Gov’t aims to double the number of foreign students in coming years

Problems surrounding health care benefits for the 16,656 foreign students currently receiving an education in Turkey are on Ankara’s agenda

Ankara, January 30, 2011 / Ercan Yavuz - A special article placed in a recent “torba yasa,” or “sack law” (a package of unrelated revisions lumped together for the purpose of fast-track legislative changes) brings general health care coverage to the nearly 17,000 foreign students studying in Turkey. According to the new regulation, students and their dependents will benefit from every available kind of health care coverage by making a simple monthly payment of TL 91.

Another article under the sack law in Parliament requires that owners of vehicles with foreign license plates arrange insurance for their vehicles if they are not already covered upon entry to Turkey. In this way, families of foreign students who come to visit them as well as foreigners who enter the country by car will not experience insurance problems.

Quotas for foreign students not filled

In the time since the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) came to power, the total number of universities in Turkey has risen to 139, with the 63 new schools that were founded under the AK Party government. At the same time, however, the number of foreign students in Turkey has not reached desired levels, mostly due to insufficiencies in laws and management regarding universities. Due to the difficulties experienced by foreign students, the number of such students studying in Turkey in 2010 is not even as high as it was 10 years ago.

While there were 18,350 foreign students studying at Turkish universities in 1998-1999, there were only 18,158 in 2008-2009. Despite the fact that there had been a steady increase in foreign students since 1998, quotas at Turkish universities remain unfilled. In the year 2010, the number of foreign students studying in Turkey fell to 16,656.

Tuition fees for foreign students in Turkey vary between $1,250 and $2,500, depending on the student’s program, at state universities, and $11,000-25,000 at private universities. Despite the fact that state universities promise very low fees, it is apparent they are not exerting much effort in attracting foreigners. Fees for private universities are on the level of those at universities in the US and Europe, which causes a lack of interest.

The exam that all foreign students wishing to attend universities in Turkey must take is called the Yabancı Öğrenci Sınavı (Foreign Student Exam), which is held every April. While 6,873 foreign students took the exam in 2010, only 4,200 of them ended up registering at Turkish universities. One of the greatest barriers to foreigners ultimately choosing to come and study at Turkish universities is the absence of available health care coverage while in Turkey.

Currently, there are students from 127 countries studying at Turkish universities. Of these, 2,472 are from northern Cyprus, 2,307 from Azerbaijan, 1,147 from Bulgaria, 1,703 from Turkmenistan, 975 from Iran, 899 from Mongolia, 850 from Greece, 701 from Kazakhstan, 581 from Afghanistan, 556 from Germany, 528 from Kyrgyzstan, 518 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, 499 from Albania, 491 from the Russian Federation, 307 from Macedonia, 293 from Iraq, 291 from Syria, 262 from Georgia, 209 from Ukraine and 174 from China.

The greatest number of foreign students at any one Turkish university is at İstanbul University, where there are 2,060, while there are 799 at İzmir’s Ege University, 541 at İstanbul’s Fatih University, 849 at Ankara’s Gazi University, 816 at Ankara’s Hacettepe University, 596 at İstanbul Technical University, 1,196 at Marmara University, 1,240 at the Middle East Technical University, 796 at Konya’s Selçuk University and 762 at Bursa’s Uludağ University. There are also 371 foreign students at the air, land and sea forces military academies as well as 295 foreign students at the Turkish Police Academy.

Number of foreign students to double

The president of the Board of Higher Education (YÖK), Yusuf Ziya Özcan, told Today’s Zaman in an exclusive interview that their current plans are to double the number of foreign students studying at Turkish universities. Özcan noted that problems preventing students from coming were being taken care of one by one.

YÖK has already started signing various cooperative agreements with universities in other countries, aiming to increase the number of foreign students receiving a higher education in Turkey. One example of this is an agreement with Syria stipulating that 100 Syrian students can participate in state-funded programs at Turkish universities. A similar cooperative agreement has been made with both Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan. The YÖK president also notes that there are plans to build a new campus in İstanbul where foreign universities will be able to set up branches. Özcan explains that this system is already under way in some Gulf countries and that such a campus in İstanbul would host branches of some of the very best universities in the US, England, Germany and France. Özcan noted that such a move would not only keep bright Turkish students at home in Turkey but would also draw more foreign students from the region to İstanbul.

An integral element of the goal in drawing more foreign students is to see more students from the Middle East and African countries in Turkey.

Thousands of Turkish student prefers to study abroad

While quotas set aside for foreign students in Turkey are often left emptier than they should, at the same time, Turkey every year sends thousands of its own students all over the world for education. At the top of the list of favored countries for Turkish university students are Germany, the US, England, and Australia. One of the greatest reasons for these choices is linked to the headscarf ban at Turkish universities. According to data provided by YÖK, while there are currently 16,656 foreign students at Turkish universities, there are as many as 44,204 Turkish university students receiving educations abroad. To put this into perspective, the US, which draws more foreign students than any other country, has only 30,103 students studying abroad, while England has 25,198, Germany 54,489 and France 47,587.