Spotlight: Turkey

TurkishFlagTurkey is situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Bordered by eight countries, Turkey is a major regional power and is becoming increasingly integrated with the West through its membership of NATO, the Council of Europe and the G-20.

Turkey is a candidate country for EU membership: it began full membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005, having been an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and having joined the EU Customs Union in 1995.

Closer ties with the EU, which may or may not lead to membership, are driving educational redevelopment in many forms, including a qualification structure, professional qualification recognition and VET reform. Turkey has also been heavily involved with the Lifelong Learning Programme, and it has been estimated that, between 2007-13, almost 250,000 Turks will have benefitted from EU education and training programmes.

However, it still retains close ties with the Middle East, the Turkic States of Central Asia and African countries.  The population is roughly 80 million, with a relatively young age profile: 26.6% are under 15 years old (as a comparison, 18% of the UK population is below 15).

In the last decade, Turkey has enjoyed robust economic growth, per capita GDP rising more than fourfold (in 2011, for instance, the growth figure stood at 8.8%). At the time of writing, Turkey is the world’s 16th and Europe’s 6th biggest economy.


Turkey has been one of the most popular country files on the International Comparisons database in recent years.  In 2011, Turkey received 9,921 views.  This figure represents a 3.2% fall on the 2010 figure (10,240), but is an increase on 2009 (9,778).

“The figures for Turkey are intriguing.  We see a lot of traffic to the relevant pages on International Comparisons and we get a lot of individuals coming to us with Turkish qualifications; but there aren’t that many applications coming through UCAS.  The most recent figures show that there were only 450 applications and the country doesn’t feature in their top 50 countries.” commented Tim Buttress, Deputy Director Policy and Communications at UK NARIC.

Visa data may demonstrate why. According to the UED (Association of International Education Counsellors, in Turkey), there are now more than 55,000 Turkish nationals studying abroad, with 55% of these relating to language courses. English language courses in the UK have always been particularly popular (and likewise constitute the bulk of visa applications), although recent visa restrictions and costs have led to an increase in interest in other study destinations such as Malta.

Traditionally at higher education level, the most popular destination is the USA. According to UNESCO, Germany, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and the UK make up the rest of the top five study destinations.

Higher Education in Turkey

The higher education sector is currently experiencing considerable expansion. There are now roughly 170 universities, about 75 of which are run by private foundations. In terms of student numbers, there are now more than 2 million higher education students, of which more than 1 million are in undergraduate programmes and ½ million are in higher vocational schools. Only 9% of students are enrolled at the private, foundation universities, indicating the increased specialisation of these institutions.

An increasing global view and focus on quality assurance within higher education is beginning to pay dividends too: in terms of reputation, Middle East Technical University featured in the top 100 ranked universities in the 2012 THE study.

Nonetheless, this provision does not meet domestic demand for education and helps to explain the high numbers of students seeking to travel abroad to study each year. In 2009, for instance, 1.65 million university applications were made, but places for only 330,000 (20%) were available.

Turkey as an International Student Destination

Turkey is itself fast becoming an established destination country for international students. Statistics from the ÖSYM (Student Selection and Placement Center) show that there were 16,000 international students at Turkish universities in 2005-06 and that the number had increased to almost 27,000 by the 2010-11 academic year.

The admission of more foreign students has been stimulated by a governmental drive to play a greater role in the Islamic world, with offers of low tuition fees and generous scholarships. Additionally, in 2010, TUPA (Turkish Universities Promotion Agency) was formed to promote Turkish universities across the world and to attract international students. The Foreign Economic Relations Board’s (DEK) Business Education Council aims to increase the number of international students to 100,000 by 2015.

Official language(s) Turkish
Other language(s) Kurdish and other minority languages
Population 79,749,461 (Jul-12)
Population (world ranking) 17 (Jan-12)
GDP (purchasing power parity) $ 1,053,000,000,000 (Jan-11)
GDP (per capita world ranking) 107 (Jan-11)
Compulsory education Eight years, covering primary and basic education (ages 6 to 14). However, see Education Reforms below.
Academic year School begins in late September and extends through to early June, with some variations between urban and rural areas. Universities usually organise the academic year into two semesters, usually between October – January and between March – July.
Education laws New “4+4+4” Bill, proposing an extension of compulsory school education to 12 years and a reintroduction of more progression pathways at ‘middle school’ level – which has proved controversial as it will re-open progression at age 10 into imam hatip (religious-oriented) middle schools.
Outgoing students
Total (foreign students) 47,275 (2009)
Percentage of world total 1.4% (2009)
Top Destinations USA (12,612), Australia (7,648), France (5,803), Russian Fed. (3,518), Japan (2,895) – 2009
Number of Member Enquiries 2011 73
Member Enquiries 2011 rank 48th
Number of Individual Assessments 2011 237
Individual Assessments 2011 rank 32nd
Number of database page views 2011 9,921
Database page views 2011 rank 24th
Number of database page views 2010 10,240
Database page views 2010 rank 25th

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