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Turkey aims to host 200,000 international students by 2023

Turkey is aiming to enrol 200,000 international students by 2023, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said at an event in Istanbul, and has praised educators for their work helping students from nations struggling economically, or suffering war and famine.

There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, with many in the south east, in cities like Gaziantep. Photo: Wikipedia

In 2017/2018 Syria represented 12,980 students at Turkish institutions

“Our goal is to increase international students [in Turkey] to 200,000 [by] 2023,” Erdogan said at a graduation ceremony of the Turks Abroad and Related Communities.

“I see future ministers, premiers, politicians, artists”

“We are currently hosting 150,000 international students from 182 different countries studying in our country,” he said, according to Anadolu Agency.

According to the Council of Higher Education in Turkey, there were 125,138 international students at the country’s universities in 2017/2018.

Speaking to the graduates, Erdogan said they would be Turkey’s “mission chiefs” when the return to their home countries.

“In this hall, I see future ministers, premiers, politicians, artists and – hopefully – Nobel laureate scientists. In this hall, I see hearts that will serve both their countries and the whole of humanity with their works,” he added.

Erdogan has previously complained that Turkey had not established a mechanism for continuing the relationship for alumni.

Additionally, earlier in 2019 Turkey announced it would abolish its quota to ensure international students did not exceed 50% of admissions at universities.

The president also stressed that most applicants of Turkey scholarships same from areas “struggling with serious problems” such as Syria, Palestine and Yemen, the state-run agency reported.

Of the countries mentioned, in 2017/2018 Syria represented 12,980 students at institutions across Turkey, Afghanistan 4,911, Iraq 3,827, Somalia 1,690, Yemen 1,565, Palestine 1,485, and Myanmar 51 respectively.

President Erdogan also called for women-only universities to be established in Turkey.

Organisations such as UNHCR, SPARK, and the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation help students access education in the country.

Dutch non-profit organisation offering access to higher education SPARK has been working to support students from Syria studying at universities in the south-east of the country.

“A lot of investment is necessary. Not only in physical infrastructure”

“Some of these universities are now hosting huge numbers of students,” Ceren Genc, senior higher education (innovation) expert at the NGO told The PIE News.

SPARK has partnerships with five major universities in Turkey; Gaziantep University, Harran University, Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University, Mersin University and Mustafa Kemal University – all in the south-east of Turkey.

“Universities are relying on NGO’s like SPARK who, with international funds are not only providing scholarships and support to the students, but also build the capacity of universities themselves.”

This has been essential, Genc noted.

“In order to host large groups of international students in a good way, a lot of investment is necessary.

“Not only in physical infrastructure but also in human capacity, both academic and administrative, in curriculum development, language training, social and psychological support,” she explained.

By hosting refugee students, these universities will be able to recruit students from elsewhere in the world, she added.

“They will also be much better placed to set up student and staff exchange and become players in the world of international education. These universities deserve to be supported by the international education community,” Genc told The PIE.

For the time being, Istanbul remains the most attractive study destination in Turkey, she said.

“Building on the attractiveness of Istanbul as an internationally renowned metropolis, the universities have invested a lot in developing their international offices and their international strategies in order to attract more international students to their campuses.”

However, to compete for fee-paying international students, universities will have to offer a “high-quality package across the board”, including attractive curricula, adequate staff to student ratio, and good accommodation, facilities and support.

And, Genc added, in order to achieve the 200,000 target by 2023, financial support will be needed from a variety of donors.

“When it comes to refugee students, [financial support] will be absolutely necessary,” Genc concluded.

In 2018, Erdogan announced that the country is aiming to attract 350,000 international students, however, no clear timeframe for reaching the target was established.

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