Foreign Students and Higher Education in Turkey

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Foreign Students and Higher Education in Turkey
Turkey has become a safe heaven and keeps the dreams of foreign students alive

In recent years, Turkish universities – both public and private foundation – have made strenuous efforts to recruit international students by means of their teaching-research-market oriented promotions, as well as with education fairs worldwide such as NAFSA and EAIE in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Asia and so forth. Since it has been alleged that there may be around 7 million international students in motion, looking for a place to get a proper higher education, the Turkish government has encouraged and financially supported the universities through the Ministry of Economics and the Higher Education Council of Turkey, along with the other means such as the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), because, today, the recruitment of international students has not only become very much commercialized and a market oriented business, and thus every country wants to get their share of the cake across the world, but it has also become a part of international politics in which those students who are educated in a particular country are equally supposed to act like diplomatic and cultural ambassadors between their homes and host countries later in life. With these possible underlying impulses, it is estimated that both public and private foundation universities in Turkey have recruited around 107,000 international students from various countries, and this trend seems as if it will continue in the following years.

Having international students has visibly availed Turkey and Turkish universities. First, it is obvious that today, across the world, those international students bring revenue to their host countries. Western countries obviously get the largest share and like many other countries and universities, Turkey and Turkish universities, though new, have thus embarked on spending a great deal on promotion and advertisements, mainly through education fairs and other means, to draw the attention of foreign students to Turkey. Eventually, what is anticipated is its economic benefit, yet Turkey still has a long way to go to achieve its ultimate goal when compared to Western countries.

Secondly, having international students also makes teaching and learning environments very international, multicultural, diverse and interactive when local and international students mix with each other and live side by side in peace and harmony, leading not only to the cultural transmission from one to another but also to the gradual process of removing prejudices, misinformation and then of understanding each other mainly in positive ways, contrary to what is often written and circulated in the media and to what they listen to and watch on the TV about each other. This noticeably contributes to world peace much needed today all over the world.

Finally, international students also positively force Turkish universities not only to constantly improve their infrastructure, education systems, teaching strategies, and eventually quality but also to hire qualified faculty members and steadily raise their academic standards in line with the demand of its students and of shifting perceptions of higher education in the 21st century, so that the universities grow into more competitive and entrepreneurial institutions with each other domestically as well as abroad. In this respect, it is undeniable that Turkish universities have recently made great improvements in many ways.

However, the meetings I have recently had with newly graduated international students from various universities in Turkey show that although the achievements of Turkish universities so far is great and promising for the future, it is not enough; for them, there are still areas to be improved should they want to attract more international students and keep their global competitive and entrepreneurial place. Among many, I just asked them two basic questions. The first one was: what do you think of Turkey? Or, what is your impression of Turkey? Contrary to the general widespread negative views of mainly Western countries, international students find Turkey more secure, friendly, and cheaper. Besides education, mostly for refugee students from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Egypt, Turkey has become a safe heaven, a place to survive and keep their dreams for the future alive. They, though disadvantaged in many aspects of life, are not exasperated and hopeless but feel themselves valued, lucky and dignified to be and receive education in Turkey: that is, they do not feel themselves like refugees, but they feel at home in Turkey.

The second question I asked international students was regarding the education at Turkish universities: what is your opinion of the education level of the universities from which you graduated from? Or, what do you think of the level of education in Turkey? Overall, they were happy, and the education they have received satisfied them and met their expectations, yet they think that there is still a need to improve the system in the following areas.

First, they suggested that international offices should employ experienced and professional staff who can not only speak primarily English and Arabic but who could also ease communication with international students and guide them.

Secondly, they recommended Turkish universities to employ more English speaking academic staff if they wish to get more international students and keep their international profile, because there are many international students who prefer to be educated in English, which, as it is well known today, has become almost a standard means of communication worldwide in science, politics, economics, education, media and so on. Since the language of instruction is Turkish at the universities excepting the few that offer the courses in English, the universities may send some of their academics abroad to improve their English for six months or a year or hire academic staff with a good command of English inside and outside Turkey, so that they may offer the programs where the language of instruction is English.

Besides, newly graduated international students find infrastructure insufficient at Turkish universities – the library, laboratory, and the other relevant equipment. In their view, particularly the faculties of engineering need to install the latest technological equipment, which, they think, will enable both local and international students to acquire better practical engineering skills. With high-tech equipment, moreover, the universities will be able to compete with the universities in Europe and the rest of the world; otherwise, not only will they be doomed to stay behind, but they may also fail to have more international students and maintain their international image.

Finally, international graduates advised Turkish universities to carry out the placement examination for international students. According to the current regulations in Turkey, there are various applications among Turkish universities. They have been given the mandate to get their international students on their own, so that some universities require SAT exam scores or the national examination results of the home country, while the others carry out their own placement examinations. Also, there are universities that admit international students according to high school results. Recently graduated international students argue that the high school results in many countries are very high and full of suspicion, which thwarts competition and pushes many bright students out of the race. For them, the placement examination will apparently not only help the universities get intelligent and talented international students but also improve the quality of education as well.

In conclusion, having international students and teaching them is both easy and difficult today. It is easy because there are many candidates abroad waiting for education, yet it is equally difficult to keep up with increasing shifting trends and developments and then implement innovative policies and creative strategies in higher education. Lately, Turkish universities have improved themselves immensely in this direction, but they should work much harder than they previously have if they want not only to acquire more international students but also to maintain their places in such a competitive and entrepreneurial academic world.

By Prof. Dr. Ali Güneş
Vice-Rector at Ankara University of Social Sciences

Ali Gunes took his first degree in English language and literature at Hacettepe University, Ankara-Turkey, in 1991. Having worked for the Turkish Telecommunication Network in Ankara for a while as a translator, he began his academic career as a Research Assistant at Kafkas University, Kars-Turkey, in July 1993. He completed his “Diploma in English Literature” with “Distinction” at Dundee University, Dundee-Scotland, UK, in 1994 with the thesis titled “The Use of Modern Symbols in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.” In the same year, he started his Ph.D. study at Dundee University and then moved to Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool-England, with his supervisor. He earned his Ph.D. degree in 1999 with the thesis titled “Virginia Woolf’s Conception of the Subject: Modernist Fluidity or Romantic Visionary?”

Ali Gunes worked for Kafkas University as an Assistant professor of English literature in the department of English language and literature not only as a founder of the department but also as the head of department and faculty member from 1999 to 2007. In September 2007, He resigned from his job at Kafkas University and started working for the International University of Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina as Associate Professor. First, he was the coordinator of the English language and literature program and then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences from March 2008 to January 2011. Later on, Ali Gunes was employed at Karabuk University, Karabuk-Turkey, in September 2010. He was promoted to the title of the professorship in 2012. Not only did he teach English literature in the department of English Language and literature at this university, but he was also vice-rector at Karabuk University from 2014 to 2018. In July 2018, Ali Gunes moved to the Social Sciences University of Ankara as a full professor. Currently, he serves as the dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Vice-rector of the Social Sciences University of Ankara.

His research interest includes areas and genres of English literature such as literary criticism, and literary theory, women’s studies, cultural and political studies. He is the author of books - Dark Fields of Civilization: a Cultural and Ideological Approach to the Issue of Women in the Novels of Virginia Woolf published by Orient in 2007 and Modernism in English Literature: A Reader published by Savas Yayinevi in 2012. He is also the co-author of Medical Passages & Vocabulary published by Hacettepe-Tas in 2002. Moreover, he has published various articles and delivered conference papers both in Turkey and elsewhere in the English language and literature.

Ali Gunes can be conducted at,

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