THE RIGHT APPROACH

Turkey 2020 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

As Turkey's third-oldest foundation university, BİLGİ has achieved great success by being adaptable to market demands and focusing on STEM fields.

Çağrı Bağcıoğlu
BIOGRAPHY

Çağrı Bağcıoğlu is the president of the Board of Trustees of İstanbul BİLGİ University. He previously served as the vice president of the Board of Trustees and worked as secretary-general at BİLGİ. Bağcıoğlu also spent considerable time in the US working in different capacities for higher education institutions. He obtained his BBA in finance and economics and MBA from the University of North Alabama. He received his doctoral degree in higher education leadership from the University of Liverpool.

BİLGİ and the local higher education system have undergone considerable expansion in the last two decades. What challenges has this posed for BİLGİ?
When looking at figures for both the higher education system and BİLGİ, the impact of the education sector's broad expansion over the last 15-20 years is evident. The increase in student and faculty numbers has made the Turkish higher education system, with over 7 million enrollments, the second-largest higher education market in Europe after Russia. When we examine BİLGİ —Turkey's third-oldest foundation university—you see a reflection of that growth. Such a rapid development brings in several challenges. This is why BİLGİ has gone through a stabilization, consolidation, and adjustment period in the last two to three years. We have entered an era where both the local higher education system and institutions need to focus more on outcomes and quality in order to survive in a swiftly changing market.

How have changing economic conditions and education trends impacted the popularity of different programs offered by BİLGİ?
Our four-year programs continue to enjoy strong demand. Our architecture, law, psychology, and engineering programs have undergone significant expansion in recent years; however, we are starting to feel the pressure of changing dynamics and a possible fall in demand in the near future. Furthermore, the last two years have seen students leaning more toward career-oriented programs closely linked to the economic outlook of the country. We have seen a rapid growth in two-year programs, which is a relatively new field for BİLGİ. We see it as a part of our mission to be inclusive and help those who are eager to join the workforce after completing a high-quality two-year program in line with market demands. On the other hand, the increasing number of international enrollments has been an important factor. The number of degree-seeking international students went up from 25,000 to over 148,000 between 2010 and 2019. This marks an increase in the number of students from Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, and Europe.

How has BİLGİ integrated technology?
Almost 25 years ago, BİLGİ started its academic life as a social studies university. It took us over 15 years to introduce programs like engineering. However, due to our multidisciplinary approach, the elements of STEM were always part of the curriculum, especially in our wide array of postgraduate programs. We have opted for a new approach that aims to incorporate the industry's technology needs into our courses. We are looking at how some countries have successfully created value-added outcomes and made an impact on the development of an industry through this model. Top technology companies such as Apple actually enhance the findings of universities' research products. This is why it is critical for us to focus more on STEM; however, we need to make sure we do it in the selected fields where we have the necessary resources and capacity.

In which social sciences fields is BİLGİ the strongest?
BİLGİ was established with a focus on social sciences and law. In 2009, we revised our vision to become a comprehensive higher education institution and have since added the colleges of architecture, engineering, and health sciences and schools of vocational and applied-professional programs. Nonetheless, the university still maintains its vanguard position in the field of social studies. Our research centers in specific fields including migration, human rights, and civil society play an active role in creating a positive impact on society. Our center for migration research, for example, is the first migration research center in Turkey to carry out large-scale, multi-dimensional scientific research that contribute to policymaking processes at both national and international levels. Equally significant, our human rights law research center has conducted many projects and researches focusing on women's human rights, domestic and international human rights protection mechanisms, anti-discrimination, minority rights, and freedom of expression.