ANKARA — Turkish higher education has gained remarkable international recognition over the last 10 years by participating in various international projects.
The increasing number of international students studying in Turkey is an indicator of how well the internationalization of higher education strategies has been applied so far. Daily Sabah interviewed the chairman of the Council of Higher Education, Professor Gökhan Çetinsaya, about the internationalization of Turkish higher education, one of the three main strategies discussed in a report titled "Growth, Quality and Internationalization: A Roadmap for Turkish Higher Education."
The report focuses on the past three decades of higher education, its current state and numerous recommendations on the basis of statistical data for the next 10 years. In the interview, the higher education chief briefly stated the current problems facing Turkish higher education and the position of Turkey in the global education system.
What was the underlying factor behind your motivation to prepare the "Roadmap" report? Restructuring the Turkish higher education system is of critical importance. Almost all segments of society have reached a mutual agreement about this need.
This is a system of 30 years, and when it was established there was a Cold War all over the world, a military regime in Turkey and only 27 universities founded. Therefore, today's world and today's Turkey is completely different compared to the past three decades. From my point of view, our policy for restructuring the system would not only be to adjust a system that was established back in the 1980s to the current state, but it should be a restructuring that is in accord with 21st century realities and dynamics with regard to both Turkey's expectations and global dynamics. In the chapter on restructuring the higher education system, there are many significant missions to be accomplished.
However, we have to make a true diagnosis to be able to manifest this restructuring that is to start treatment. It is essential that a situational analysis of where we are and what to do should be carried out. And, that was the motivation I have had from the very beginning. I wanted to analyze the developments of the past three decades and later the current system with regard to its overall details and dimensions. So, I have started to express my own thoughts. The report took a very long time as I expected. It took two years to complete because it needed to restructure existing statistical data to achieve accurate data. Now, we have brand new statistical data entitled the "High Education Information Management System." Significant sources have been used to prepare the report and been shared with the public on the Council of Higher Education's website.
Why did you choose to address, in particular, the three main strategies in your "Roadmap" report instead of many other issues? What would be the expected target of each of those three strategies? At the outset, I planned to embrace the whole dimension. But during the process, I opted to analyze the three strategies that I consider as the most critical for Turkey's 2023 plan. I formulated the first chapter as a switch to growth in quality rather than growth in quantity, the second one as the development of academic manpower and the third as internationalization.
As a result of the research I have conducted, I found that the Turkish higher education system has witnessed phenomenal growth over the last three decades. This growth is also mentioned in various reports of international institutions. Turkey has been among the top 10 countries that have witnessed this kind of growth. Also, this growth is compatible with our demographic expectations. Another important thing is that Turkey's demographic window of opportunity will be open until 2050. That is to say, for the next 30 years, the number of young people in higher education will remain the same. About 1.25 million students will want to get a higher education degree. This means we need to maintain the growth. But, this growth needs to be mainly based on the quality process.
The second thing is that according to the world average, the number of students per lecturer is way too high, which shows that there is a lecturer shortage. Greater importance should be given to doctorate degrees to educate lecturers. Turkey, being below the world average, needs to apply a well-prepared doctorate policy to close the gap.
Last but not least, internationalization is a multidimensional reality of the global world. The problem is not just about student mobility, but also lecturers' mobility, joint degrees and research programs. When a country is involved in this process, the country's level of quality is directly improved by this process. Taking Turkey's socio-cultural position and foreign and economic policies into account, we are in dire need of internationalization.
As I think of committees from all over the world coming to Turkey and the connections with strong countries Turkey has made so far in various international platforms, I can comfortably say that the Turkish higher education system has today become Turkey's soft power. What we have to do is to carry this stage forward. We should develop a policy compatible with soft power requirements with incoming international students, lecturers and joint degree program agreements made with international universities.
Regarding trends in global higher education, it can be said that there is a growing sector in international education. Is Turkey able to compete within the international education sector? Frankly speaking, I believe that Turkey can reach higher levels in the future. First of all, as Turkish economic growth has reached a very high level, making Turkey among the top 20 economies in the world, we should expect to reach the same levels in the higher education system. Secondly, internationalization means a process in which the quality of education and research has improved, the academic culture in our universities has developed and a multi-national atmosphere in campus life has been created. I need to point out that we do not want one-sided development in our education system.
