Interview: Umran İnan
What can universities in Turkey do to increase their international standing and attract more foreign students and scholars to their campuses?
UMRAN İNAN: Turkey’s higher education sector has just recently entered the internationalisation phase; however, the nation has made impressive gains in this area, especially in terms of boosting foreign student enrolment. This process is important for several reasons, particularly because it supports strategic national objectives.
For example, the domestic economy is undergoing a transition emphasising value-added product development. This requires heavy investment in research and development (R&D), where universities are expected to play an essential role alongside the government and private enterprises. To engage effectively in R&D activities, universities need to have investment capital – something that foreign students bring by paying tuition fees.
In addition, international students, especially at the PhD level, contribute directly to R&D by working as researchers. As Turkey hosts more learners from India, Russia and the former Soviet republics – currently the most common home countries of foreign students – the nation will begin to develop the critical mass of skilled academic personnel for a healthy R&D environment.
Because international students living in Turkey are consumers of goods and services, they also generate revenue for businesses across every sector of the economy. Furthermore, foreign students create a more diverse classroom setting, helping to foster cultural awareness, creativity and critical thinking skills.
To increase their international standing, higher education institutions should focus on making continued pedagogical improvement. For the most part our schools have begun adapting international best practices. If foreign students come to Turkey and receive a quality education, they will encourage further international enrolment by telling their friends and family members about their positive experiences here. Of course, the standing of Turkey’s higher education system also depends on where our universities place in international rankings. Although these are important, we should allow our universities to evolve organically, and not try to meet certain criteria superficially. If we dedicate ourselves to excellence, our position in the global market will naturally improve over time.
How strong is the argument that the university entrance examination system needs to be revised?
İNAN: Finding a perfect system is difficult. Given Turkey’s large and growing population, as well as the fact that we have roughly 1.8m students competing each year for some 600,000 university places, it is important to have an objective set of criteria that can ensure fairness and transparency in admissions.
On the other hand, an over-emphasis on test-taking can stifle learning, and lead to the placement of students in the wrong academic field. Ultimately, our research has demonstrated that universities can mediate against any incorrect outcomes generated by the examination process by creating holistic teaching and learning environments for their students.
To what extent are private foundation universities in Turkey helping to meet the country’s rapidly increasing demand for higher education?
İNAN: Foundation universities account for about 7-8% of tertiary education institutions in Turkey. By comparison, in the US this number is roughly 20%. Although public institutions will likely continue to dominate the sector for the foreseeable future, foundation universities have the opportunity to make a special contribution to Turkish higher education by creating unique centres of excellence and meeting areas of unmet market demand.
In terms of the relative advantages they offer, foundation universities typically have stronger connections to domestic industries, which facilitates the placement of skilled graduates into the workforce and the commercialisation of scientific discoveries in key sectors.
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