Professor Ted Sargent - the vice president for international programs at University of Toronto - visited Turkey last week to meet his Turkish counterparts and the minister of education to discuss ways to increase cooperation between the University of Toronto and Turkish institutions.
Sargent, along with a delegation from the University of Toronto, had various meetings with the minister of education and the Council of Higher Education (YÖK), which were immediately followed by meetings with rectors of a number of leading Ankara-based universities, including Bilkent, Middle East Technical University, Ankara University and Hacettepe University.
Commenting on the meetings, Sargent said they discussed how they can find support for students to spend time in Toronto, Istanbul or Ankara and they also expressed their intent to increase the flow of students. "After these events, we need to follow up and come up with a unified plan, but there was certainly willingness on the part of the rectors, faculty members and the leaders from the government to build an alliance between the University of Toronto and the leading universities in Turkey. The idea is to invest further in partnerships that have been already happening," he added.
In relation to the results of the meetings in Turkey, Sargent said: "By the first quarter of next year, I think we could reach an agreement with perhaps some of the universities and some of the agencies to support an alliance and some of the pieces are already in place; we signed with the rector and with the dean of arts and sciences from University of Toronto. We signed a renewal of our agreement to exchange students."
Highlighting that there has been huge growth in the number of students from Turkey applying to attend the University of Toronto, Sargent said that the main reasons for that are the high rank of the university and the inclusive environment in Toronto.
The number of applicants from Turkey tripled to 998 in 2018, compared to 286 in 2013.
"The Times Higher Education [index] has recently put the University of Toronto at the 21st spot in the world. In terms of the numbers, graduate employability ranking University of Toronto ranks number one among public North American institutions, and students care a lot about that as they are really interested in the outcomes of their education," Sargent said, pointing out that ranking plays a significant role in the preferences of students.
Sargent said Toronto creates a very warm environment for students because it is already so diverse. "One interesting fact is that half of the population of Toronto was not born in Canada, and you feel that when you walk around the city. There is now actually a significant Turkish diaspora, and it is concentrated in Toronto," he added.
"I think there is a widely held sentiment in the University of Toronto that the quality of students coming from Turkey is excellent. Their English language skills are excellent. The focus is more on bilateral partnership," Sargent said, referring to Turkish students at the university.
He underlined that Canadians are also interested in coming to Turkey for their studies or research. "Actually, 30 of our students and a professor are coming here to engage with other Turkish scholars. It is just one example of how the interest is very high."
The vice president stressed that the first platform of engagement is that of the Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations Department in archaeological sites in southeastern Turkey.
"I am also showing my personal interest in nanotechnology and engineering; there is true excellence in physical sciences and engineering here. I personally am going to go back and talk with my colleagues about how we might develop a second direction that is more centered around the excellent work already going on here in nanotechnology, engineering, physics and chemistry," he said, commenting on future steps that can be taken in other areas.
Canada's ambassador to Ankara, Chris Cooter, stressed that the modest Turkish and Canadian ties have been strengthening with recent interest in the field of education and culture.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Cooter said: "I am really excited that one field that has taken off between Canada and Turkey is education. Not only have the number of students risen going to Canada in many fields but also the links between our educational institutions."
Referring to the visit of a delegation from the University of Toronto last week to Turkey, the ambassador highlighted that: "The vice president, the dean of arts and sciences, a professor who is responsible for Near Eastern studies in archaeology visited because they have been hearing a lot about Turkey. As more and more Turks come to Canada for education, they wanted to come and see for themselves [too]."
The ambassador underlined that this team had never been to Turkey before, with the exception of professor Timothy Harrison who is leading an archaeology project at the Tayinat site in Hatay.
"It is our 75th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year. I think it is illustrative of how the relationship between Turkey and Canada is growing with this new interest in the field of education and other fields," Cooter stated.
The Canadian envoy also added that one of the most promising areas is in research collaboration, which will be focusing on looking for new ways for Canadians to come to Turkey as researchers or as students as well as new ways for Turkish students to access Canadian institutions. "From these lasting partnerships, we are building people-to-people ties that till now had been rather modest, [but] will be growing quickly," Cooter said.