Edition 217 - May 2019

Turkey: change in international student recruitment strategy

Until now, international students’ enrolment in Turkish universities was limited to 50% of total institutional enrolment. However, earlier this month, the Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK) - the country’s rectors’ conference - announced that all international student quotas and limitations will be removed. The limit will still be applied in the case of programmes in medicine and dentistry, though. The YÖK also declared that it has “set up a dedicated unit for international relations and has drafted a strategic plan for international education”.

The number of international students in Turkish universities reached 125 000 in 2017/2018, a fivefold increase in just five years. The YÖK is committed to increasing the number even further and reach the target of 200 000 students by 2022. Most of international students in Turkey come from Syria, Azerbaijan, Iraq, and Iran, but also from Africa and China. Although the new international education strategy has not been published yet, new updates and initiatives hint at this direction. For example, the scholarship programme led by the Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB) since 2012 is rapidly growing, with, for instance, 122 000 applications for 5 000 available scholarship awards in the 2016/17 academic year. Also, an increased number of higher education institutions and universities and a substantial growth in the number of English-taught degree programmes would help Turkey to achieve its goal of becoming an attractive study destination for international students.

Despite impressive growth, it is not altogether clear why the 50% limit needed to be scrapped. Turkey has a student population of well over 1 million. With 150 000 international students now, it is far below the 50% threshold. We cannot exclude, though, that some higher education institutions have reached or exceeded the 50% share.

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