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A closer look at the Turkish outbound market

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • We continue our From the Field interview series today in conversation with Eren Göker, the manager of GKR Educational Counselling in Istanbul and also president of UED The Association of International Education Counselors Turkey
  • Mr Göker highlights the main areas of programme demand as well as preferred destinations for Turkish students, and offers his recommendations for educators recruiting in this important emerging market

While official statistics do not fully map the number of outbound students from Turkey, it is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s top sending markets with an estimated 80,000-100,000 students going abroad each year.

UNESCO reports just under 45,000 Turkish students enrolled in higher education abroad for 2015, but the Turkish agency association UED notes that language study is a major area of further demand. UED members report that four in ten students that they refer abroad are enrolled in language studies, with 80% of those enrolled in English courses.

This is in part because English proficiency remains a significant issue in Turkey, which was ranked 51 out of 72 countries (and 25th out of 26 in Europe) in the 2015 EF English Proficiency Index. English language teaching capacity is limited within the country, and UED reports a strong preference for language studies abroad among Turkish students.

A similar capacity issue is driving outbound numbers for higher education in that there are not nearly enough university spaces within the country to keep pace with local demand. Just over two million prospective applicants sat the YGS Higher Education Entrance Exam for Turkish universities in 2015, but only 351,000 students were admitted for undergraduate studies that year.

The underlying economic and political conditions in and around the country are generally supportive of this strong demand pattern. Turkey is the world’s 17th-largest economy, and has in recent years been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world (as well as the fastest-growing in Europe).

The political environment has been relatively stable for the past decade or more, but Turkey has more recently entered into a challenging political season following a failed coup attempt in July 2016. The Turkish government declared a State of Emergency in the wake of the failed coup and it continues to operate under emergency powers today in anticipation of a 16 April 2017 referendum on government reforms.

There is some risk of accompanying economic instability against that dramatic political backdrop but the Turkish lira has been relatively stable in recent months. Indeed, there are indications of continuing and stable demand for study abroad among Turkish students and parents in the months following the coup attempt.

Overall, the economic outlook is for continued growth and relative stability in spite of this uncertainty along with the security, humanitarian, and political challenges arising from the conflict in neighbouring Syria. “The Turkish economy continues to face geopolitical headwinds and unsettled political conditions, after having weathered a coup attempt in July and engaged in military operations in Syria,” says a recent update from the OECD. “Uncertainties are high but fiscal, prudential, and monetary policies are supportive and should spur household consumption from late 2016 onwards.”

How agents see the market

Eren Göker is the manager of GKR Educational Counselling in Istanbul, and also the president of UED The Association of International Education Counselors Turkey. We recently had a chance to get his views on the Turkish outbound market, and we are pleased to present video excerpts from our conversation below.

In our first interview segment, Mr Göker highlights the strong demand for language study as well as the key destinations for Turkish students. He notes in particular an expected strengthening in bookings for study in the UK this year, due in large part to the falling value of the British pound in the wake of last year’s Brexit vote.

In our second interview segment, Mr Göker maps out the major areas of programme demand for Turkish students, and highlights the link between shifting currency values and destination choice.

He notes as well the very high visa approval rates for Turkish students. A separate report from UED indicates that acceptance rates for member-referred students are in the range of 95-99% for many major destinations with Canada (88%) and Australia (82%) among those at the lower end of the range for approval rates.

Our final interview segment explores the ways in which educators can approach recruitment in Turkey. “Turkey is a different market,” says Mr Göker. “It’s not totally in Europe, it’s not totally in the Middle East. It’s between EU and the Middle East.”

He emphasises that recruitment strategies have to adapt to this distinct context, and should recognise in particular the premium that Turkish students and parents place on face-to-face contact and personal service. “Agencies are usually key points where students make decisions about where to study, what to study, and destination as well,” he adds.

For additional background on the Turkish market, please see:

• “The factors driving international student mobility to and from Turkey”
• “Keys to the market: Turkey
• “The relationship between currency exchange and student mobility

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