For instance, we have been in a very good position in the Bologna Process (European Higher Education Area - EHEA) since our first participation in 2001. We are among the top 10 European countries. We would like to convey our experience to different continents, different countries. This is why our main target is to maintain a multi-dimensional internationalization strategy. For us, not only Europe but also countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are of crucial importance as is our assertive foreign policy.
What are the special features of the platform "Study in Turkey" that aim to inform international students about universities in Turkey? We felt that there has been a significant need for institutionalization and branding as an internationalization strategy. We have developed a project with the brand name "Study in Turkey." This brand was used by several NGOs and some business organizations before.
We took this brand and transformed it into a new public brand. We created a platform where all of our universities - private or state - are presented through a mechanism that introduces Turkey's internationalization strategy. It is now a website. In addition, there will be a photography and shortlength film/video contest with the main title "World Students Here: Being a student in Turkey, Amazing." We will also have our representatives in many world expositions using our public brand "Study in Turkey."
Next week, the largest international education platform, NAFSA, will take place in the United States. Many universities from all over the world are expected to participate in this platform. We will be there with our own brand to represent Turkey.
What do you think of the Erasmus and Mevlana student exchange programs that are of significance for the Turkish higher education system? Turkey has painted a very promising picture in the Erasmus program's application so far. To convey our experience in exchange programs outside of Europe in accordance with our multi-national internationalization strategies, we founded the Mevlana exchange program this year. This mechanism aims for the exchange of students and academic staff between Turkish higher education institutions and higher education institutions of other countries. Many agreements were signed right after the inaugural speech given by our dear Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in a meeting in the Council of Higher Education. About 1,000 students and lecturers are expected to participate in the Mevlana exchange program. I believe this exchange program is very prestigious, and Turkey will receive many benefits in return.
How do you evaluate current regulations for international students studying in Turkey? To facilitate procedures for international students that want to study in Turkey, the most significant developments were to make no concessions in quality, to lift the central selection examination in 2010 and, in this context to give universities the authority to select their own international students. According to the statistics from that year on, the number of international students has increased, as a central examination system such as the ÖSYM was seen as a deterrent factor for students. Now, our students can choose their own university with a broader perspective.
Each university selects their students via their own criteria - an oral or written entrance exam or through an interview. The flexibility within this system has started to yield fruit, and this process has accelerated with the project "Study in Turkey." Today, the number of international students is 55,000 up from 30,000 in 2011. The number of students in distance education is excluded from this total number. There have been many students registered for distance education at Anadolu University campuses in Baku, Kosovo and Germany.
When the number of students in distance education is included, the number of full-time international students reaches 70,000. The statistics are indeed pleasing, but insufficient. We should continue our efforts to attract more international students to our country, considering Turkey's current position in the world. Plus, we would like to activate a joint application mechanism through improving the project "Study in Turkey."
What do you think of Turkey's efforts to reverse the brain drain? What kind of role have these efforts played in achieving the objectives in your roadmap? Turkey has a remarkable international share in sending students abroad. For instance, according to the statistics, Turkish students studying in the United States ranked first among European students and also ranked 10th among students studying in the U.S. from all over the world. This shows one dimension of the internationalization strategy.
At this point, master and doctorate programs are of crucial importance. What we need to do is to increase the efficiency of our projects and help to improve fellow students' living standards while studying abroad.
Relevant to this matter, the Ministry of Education has made some changes in Regulation No. 1416. The problems of fellow students have been resolved to a great extent. But, more improvements are needed.
Frankly, I define brain drain as a 20th century concept. In today's world, the significant thing is to raise and possess that brain-power. These people might study abroad and live in the U.K. or the U.S. for some time. They also return to their homeland to serve their country. This is why we need to think in a broader perspective, and we should encourage more young people to study abroad and get PhD degrees.
To me, these people are qualified manpower and also our brain reserve. In the higher education conference "Going Global," held between April 29 and May 1 in Miami, U.S., it was decided that the whole process is not to be called brain drain but "brain gain."