TBY talks to Uğur Gazanker, General Manager of Doğa Koleji, about its role as a pioneer for quality private education and his outlook on the possibilities of growth.
TBY Doğa Koleji has become a well-known institution in Turkey. What was the aim you had when founding the school?
UĞUR GAZANKER Doğa Koleji was established in 2001. Time Education Group already had several private courses in its portfolio, and we believed that we should have a place in the private school market, too. In our first year we had only 100 students and one school. Now, in our ninth year, we have 15,000 students and 25 pre-schools, 20 primary schools, 18 junior high schools, and 15 high schools. We also have 2,500 employees and are the leader of the sector in terms of student count, success, vision, and targets.
Could you tell us a little about the school’s “nature concept”?
Doğa, or “nature”, Koleji has integrated nature into every aspect of its curriculum from mathematics to philosophy. This is the first time such a concept has been implemented in Turkey, and perhaps in the world. Other institutions have included nature into their concepts; however, this has usually only been in an extra-curricular sense. Our schools not only have campuses with extensive gardens, and a large variety of plants, vegetables, and animals, but also fully immerse the students into nature as we can find superb examples within the environment to aid the teaching of all subjects. We are dedicated to the environment, and our schools raise nature-conscious, conservation-minded individuals.
What else sets your school apart from its competitors?
The basic philosophy of Doğa Koleji is that education is life. Our basic education model is shaped by this idea. Education is not only in the classroom—our students participate in numerous projects, competitions, and field trips. Before Doğa Koleji, the private school sector was practically non-existent in Turkey. The private schools that did exist were perceived as playgrounds for rich, spoilt children. Their quality was low and they were not very successful. Doğa Koleji changed everything. The sector came alive because of Doğa Koleji. For the first time private schools gained a corporate image. Now, schools try to emulate our success as a successful business model. Doğa Koleji has changed the landscape of education in Turkey. It has raised the bar in terms of the quality of education available, and the standards the industry now sets itself. Our school is the pioneer, and we are truly proud of this.
This concept has clearly worked well for Doğa Koleji. How has the school’s expansion strategy developed over the years?
From the beginning our target has been 100,000 students. This target has an economic value and is the prerequisite for recognition as a quality, well-known brand. We gave ourselves 10 years time to achieve 25,000 students and are on target. When this is achieved our real fight will begin. We will have a real responsibility in our sector, in the country, and in world education. We say we will be more vocal in the sector, and our words will have meaning. From thereon in we hope to attain the 100,000 target. Following this our plans are purely international.
How are you attracting students to achieve your targets, and what is your typical student profile?
Wherever we open a school, the clientele is assessed and the school is planned accordingly. We use means of advertising suitable to the school we will open. Our flagship school is in Acarkent, which is the most affluent area in Istanbul in terms of income. It includes certain facilities and programs that are absent in our Bostancı school, and this is reflected in the tuition fees. However, our nature concept and levels of education are always maintained. In this way we encompass a large demographic. When we first advertised our school we used an international advertising company. Our vision required it. Our school has also appeared in high-profile television series. We have the children of well-known public figures attending our schools and this also works to promote our school.
You mentioned your future aims to go international. A step has already been made in this area with the opening of a Doğa school in Canada. How did this come about and how will future international growth develop?
The opening of this school came about by coincidence, and has given us the experience necessary for future growth abroad. First we will complete our Turkish agenda. Until then we will not have other activities abroad. We have contacts abroad and in the countries we are interested. We will keep these items on our agenda and look at the issue again in the near future.
To make these projects a reality, how is Doğa Koleji making itself a known brand domestically and throughout the world?
We have undergone a prominent branding process in Turkey already, and are working to further increase the strength of our name. The motto of our advertising strategy is “new generation education”. We want people to be aware of our focus on more technology, more success, more projects, more international relations, and more social communications. Also, through the iPhone everybody will be able to see everything related to Doğa. This is a first for an educational institution in Turkey, and we have worked with Apple to achieve this.
How do you prepare your high-school students for university?
Our high schools operate an MBA for teenagers (t-MBA) program. This program was prepared entirely by us, and is accredited internationally by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There are 12 courses in the program and they are instructed by university academics. The program encompasses every aspect of school life. Also, the schools are governed by student councils. Each school has a student president and he or she is in a managerial position. He or she directs education, including many prestigious international projects. For example, we are the partner in Turkey for the IDEA debate club. Every year a gathering is held—last year it was in Amsterdam and the previous year London. In 2011 it will be held in Turkey. We are expecting around 1,000 students from 80 countries to attend and it is something we have lobbied extensively for. It will be superb for the economy and we have received significant governmental support. We also have a partnership with Istanbul University, and our instructors are able to obtain certification from this institution. We have conducted numerous joint programs including a scientific experiment at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland. Next year we will also open a new school with Istanbul University.
How do you assess the current situation regarding the higher education sector in Turkey?
As the number of high-school graduates grows we need more universities. As these universities open they will also look to attract students from abroad. This will shape the future of Turkish universities. We will see marketing strategies implemented in specific countries in order to achieve this.
© The Business Year