April on our beautiful campus has always been truly special, with the cherry tree (‘Prunus serrulata’ or ‘Sakura’) blossoms displaying their beauty in full and the greenery of the many other trees around us appearing somehow fresher, brighter and crisper. This year, however, nature, like the rest of the world seems to have delayed its bloom, almost waiting for us to return back to our campus, which is devoid of all of us and is heartbroken as it misses us all. As I take my regular walks around our serene but lonely campus, I miss spring flowers which are yet to flourish, hopefully in May.
Each year, we publish our Annual Report, summarizing outstanding achievements, featuring our faculty, staff and students along with organizations and activities that took place during that academic year. The Annual Report for this year was different, not only because of the wider period it covered but also in terms of how it highlights the response of our university to COVID-19 in a very extensive way. In the midst of the COVID-19 onslaught, we were able to maintain not only our 800+ classes in now three semesters in a row, but also our experimental research and scientific efforts, a huge feat in and of itself. Our university has been active on multiple research efforts, so far 42 projects and counting, directly targeting the COVID-19. These efforts have brought us to the forefront of research to understand and eventually defeat COVID-19. Our faculty, doctoral students and others are working on ventilators, examination and test kits, drugs, vaccines, tracking systems and on many different, multidisciplinary projects that are poised to have important impacts in the near future. These outstanding research capabilities, thanks to years of investment in research and science, are a culmination of many years of hard, persistent work that is now paying off.
More than a quarter of a century ago, the founders of Koç University formulated a mission that carries on this very tradition by promising “to cultivate well-rounded individuals, who can think creatively, independently and objectively” and to consistently strive “to advance knowledge through its efforts and to serve Turkey and humanity as a model of institutional excellence.”
This sacred mission is something I preach to our faculty and staff at our meeting at the beginning of each academic year, always reminding us that we are indeed all here to systematically create new knowledge and cultivate well-rounded individuals. The world is changing at such an unprecedented pace that any university has to run hard to keep up with it. However, a university that regards itself as a ‘research university’ has to run at least twice as hard if not much more.
Which brings me to the strides our University has taken since 2009, as it transitioned from its 16th year to its 28th year. While we had only 160 Professoriate (Assistant Associate or full Professors) faculty back in 2009, the current number of Professoriate outside of the Medical School is 274, of whom no less than 170 were hired since 2009. The Medical School, founded in 2010, now houses an additional 169 Professoriate and 18 Instructors, making the total number of Koç University Faculty 572 strong, of whom 443 are Professoriate and thus active researchers.
As we recruit new faculty with the highest global standards, the massive numbers of new faculty joining our ranks since 2009 also greatly enhanced our scholarly output. While the number of indexed Koç University Articles & Reviews back in 2009 was 82, it has risen to 824 in 2020, of which 329 are from the Medical School. In other words, our scholarly output has grown by fivefold leaving out the Medical School, but by no less than tenfold including the Medical School.
Our outstanding cadre of research faculty have also been the drivers of the nearly 100-fold increase in total Sponsored Research Grants & Contracts, increasing from about 2 Million TL in 2009 to nearly 200M TL in 2020. While we had only 3 European funded projects in 2009, our faculty brought a total of 18 Projects in 2020, totaling to 80M TL. The number of accepted TUBITAK projects increased by more than trifold, from 59 (1.7M TL) in 2009 to 205 (70M TL) in 2020.
The extraordinary growth of research productivity at our university was driven by aggressive increase in the number of our PhD students, from only about 85 in 2009 to nearly 660 in 2020, comprising no less than 10 percent of the total student body.
Our university also made great strides in the quality of undergraduate students admitted each year through the central placement exam. While the last of the 870 students placed in 2009 was ranked 480,000th, the 870th of the 1225 students placed in 2020 was ranked 48,251st, with 84% of all students placed ranking in the top 100,000. While the median of 870 students placed in 2009 was 49,000th, the median of 1225 students placed in 2020 was 15,000th. Placement of students with better rankings across all of our Colleges and Schools have greatly improved the level of discourse in our classrooms for both students and faculty.
