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What do Turkish students look for when studying abroad?

Turkey has long been known as a strong market, with one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, links with both Europe and Asia, and a large, young population. As the country grows in strength, it will need more highly skilled graduates. This need, combined with the rising personal disposable income of an emerging middle class, could mean that overseas study will become more affordable for more students, according to a new report from the British Council's Education Intelligence released at the recent EAIE conference in Istanbul, Turkey.

Of the 4,800 students Education Intelligence surveyed, an overwhelming majority (96%) of students said that an overseas education would help them secure employment, 95% said they wanted to study abroad, and 86% cited cost as the greatest barrier to overseas study.

Furthermore, 25% of respondents said the main advantage to studying overseas was exposure to different ways of thinking and learning, while 32% cited access to better education opportunities. "Students in Turkey see an overseas university education as a way to achieve greater individual success, and education as a whole as the way for the entire country to move forward," states Elizabeth Shepherd, Research Director for Education Intelligence. The number of students going abroad for degree and non-degree programmes increases every year, and sees no signs of slowing down. In 2010, 49,116 Turkish students studied overseas. Some sources in Turkey say that in 2012, this figure increased to 57,400 outbound students, but ICEF Monitor could not confirm these figures with government statistics yet.

Agency environment in Turkey

Keen to learn more about Turkey from an outbound perspective, we sat down with Murat Karatas, who has more than ten years of experience in the international education industry. He currently acts as president of the Turkish Educational Agents Group (TEAG), which has 15 agency members. Mr Karatas also serves as a board member on the International Education Counsellors' Association of Turkey (YEDAB), which represents 67 agencies from all over Turkey. Finally, Mr Karatas is also a director at Network Educational Services, a student recruitment agency that also runs student fairs twice a year. There are two more agency associations in Turkey. One is the Study Abroad Counselors and Agencies Association (YEDAD) with over 100 member agencies. The other is the Association of International Educational Counselors of Turkey, widely known as UED, with 38 members, which also offers some statistics on Turkish students abroad and their preferences. Exact numbers do vary but experts estimate there are about 300-350 student recruitment agencies in Turkey, and approximately 60 of them are fairly decent in size, but the majority are smaller operations. Part two of our video interview (further below) talks about finding the right agency-educator match. But first, let's listen to Mr Karatas as he shares Turkish students' destination preferences and programmes of interest.

Study abroad trends from Turkey

As Mr Karatas states, based on data gathered from the agencies he represents and the student fairs he helps organise, programme preferences include:

  • Language and summer schools: 78%
  • Masters or above: 59%
  • College and undergraduate degrees: 48%
  • Certificates: 32%
  • High school: 5%
The UK

and US have always been top-of-mind for Turkish students in terms of study destinations, and the British Council's recent report also corroborated this. Additional countries of interest in their survey were Germany (8%), Canada (4%), France and Italy (3% each), Spain, Australia and Switzerland (2% each), and Sweden (1%). Mr Karatas adds even more countries to the list: Romania, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Estonia, and even as far as China and Malaysia. In addition, Mr Karatas speaks about the recent boom in popularity for two countries in particular: Ireland - due to an agreeable visa application process and outreach led by Marketing English in Ireland (MEI) as well as Education in Ireland, the country is becoming more attractive for Turkish students. In 2011, the Embassy of Ireland in Turkey introduced a new scheme for Turkish students attending short-term English language courses in Ireland at MEI member schools (there are 55 member schools to date). There are two schemes: one for Turkish third level/university students and one for Turkish junior students (aged 12-18). Provided all the requirements are met, visas can be processed in just three working days. So far this year, 250 Turkish language students have gone to Ireland on the scheme. Mr Karatas predicts strong growth for Ireland due to this programme. Ireland has been working hard recently to achieve its 2015 goal to raise the number of international students in third level colleges from 32,000 to 52,000, and English language students from 100,000 to 125,000. Malta - Mr Karatas also observes that Turkish students are going abroad more than once, so they might visit the UK first and then Malta second, for example. Malta's 8- or 12-week summer courses are particularly appealing because students can combine language courses with a summer holiday. Turkey is the seventh largest source nation to Malta, sending a total of 2,783 students in 2012 whose average length of stay was 5.6 weeks. Malta had a strong year all around, with the number of international students at English language schools reaching 81,911 in 2012, an 18.2% increase over 2011. Canada has been rising in the ranks in terms of study destinations, but the recent strike did have some impact on the Turkish market, with Ankara as one of the 15 visa processing centres caught up in the dispute. Visas were still being processed but there were uncomfortable delays. Relief came just last Friday, however, when an agreement was struck. Quick to react and hopefully negate any damage, Languages Canada (the association representing Canada’s 197 accredited language education programmes and schools) together with 16 of its member schools are headed to Turkey on a trade mission from 7-8 October 2013. Representatives of Languages Canada and its member institutions will be in Istanbul to meet with key educational agencies, top local schools and government representatives. “Turkey is a very interesting market for us. Since it has a rich history and culture that incorporates elements of English and French, we feel that Canada, with its two official languages, has a lot to offer in the way of collaboration in education,” explains Gonzalo Peralta, Executive Director of Languages Canada. How do students choose where to go? Academic excellence is surely a magnet, and cost is frequently a driving factor. “With private tuition fees in Turkey matching or exceeding those overseas, students not offered a state-funded place at home are showing increasing interest in international programmes,” explained the Education Intelligence report. Turkish students can adapt very well when they are abroad, but one of the important roles agents play is to prepare them a bit about what to expect before they arrive, and help them transition easily.

How can educators find the right agency match?

As mentioned above, there are four agency associations in Turkey, and hundreds of agencies - finding the right fit for your institution is a natural concern. Mr Karatas addresses this challenge in the second half of our interview. Educational agencies offer many benefits, such as:

  • easing the administration process for applications, visas, enrolment, travel, accommodation and more;
  • increasing students’ knowledge of overseas education systems and programme offerings;
  • helping students overcome language barriers;
  • suggesting and executing the best marketing strategies for educators.

Mr Karatas explains that each educator has different needs and therefore, should find the best fit for them: smaller schools looking for smaller numbers of Turkish students would be better to use a smaller agency, whereas larger chain schools might find it easier to work with a big agency. Ultimately, both parties will benefit as long as the agent is sending the right amount of students a school is looking for, and can serve them well before, during, and after their study abroad experience.

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