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Turkey rising as affordable, global study destination

Turkish universities say that they have only actively begun recruiting overseas in the last few years, due to the government’s abandonment in 2005 of the centralised entrance exam, which all overseas students were required to take. Coordinator of the Office of International Students and Exchange Programs at Bilkent University, Ayşegül Başol, said that as a result, her university had 300 international students out of a population of 12,000, up from around 20 in 2005.

Koç University, one of Turkey's best, offers fee waivers to overseas masters and PhD studentsKoç University, one of Turkey's best, offers fee waivers to overseas masters and PhD students

Overseas enrolments more than doubled between 2005 and 2011 to 31,170

“International students had to take that exam and report their university preferences to the Council; then the government placed them,” she said. “Now we set our own criteria. We recognise SATs, I-GCSE, A-levels and several national and international level diplomas.”

Scholarships to study in Turkey have also helped, particularly in countries such as Iraq and Libya as well as through the Erasmus scheme, with has brought 15,000 students to Turkey since 2004. Fees as low as US$450-1,500 a year in state and $5,000-12,000 a year in private universities are another incentive, aided by significant fee discounts.

“It plans to launch a year-long English preparation programme”

Koç, one of Turkey’s best universities, gives fee waivers for all of its Masters and PhD programmes and garners 17% of its humanities and 8% of its science students from abroad. It plans to launch a year-long English preparation programme to boost access to its Masters and PhD courses, all of which are taught in English.

“We’ve certainly seen a huge increase in exchange students with an influx of applications from Europe, the US and Canada,” said Ayşe İnan, director of international programmes, stressing that the university was “quality driven” and sought only the highest achieving students.

Koç University library

Despite an upbeat landscape, obstacles remain. Agents say students may be put off by language barriers which limit the chances of finding work after graduation, and some are concerned about Turkey’s medium-term economic prospects, with high unemployment of 9.1% and declining participation from women in the workforce.

The upshot of not ironing out economic weak spots could be that EU ascension is deferred until 2021, or does not happen at all. The country also has work to do to market its study benefits overseas and overcome what Başol calls “prejudices” against the country.

“It’s a new market, it needs to be promoted and it needs time. But we’re seeing interest grow”

However, Turkey is certain to benefit as it becomes tougher to access the leading study destinations. With doubts over access or living costs for major Anglophone countries such as the UK or USA, agents at the workshop said Spain, France, Germany, Ukraine, South Africa, Brazil and China could be possible alternatives.

Payman Kakhsaz, managing director of Fraz Negar Iranian – an education agency and migration service in Iran – said his main focus had been Australia, Canada and the UK, “but because of visa issues making it so difficult for Iranian clients, we have been thinking about changing our channels for more easy countries.”

“For Iranian students distance is very important, cultural similarities are very important, and the cost of fees are important,” he said of Turkey, the most promising destination in his eyes. “It’s a new market, it needs to be promoted and it needs time. But we’re seeing interest grow.”

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