A combination of attractive financial aid packages and improved academic standards have made the country an inviting destination, especially for Muslim students. The top source countries for foreign students in Turkey according to the Higher Education Council (YOK) last year were Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“One of the main reasons we’ve seen an increase is because of visa difficulties for Muslim students in other countries,” said founder of Study in Turkey consultancy Yonca Yegen. “In Turkey they can easily come to study.”
“One of the main reasons we’ve seen an increase is because of visa difficulties for Muslim students in other countries”
In addition to the traditional study markets, Yegen said there is rising demand from Libyans, Syrians, Jordanians, Palestinians and Africans. “We have a secular government, which is good because we welcome any nationality, and they prefer it because Turkey is also Muslim,” she said.
State-run universities are the most popular among international students because compared to their UK or US counterparts, the tuition fees are minimal. The country has also invested significantly in scholarship programmes aimed at international students. Last year it committed US$96m to government scholarship funds.
The country’s geographic location also makes it an enticing study destination, aided by the addition of direct flights from many key source markets by Turkish Airlines.
According to Yegen, post-study work opportunities in the country mean students aren’t put off by the necessity to learn Turkish.
“Foreign students must have Turkish if they intend to stay a long time so they take one year of Turkish preparation as well,” she said. “They are asking for working opportunities after graduation. We also get many enquiries about studying and working at the same time and we now officially let them work part time.”
The private sector is also growing, with many private universities, known as foundations, offering to cover 50% of tuition and full-degree programmes in English.
“They are getting popular because they have the best staff and professors,” said Yegen. “The foundations are making a lot of development, they have huge budgets for research and they want to get into international rankings.”
At Koç University in Istanbul, İrşadi M. Aksun, vice-president for research and development, said the foundation institution has seen year on year increases in student numbers.
“They take one year of Turkish preparation as well”
The majority of Koç’s international students come from Iran, Pakistan and the United States, but the university is now attracting students from new areas such as China, India and Latin America.
“Our approach is different from other Turkish universities in that we find our most talented and research driven students through strategic partnerships with scholarship awarding bodies and through tailored fellowships such as the new Fung Graduate Fellowship for Chinese PhD students,” he said.
Unrest in neighbouring countries has also increased interest among transfer students, said Yegen. However, for students who have studied outside of the Bologna credit system, transferring can be difficult.
“We get a lot of transfer applicants from students in Syria for example but it’s not so easy to transfer credits because YOK controls everything,” she commented. “Turkish education is very serious. Every year two million Turkish students take the university placement exam. It’s very competitive.”