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Turkey clamps down on educators, outbound study interest soars

In the days following the attempted coup on the Turkish government last Friday, the country’s government has cracked down on suspected dissenters, with the education sector bearing much of the brunt of the reaction.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: flickr/World Bank

Those wanting to travel with a ‘green passport’ need special authorisation in order to leave the country

University deans have been directed to resign, a travel ban has been placed on academics in the country, and academics overseas have been asked to return home.

Last weekend, many students were left stranded at the airports, unable to fly, and the future of government-funded scholarship programmes remains uncertain.

“Over the weekend hundreds of students were trapped at the airports, and the FAA previously put a ban on all Turkish flights departing or originating from Turkey until the end of August,” Selim Dervish, global director at Academia United, told The PIE News.

“This was a great concern for all and outbound travel companies, however the ban was lifted shortly after it was introduced.”

“The US direct flights from Turkey were suspended for a while”

Mesud Yilmaz, director of Atlas Education in Turkey, experienced the flight cancellations first hand, and said the main concern for his agency last Friday, immediately after the coup attempt, was students who were planning to travel the following few days.

“We had some students at the airport who were unable to fly on the weekend,” he told The PIE News. “The US direct flights from Turkey were suspended for a while, so they only accepted students travelling through a connection. So we had to change some flights.”

The restrictions on US direct flights have now been lifted, but some students are still facing travel barriers.

Families of Turkish citizens who work as public servants in the country are eligible for what is known as a ‘green passport’.

Due to the suspension of many public servants in Turkey over the past week, those wanting to travel with a ‘green passport’ need special authorisation in order to leave the country.

“We have a group of around 70 university students going to the US for their summer. They have their visas, but 30 of these 70 students are holding green passports,” explained Yilmaz.

Due to scheduling, at least 20 of the 30 students won’t be able to travel because there is not enough time to be issued special authorisation.

“The problem at the moment is this is a last minute thing, the people don’t know what kind of letter they need to ask for,” Yilmaz said. “For the students who will be travelling in a week or two they won’t be able to get this letter physically.”

It’s not only the study travel sector that has been affected. Following the failed coup, 1,577 university deans have been ordered to resign from their posts.

“If they are funded by the government, they could be called off”

Furthermore, a ban has been placed on academics who plan to leave the country until further notice, and all those currently abroad have been asked to return.

The European Universities Association has condemned the action against universities and university staff.

“More than ever Turkey needs freedom of speech, public and open debate, as advocated by its strong university sector, committed to internationally recognised university values, the principles of academic freedom, free expression and freedom of association,” EUA said in a statement.

While academics are being affected, it is not yet clear what remains for many students who are currently abroad.

The main concern, said Izzet Aslantatar, director of the agency Alternatif, would be the future of higher education support from the government.

“The Turkish government supports many students each year,” he said. “They allocate quite a lot of scholarships to postgraduate students.”

Self-funded students, those who do not rely on government funding or who do not have a government scholarship, can still travel to their study destinations.

“If they are funded by the government, they could be called off,” he predicted. “But as of this moment, we don’t have any official announcement on that, but we expect that to happen anytime.”

“You may have more students wanting to study abroad or families wanting their kids to study abroad”

Cuts to government scholarships could hold consequences for the education agencies in Turkey that are a vital part of outbound student mobility from the country.

“That’s going to be a huge burden on the agencies who are heavily relying on that part of the business because those scholarship funded students, many of them go to the agencies,” said Aslantatar.

In what could be a silver lining for the outbound market, the interest in study abroad among Turkish students has spiked, a trend that is expected during times of turmoil, he added.

“In those sort of uncertain climates you may have more students wanting to study abroad or families wanting their kids to study abroad, you get this sort of clientele all of a sudden,” he said.

Study search platform, StudyPortals, has experienced an influx in searches from students in Turkey. By Monday, website traffic from Turkey peaked 2.6 times higher than the average day in June, representing 3.3% of the website’s global users instead of the usual 1.4%.

Furthermore, the PhDportal specifically had experienced over four times as much traffic in the same period.

“Although tragic, the prospective exodus of Turkish intellectuals may offer a bittersweet opportunity for universities and other tertiary education institutions looking to recruit students from this region,” said StudyPortals.

Education fairs companies are also experiencing an surge in interest from prospective students.

“One very important outcome of this political environment is that more people want to send their children to study abroad as they do not know how education and the economy will be affected by the actions the government will take,” explained Serena Cizmecigil, international marketing and sales director at a2 fairs in Turkey.

The number of students contacting counsellors and the a2 online recruitment platform more than tripled in a week, said Cizmecigil.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty at the moment and we are following a ‘wait and see’ approach”

“The dollar and the Euro are up but not to the extent to scare people away from investing in an education abroad.”

However, many international schools who attend the a2 fairs have been deterred from coming to the country due to the recent events.

“Although the market became very profitable, and vital for international schools it is true that schools are hesitant to travel to Turkey at the moment,” she said.

“Most of the schools put the fairs on hold, and want to see what the days will bring.”

While the short term impacts of the attempted coup are already repercussions on the education sector, stockholders are bracing for the long term impact.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty at the moment and we are following a ‘wait and see’ approach to see how the near future of the country will be shaped,” commented Dervish.

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