Joblessness high among university graduates in Turkey

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Unemployment is rising in Turkey, particularly among 15–24-year-olds
  • Of the 4.7 million unemployed in the country today, nearly 1 in 4 have higher education degrees
  • Demand for study abroad remains strong, but affordability is going to a major issue for many prospects

New data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) finds that the country’s unemployment rate has risen significantly and is especially acute among youth. What’s more, young adults with university degrees compose a troubling proportion of the unemployed.

Nearly three in ten

Following a year of political instability and currency devaluation in 2018, Turkey officially entered a recession in the first few months of 2019. Nearly 4.7 million Turks are unemployed, an increase of more than 1.2 million over the previous year, and the unemployment rate is now at nearly 15%.

The proportion of jobless is higher still among youth, with 27% of those aged 15–24 now unemployed, up 6.8% over the previous year.

Of the 4.7 million unemployed, nearly 1 in 4 have university degrees.

Universities lack capacity

In 2018, only about 1 in 4 (just over 471,000) young Turks qualified to enter higher education found a place in one of the country’s universities. Roughly 80% of those who did gain admission were enrolled in public institutions, where educational resources such as labs and libraries are often in short supply. Many university students in Turkey (three million out of the seven million currently enrolled) are studying via TV or distance courses.

The balance of Turks in higher education in 2018 enrolled in private universities, where tuitions can range between US$9,000 and US$20,000 (albeit with some scholarship support available as well).

The quality of education that young Turks are receiving – where education outcomes are difficult to measure because of the inconsistency of qualifications and teaching methods, and where higher education is apparently not geared to real labour market demands – is resulting in an unemployment crisis for graduates.

“The inability of our educated youth to find employment is a very unfortunate reality,” said Mehmet Bayraktar, chairman of the independent union Sağlık-Sen which released a report responding to the TUIK data.

Of the unemployed with higher education qualifications, roughly a third had studied business and management, often through distance courses. Education graduates ranked second according to joblessness, and engineers and architects are also among the most likely to be unemployed.

Demand for study abroad remains strong

The recession can only make it more difficult for Turkish youth to find jobs, as companies faced with tightening margins make staff cuts where they can and put a freeze on hiring. As a result, demand for study abroad is holding strong, as young Turks look for foreign degrees that can give them an edge in their competitive labour market. The number of Turks heading abroad for study has held stable over the last several years – at roughly 45,000–46,000 students abroad annually – according to the latest UNESCO figures.

Affordability is going to be a major concern for many Turks in 2019, with the New York Times reporting that prices have been “rising at a 20% clip” so far this year. Turkish agents have reported that Canada is currently slightly more attractive than traditionally preferred destinations, the US and UK. Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine – all offering much more affordable higher education degrees than the US or UK – have also been attracting greater numbers of Turkish students.

Agents have also emphasised how important it is that foreign degrees be recognised in Turkey. This has never been more important than now, as Turkish youth must present their most compelling case for being hired in the midst of their country’s troubled economy. These accreditations are administered by the Turkish Higher Education Council. Foreign institutions wishing to affirm or establish their accreditation with YÖK can do so by contacting the national information centre for Turkey directly.

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