With Turkey’s youthful demographic profile, education is critical for the country’s future economic and social development. Its young population stands in contrast to the aging populations of most of Europe and North America. With 42% of Turkey’s population under 24 and more than 50% under 29, education is a critical factor in ensuring Turkey’s development of human capital for the future. In the 2011-2012 school year, Turkey recorded 25.42 million students in 60,165 educational institutions, marking a 3.2% increase in student enrollment over 2010. Males slightly outnumbered females in Turkish education at a ratio of 1.03 males for every female in 2011-2012. Public expenditures on education will also grow in 2012, according to daily Today’s Zaman, with the Ministry of Education’s budget forecasted to grow 14.8% in the 2012 fiscal year to TL39.1 billion, or 2.75% of national GDP. This spending level represents a more than seven fold increase from Turkey’s 2001 spending. Despite this rapid growth, however, Turkey still lags behind most OECD countries in terms of educational performance. In addition to many students failing to meet international standards for mathematics, Turkey ranked 32nd out of 34 countries in scientific literacy in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
In 2012 the governing Justice and Development (AK) Party successfully passed new education legislation to extend the length of compulsory education in Turkey from eight years to 12 years. Known as the 4+4+4 plan, the new education policy aims to increase matriculation in secondary education by allowing for additional flexibility in enrollment in vocational schools after the fourth year of primary school. The policy also aims to tackle the low female attendance rate by requiring all students to complete 12 years of primary and secondary education. Critics of the new education policy argue that the changes will reduce education standards and increase income inequality if many young students are enrolled in vocational institutes with a religious focus, known as imam-hatip schools.
The Turkish education system produces about 1.5 million graduates annually. In order to continue on to higher education, these graduating students must participate in Turkey’s national university entrance examination, which also determines what subjects and universities students are eligible for. Of all the students who take the exam, only about 35% receive offers of admittance to public universities, leaving a substantial unmet demand for higher education. Recently, however, the state and private foundations have expanded their efforts to establish more capacity for those looking to go on to tertiary education.
Recent figures from the Ministry of Education show that Turkey has made substantial strides in education over the past decade, particularly in expanding access to higher education. In the 2010-2011 school year, 33% of university-age Turkish citizens has participated in higher education, a 273% increase in enrollment in higher education institutions compared to the 12% rate of enrollment in 2000-2001. This substantial increase is the result of an aggressive expansion of higher education institutions, particularly the recent explosion in establishment of private foundation and open universities. And, asincreasing numbers of Turkish students graduate from university and join the workforce, this boosts average household income and feeds domestic demand, further growing the Turkish economy.
Turkey currently has 174 universities and technical schools, consisting of 103 public universities, 63 private foundation universities, and eight vocational schools, according to Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YÖK). Over 2006-2011, the total number of higher education institutes almost doubled, growing by more than 80 public and private universities. Despite this growth, demand for higher education in Turkey is still strong and many students who want to continue their education still do not receive offers from one of Turkey’s private or public universities.
Currently, more than 3.5 million students are attending higher education in Turkey. Universities offer two-year associate’s degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees to undergraduate students depending on the faculty and department. Although all higher education institutes are regulated by YÖK, the educational standards and quality vary substantially between universities. The Times Higher Education List, which is prepared by Thomson Reuters, ranked four Turkish universities in the top 400 worldwide. The top placed university in Turkey was Bilkent University, ranking in the 201-225 grouping; Bilkent was followed by Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ), Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), and Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University.
Another key aspect of higher education in Turkey is its growing level of internationalization. Institutions of higher education are increasingly sending their students abroad on programs like Erasmus, which was formed by the European Commission to aid student mobility between European states. Additional destinations for Turkish students seeking to study abroad are the US, India, and South Africa, according to TBY’s conversation with Mustafa Aydın, Founder and President of Istanbul Aydın University. At the same time Turkey is internationalizing at home by hosting an increasing number of foreign students. Yıldırım Üçtuğ highlights the increasing number of students from Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Somalia at Kemerburgaz University, where he serves as president. Most foreign students in Turkey come from the Middle East, North Africa, and the CIS. Some estimates put the number of foreign students in Turkey at more than 20,000.
TECHNOLOGY & ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Turkey is also placing substantial emphasis on the development of technology and entrepreneurship programs at higher education institutes. In an interview with TBY, Volkan Özgüz highlighted the role of the Sabancı University Nanotechnology Center (SUNUM), where he serves as director. Director Özgüz argues that technology programs such as SUNUM allow students to gain exposure to industrial projects and observe the practical applications of their research and academic pursuits.
Other institutions, such as Özyeğin University, are employing a similar model to expose students to the business world through focused entrepreneurship programs. These programs also have a global reach, as evidenced by Özyeğin’s recent cooperation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Sabancı University on the Global Startup Workshop, which brings together entrepreneurial leaders, financiers, students, professors, government officials, and private parties to build a global support network for business development.
© The Business Year