Market snapshot: Turkey

Turkey is emerging as an increasingly attractive study destination and source of students. Because of its newly invigorated economy, its young population, its strategic geographic location, and its growing investment in education, higher education recruiters and experts across the world are beginning to pay serious attention to Turkey.

Today’s ICEF Monitor post is a market snapshot of Turkey that will shed light on the expanding educational opportunities in this interesting country.

Quick facts

Geography: Turkey sits at the junction of Europe and Asia, bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. To the south is the Mediterranean Sea, to the west is the Aegean Sea, and to the north is the Black Sea.

Official language: Turkish (85% of the population).

Religion: The vast majority of population is Muslim.

Population: 74.8 million, 25.8% of which are under the age of 15. In fact, Turkey currently has the largest number of young people in its history, with 20 million Turks between the ages of 10 and 24. By 2023, Turkey’s population is expected to rise to over 84.2 million.

Main cities: Istanbul (by far the largest), Ankara (the capital), Izmir.

Culture: Democratic and secular.

Main trading partners: Germany, followed by Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Memberships: NATO, the Council of Europe, G-20, associate member of the European Economic Community (EEC).

Rising regional prominence

Turkey’s economy has been growing steadily for the past ten years, and just this week came the announcement that its economy grew by 11.4% for the first quarter, a growth rate second only to China’s. Last June, its exports grew by 13%.

It is currently being considered for entry into the European Union, and Goldman Sachs has classified it among the MIST countries (a second tier of emerging economies to watch), alongside Mexico, Indonesia, and South Korea.

Domestic education with a focus on internationalisation

Over the last decade, there has been substantial government investment in education: the 2011 budget of the Turkish Ministry of National Education was three and half times larger than the 2002 budget.

Today there are more than 100 public universities and more than 50 private ones, nine of which are internationally ranked; quite a change from a few decades ago (circa 1970) when Turkey had fewer than ten universities.

All universities are subject to a national testing and admissions system and fall under the control of central government policy agencies. There are also vocational colleges and teacher training institutions.

QS notes that:

“According to national statistics, there were almost 27,000 foreign students studying in Turkey in the 2010-11 academic year – an increase of more than 10,000 compared to 2005-6. However, the Turkish government has much greater ambitions, having set a target of 100,000 international students in the country by 2015. Attracting more international students is a priority for many Turkish universities, and both public and private institutions are introducing policies to support this – including lower tuition rates for foreign students, and more international student scholarships.”

In terms of the distribution of the student population, there are now more than two million higher education students in Turkey, half of which are in undergraduate programmes (half a million are in higher vocational schools). The private, foundation universities enrol only 9% of the student population – they are more specialised and cater to a niche target group.

Turkish students love the US

Turkey outranks both Britain and Germany as the European country sending the most international students to the US: it has been sending roughly 10,000 students there since 2000 (and 12,000 in 2012), and has for years been the only European country to be a constant top-10 student sender to the US, according to Open Doors, a group that analyses global student mobility.

A New York Times article explains that:

“At one time, France and Germany were popular destinations for Turkish students, but the increasing popularity of English as a second language helps pull students to the United States. Britain’s appeal as an alternative has been diminished by recent changes to student visa rules.”

The article quotes Turkish university Koc’s vice president for academic affairs, Selcuk Karabati, as saying,

“The US is seen as more open to international students …. The UK is seen as being mainly interested in attracting foreign students for financial reasons.”

Turkish-American links are firmly established; the first group of Turkish students went to the US in 1951 under the popular Fulbright programme, and Turkey has also hosted a number of Americans through the scheme. Days ago during the opening of the new Fulbright office in Ankara, US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone commented that the joint programme ongoing with the Scientific and Technological Research and Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) will result in a whole new era of relations between Turkey and the US in further generations.

International educational ties

Despite continued strong linkages with the US, Turkish education representatives say they are pursuing a “diversified, multidirectional internationalisation instead of one dimensional internationalisation.”

One recent example of this is that Turkey and the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in December 2012 on the heels of the Knowledge Partnership Initiative the countries signed 2011 to increase trade and investment between the UK and Turkey and collaborations in science, research and innovation.

Britain is not the only European country with which Turkey is forging educational linkages.

Partly as a result of its closer ties with the EU (it is a candidate for full admission), Turkey has been harmonising its education system with countries in the EU, including “a qualification structure, professional qualification recognition and VET reform.”

UK NARIC, the UK’s national agency responsible for providing information and opinion on vocational, academic, and professional qualifications from across the world, notes that:

“Turkey has also been heavily involved with the Lifelong Learning Programme, it has been estimated that, between 2007–13, almost 250,000 Turks will have benefitted from EU education and training programmes.”

Many Turkish universities have also participated in the Erasmus programme, Europe’s student exchange programme that boasts participation from about 90% of European universities in 31 countries.

And, Turkey is beautiful and fascinating

Turkey’s expanding domestic education system, young population, history of sending students abroad to study, and interest in forging international education linkages would make it compelling on those merits alone. But Turkey is also famously beautiful and historic, with a tradition of charting its own path despite all the geo-political tensions around it.

It offers a mixture of Eastern and Western cultural traditions and gorgeous landscape – a richness and complexity that a certain segment of students will be interested in. For a helpful guide to the study abroad opportunities in Turkey, you can consult this informative Institute of International Education white paper, which though intended for an American audience, provides great information for any higher education professional: Expanding US Study Abroad to Turkey: A Guide for Institutions.



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