TBY talks to Nabi Avcı, Minister of National Education, on reform, foreign investment, and strategies for reaching OECD standards.

Nabi Avcı
Born in Bilecik in 1953, Nabi Avcı graduated from Middle East Technical University’s Faculty of Administrative Sciences and obtained a PhD in Communication Sciences at Anadolu University. He joined the Ministry of Culture in 1974, and then became lecturer in the faculty of Communication Sciences at Anadolu University. He has also worked as a consultant for several national television channels and publications. In 2000, he became a Professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, and in 2003 went on to work with the Prime Minister’s Office as a Counselor. He is a Member of TÜBİTAK’s Science and Technology High Council and Chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO. In June 2013 he became Minister of National Education.

What are the main challenges facing the education system in Turkey?

Turkey has one of the highest proportions of people under the age of 15 among OECD countries, at 25.8%. This young population must be educated and prepared for the labor market. An innovative and knowledge-based population is an important advantage for a country if it is to succeed. The 10th Development Plan (2014-2018), the Strategic Plan of the Ministry of National Education (MoNE), and sub-strategic plans, such as the Lifelong Learning Strategy Plan and Vocational Education Plan, are steering our education policy.

What educational reforms are currently underway or planned?

The reforms realized by the Basic Education Program (1997), the Secondary Education Project (2006-2011) with the World Bank, the Master Implementation Plan (2001-2005), the Strengthening Special Education Project (2011-2013), the International Inspiration Project (2011-2013), and the Vocational Education Development Plan were the main reflections of change for Turkey's national education system. The MoNE has conducted five EU projects for adapting the system to the EU, and eight new projects will start in 2014. The budget of the MoNE for 2014 is TL54 billion. Turkey has set the target of reaching the OECD average by 2023. Erasmus, LDV, and other EU projects are significant efforts made to increase the global competitiveness of Turkey's higher education institutions. The FATİH Project is a large national project for raising technology usage in the classroom. In 2012, legislation was introduced to increase the number of compulsory years from eight to 12 and called 4+4+4. Lifelong learning (LLL) and e-learning are the rapidly developing sectors in Turkey, having reached 3 million attendees. The technical education capacity of the MoNE covers nearly 65 vocations, including health and ICT.

Are there opportunities in the education sector for foreign investors?

Turkey has plans to bring its education system up to international standards, develop relations with the OECD, UNICEF, and UNDP, and invite foreign capital into Turkey. The transformation of 3,500 university preparatory courses to private schools and the promotion of Law No. 5652 are an important opportunity. The portion of the private sector is already around 4%, and is targeted to rise to 25% by 2023, which is an excellent opportunity for foreign investment. The investment promotion regulation has some great offers for education investment in both lower and higher education.

What is your outlook on the future of the education sector?

Critical improvements have been made over the last 12 years, both in regard to quality and equity; however, differences between the regions in urban and rural areas remain a challenge. The needs of disadvantaged students, preparing quality teachers and school leaders, improving access, the completion of upper secondary education, the development of vocational education fulfilling the needs of the new economy and labor market, tertiary education, adequately funding the education system, raising private sector investments, expanding the capacity of teachers and schools, and raising the education spending per student to OECD mean level, are some of the main agenda items of the MoNE. The MoNE is a huge family with 18 million students and 1 million teachers, training leaders, and workers.