Koç University faculty are recognized nationally and internationally for their research; many are leading recipients of the Science and Encouragement Awards presented by TÜBİTAK, the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, of the Turkish Academy of Sciences’ Young Scientist Outstanding Achievement Award (TÜBA GEBİP), and of the Science Academy’s Young Scientist Award (BAGEP), as well as several other national and international awards. Our institution is second to none in terms of the number of recipients of Awards from TUBİTAK, Turkish Academy of Sciences and the Science Academy. In terms of number of memberships in these academies, Koç University ranks by far the first with a total of 39 members, with the next university having only a total of 26 members.
Furthermore, we are delighted that our faculty lead the field in Turkey for research grants provided by the European Research Council and other international bodies and we are honored to have been entrusted with the establishment of several large-scale pioneering research centers, funded by state agencies and industry. No less than 17 of the total 31 of the prestigious ERC grants in all of Turkey are hosted at our university and >25% of all sponsored research funding that comes to all of Turkey from all of Europe is at our university.
This pandemic showed us more than ever the importance of scientific research to explore and force the boundaries of knowledge so that when these types of things occur on our planet, we can fight it and come out of it, better off as humanity. The COVID-19 crisis provided a boost to collaboration across Schools and Colleges, enabling and facilitating many COVID-19 related projects as I mentioned above. Our handling of and conduct in crisis is likely to lead to increased public confidence in Koç University and Koç University Hospital, which in turn helps propel our University to higher levels. I am certain that our University will emerge out of this crisis stronger than before and as we strive to continue to sustain this steady success at our University, I see a very bright future ahead. Koç University will be here ad infinitum, while we ourselves are all mortals, we all pledge to do our level best every day during our time at this wonderful institution to make sure that it shines like a bright light forever.
On a related note about future dreams, please listen to my podcast in which I had a pleasant conversation with our Communications team in our "KUCast" podcast where I rest my President's hat aside and share my knowledge, insights and foresights about Space, Science in Space and beyond as a ‘Rocket Scientist’ .
We had our General Faculty and Staff Meeting on April 30th, the fourth one in a row held online. The only good thing about these Zoom get togethers is the reach; we had close to 600 participants which could not have been the case had we held it at our usual meeting place, the beautiful Sevgi Gönül Auditorium. At our meeting, we celebrated those who have shown the kind of dedication and commitment to deserve our Awards this year. The Faculty Outstanding Teaching Awards allow us to acknowledge the effort, experience and time put into quality teaching. The Outstanding Service Awards this year included individual awardees and teams from among our faculty and administrative staff, being rewarded for their many special outstanding contributions. We wholeheartedly congratulate all of our Award recipients and wish them continued success in their careers.
We also had much reason this month to celebrate our history. We celebrated the National Sovereignty and Children's Holiday, a most meaningful gift to the children of our country by the founder of our Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, also marking the founding of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on April 23, 1920.
Establishment of the National Assembly more than a century ago was a first for our country as the new National Assembly recognized the unconditional sovereignty of the people. As the struggle to get to that point and thereafter has been the cornerstone of our great progress as a nation, that historic day was also full of hope for our war of independence and the founding of our Republic which took unparalleled bravery and self-sacrifice on the part of our forefathers.
Thus, this day, especially this year, was not only a milestone in our modern history but also the harbinger of good and hopeful news of better days to come, days that we shall finally be free of the grip of the pandemic. While our country has been fighting this global challenge for over a year, I am certain that as we have done numerous times in our history, our Republic and our people shall prevail and come out of this crisis stronger than ever.
In the meantime, at Koç University we continue our work as would have been expected from us by Atatürk and do our level best to contribute to the elevation of the quality of life for our people by vigorously pursuing nothing less than excellence in education and scientific research.
Let me conclude on this hopeful note... Even though the progress of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country and the world at large still harbors continuing challenges and uncertainty, and even though it is still unlikely that we may be able to move out of this crisis before summer, we remain cautiously optimistic about the upcoming Fall Semester 2021 and for the new Academic year 2021-2022, and are preparing for a full return to our campus for all students, faculty and staff with face-to-face teaching, learning, working and interacting with one another. However, this decision crucially depends on the progress of the pandemic and public health circumstances in our country and the world in effect at the time and is to be finalized upon evaluation of the developments in our country and guidance received from governmental bodies.
As we all look forward to the second half of this year with a sense of optimism and hope, please continue to be cautious, be healthy, take care of yourselves and your families.
My best wishes and regards to you all,
Umran S. Inan