trained some of its military and bureaucratic officials; the clergy instructed some of its own future members; but the education of non-official, non-clerical subjects was not seen as a public responsibility. The process of “modernization” in education involved the gradual and grudging acceptance of this responsibility by the Ottoman state.

Up to the 17th century the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful countries in the world. Then it dramatically lost power because it did not keep up or better Europe’s scientific and technological improvements especially during the 18th century. Since development of the Empire’s army was top priority during this period, many French officers were brought in to help the Ottomans modernize the army. For a long time the Empire continued to benefit from importing officers, experts, and scientists, mostly from Europe and mostly for its army. Officers from Europe were used in its new military schools. In 1735, a new artillery school was established and a Frenchman Alexander Comte de Bonneval, was named administrator. Some forty years later in 1773 during the time of Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III, Muhendishane-i Bahr-i Humayun, the Royal School of Naval Engineering, was established to educate chart masters and ship builders. During its formative years it was supervised by Baron de Tott, a French expatriate military officer. Furthermore, in 1795 Muhendishane-i Berr-i Humayun, the Royal School of Military Engineering was established to educate technical specialists. In addition to Baron de Tott many other staff were brought in from foreign countries to modernize the army and to teach at those schools. Among these were Englishman Kampell Mustafa, a convert to Islam; Frenchmen Kermorvan Le Roi et du Reste (naval engineering); Major Lafitte Clavet and Capt. Monier (military and civil engineering); Francois Petolin (cannon testing); Capt. Saint-Remy (artillery); and Tondul (astronomy).

Over a century after the Ottomans westernized education of their military officer corps and following the Reform Edict of 1856, “individual students were sent to Europe and to France, in particular, for further education, while a school known as the Mekteb-i Sultani opened in Paris. At the same time work began within the country on the establishment of schools providing a modern type education. Of these, the most important was the Galatasaray Mekteb-i Sultani, later known as Galatasaray Lycee. This school, which has been described as the first window opened onto the West, has been the subject of a large number of studies.” Turkish secondary education was affected by the telegraph as well. “In 1861, the Funu-I Telgrafiye Mektebi (School of telegraphic science) was established, with a two year program for technical education in telegraphy” Later, Galatasaray and a high school for the poor and orphans launched courses in telegraphy. Between 1869 and 1923 a number of vocational “Technical Schools” were opened. Among these were a School of Finance (1876), a Civil Medical School (1877), School of Law (1878), School of Commerce (1882), a Civil Veterinary School (1889), a School for Vaccinators (1894), the Finance Officials School (1910), the Tax Collectors School (1911), and a Railroad Officials School opened in (1915). None of these were considered of university caliber except for the Dar'ül fünun. The Dar'ül fünun which originally was built by Architect Fossati in 1854 became the first Ottoman University via an ordinance published in 1919.


  • Chase, K. Firearms: A Global History. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,2003), pp. 86-89; 95-97.
  • Erdogdu, A.T. "The organization of Ministry of Education in the Ottoman Empire I-II (Maarif-i Umumiyye Nezareti Teskilati I-II)", Ankara Universitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakultesi Dergisi, 51 (1-4) (1996) 183-247; 52 (1-4) (1997) 247-285.
  • Frey, F.W. “Education in Turkey” in ed Ward, R.E.and D.A. Rustow, Political Modernization in Japan and Turkey. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1964) 205-235
  • Sisman, A. (1992)"The foundation of Galatasaray Mekteb-i Sultanisi and the first years of instruction (1868-1871)" in E.Ihsanoglu. Transfer of Modern Science & Technology to the Muslim World. (Istanbul, Turkey: IRCICA, 1992) 317-344.
  • Bektas, Y. "The Sultan's Messenger: Cultural Constructions of Ottoman Telegraphy, 1847-1880 Technology and Culture. 41(4)(2000) 669-696
  • This article is based on Arnold Reisman and Ismail Capar German speaking diaspora in Turkey: exiles from nazism as architects of modern Turkish education (1933-1945) Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education: An International Journal. 1(3) (2007) pp 175-198
  • For additional reading on this subject see Arnold Reisman Turkey's modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Ataturk's Vision

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