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Turkey to suspend graduate scholarships for study in US

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • As diplomatic tensions between US and Turkey continue to mount, Turkey will now redirect its spending on graduate scholarships away from the US in favour of alternate study destinations
  • The Turkish government indicates as well that it will adopt a more restrictive approach going forward in that scholarship students will be encouraged to pursue studies in a number of fields in a university at home

A senior government official has announced that Turkey will stop sending scholarship students to the US for graduate studies. Deputy Minister for National Education Mustafa Safran said last week that the Turkish government will instead direct its scholarship recipients for graduate studies abroad to alternate destinations in Europe and Asia.

Speaking at a meeting of educators and government officials, the Deputy Minister said, “We know the quality of European universities. Plus, they don’t require tuition. From now on, we will direct our students to European and Far Eastern universities in line with Turkey’s interests.”

The move is the latest chapter in a pattern of persistent diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the United States. Late last year, the US temporarily suspended visa processing in Turkey, even as Turkey introduced some travel restrictions of its own. More recently, the US has imposed sanctions on two government ministers as well as punishing tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Turkey. The Turkish President has characterised these recent developments as an “economic war,” and sees them as the trigger for the recent and rapid depreciation of the Turkish lira.

Mr Safran said that Turkey spends US$35 million on graduate scholarships for students in the US, and that the government anticipates it will save a significant share of those funds by redirecting students to more affordable destinations. In fact, the Deputy Minister indicated that Turkey will no longer send students abroad at all for graduate studies in some fields, such as education, business, communications, and engineering. Instead, scholarship recipients for those graduate programmes will undertake their studies at Turkish universities, with graduate funding abroad targeted to specific, alternate study fields.

“Turkey cannot afford to pour its money into other countries,” said Mr Safran. “Our students will henceforth obtain their master’s degrees in these areas at our best universities and later will go on to pursue doctorates abroad.”

Where Turkey fits in

Turkey was the 15th largest sending market for US higher education in 2017, with about 10,600 students enrolled in American universities and colleges. The US Immigration Department’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), which casts a somewhat wider net in reflecting enrolment across all levels of study, reports that there were 11,109 Turkish students in the US as of July 2018, roughly 4,400 of which were enrolled in either master’s or doctoral studies. It’s unclear for the moment as to how many of those students would have been supported by government scholarships

This currently leaves the US with the leading share of Turkish students abroad, which works out to somewhere between 20–25% of all outbound students from Turkey. Other leading destinations last year included Germany, the UK, Bulgaria, and Austria.

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