Turkey removes international student quotas and signals recruitment strategy

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The lead authority for Turkish universities has removed quota caps on international enrolment
  • This opens the door to expanded foreign international in Turkish higher education, a policy direction that lines up with the government’s stated goals to expand international student numbers, boost international recruitment, and increase the number of scholarships available to visiting students
  • Turkey’s current target is to expand foreign enrolment to 200,000 students by 2022 from a reported 150,000 students in 2018/19

Turkey announced earlier this month that it would remove nearly all limitations on foreign student enrolment in the country’s universities. Up to this point, international enrolment in Turkish universities had been capped at 50% of total institutional enrolment.

Going forward, universities will be free to expand international numbers beyond that 50% limit, with the exception of medical and dentistry programmes where the enrolment cap will remain in place. As a related report in the Daily Sabah notes, however, caps may yet be eased in medical and dental programmes in some cases where, “Universities with enough facilities to house a large number of students and meet criteria for education standards will be allowed to admit any number of students into these branches, providing a separate class for them.”

Also speaking to the Daily Sabah, Yekta Saraç, the president of the Council of Higher Education (YÖK), explains that the YÖK has set up a dedicated unit for international relations and has drafted a strategic plan for international education. “I think we are conducting a successful process,” said Mr Saraç. “The recognition of our universities, especially in neighboring countries, increased and we get good results from our initiatives to make Turkey more known for its universities in Africa and the Balkans.”

Goals and statistics

In May 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey would eventually expand its foreign student numbers to 350,000. For its part, YÖK, the peak body for Turkish universities, has set a target to reach 200,000 students by 2022.

The country’s foreign enrolment is certainly trending in the right direction. In 2017/18, Turkey reported just over 125,000 foreign students and a five-fold increase from the 25,000 enrolled as of 2012.

Most of Turkey’s visiting students come from neighbouring countries, including Syria, Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Iran. But others are drawn from further afield as well, including from Africa and China.

Detailed statistics have not yet been released, but recent statements from Turkish officials point to a further significant increase in international numbers in 2018/19. As Mr Saraç said earlier this month, “Today, we have 148,000 foreigners studying in Turkey, compared to about 40,000 four years ago.”

His statement was echoed by Abdullah Eren, the president of the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB). The YTB administers the national Türkiye Scholarships programme for visiting students and, speaking at the 12th International Students Meeting in Istanbul earlier this month, Mr Eren said, “Education of 150,000 international students from 203 countries are still continuing in Turkey. We, as the institution responsible for awarding scholarships, regard all Turkey’s international students, whether they are on the scholarship of YTB or not, as our own students.”

Mr Eren added that 17,000 of the 150,000 current international students in Turkey are recipients of YTB scholarships, and noted that, “We aim to increase the number of our international students on scholarship over 20,000 in 2023, on the 100th year of the foundation of our country. We want to raise the number of international students in Turkey over 200,000.”

Moving to target

While Turkey has not published its international strategy as yet, some of its components are visible in new exchange programmes, updated regulations, new initiatives to attract foreign faculty, and the continuing expansion of the YTB scholarship programme.

First launched in 1992, the scholarship programme has been administered by YTB since 2012 under the new Türkiye Scholarships brand.

In 2018, YTB reported that it had received 122,000 applications for 5,000 available scholarship awards in the 2016/17 academic year. The scholarship terms are generous and provide successful applicants with a year of Turkish language studies, after which they are admitted to university to pursue their preferred field of study. The scholarship award includes “accommodation, food and a monthly pocket allowance as well as insurance plus their flights to Turkey and back home.”

Along with its very strong scholarship offer, Turkey has also seen a rapid expansion in the number of universities in the country and in total higher education enrolment. From only a dozen universities as of 1980, the post-secondary system had expanded to 112 state and 74 foundation universities and vocational schools as of last year. Similarly, total enrolment more than doubled from 3.5 million students in 2008 to 7.5 million in 2018.

Accompanying this overall boom in higher education, Turkey has also seen notable growth in the number of English-taught degree programmes available within its universities. As we reported last year, the foundation universities have played an important part in the growth of English-medium degrees, particularly at the undergraduate level.

Following on from the patterns we can observe in other emerging study destinations, the growing availability of English-taught programmes along with an expanding scholarship programme and other strategic policy and exchange initiatives may well be a winning formula for Turkey as it continues to establish itself as an important regional study destination.

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