Turkish University System

12 m.   |  2020-07-20

T he higher education system of Turkey has undergone significant changes in recent decades. There were only 29 universities in Turkey until the mid-1980, which according to a law drafted on Universities in 1946 was that these institutions were considered autonomous educational institutions.  Another law on higher education adopted in 1981 prompted higher education systems to enter a new academic, organizational and administrative development stage. Based on this law, all higher education institutions of the Republic of Turkey were centralized by the Council of Higher Education (CoHE). Due to this step, higher education took a step in the right direction and spread throughout the country.

The University admission’s system became centralized and issues arose around students’ placement.[1] After amendments to the law, the autonomy of the universities was completely replaced by the control of the Council, the members of which were mostly appointed by the President and the Government of the state. For instance, the President of Turkey received the right to appoint rectors, deans or members of the Council of Higher Education. University professors had no right to elect their supervisors. [2]

However, after the national elections in Turkey in 1987, the pressure on universities by the CoHE was reduced and previously fired professors were allowed to return. The Council was also obliged to drop a number of restrictions and applied for organizational measures aimed at structural changes in the higher education system. Although, after 1991, the right to appoint rectors and deans remained within the powers of the Council and President, however, lecturer’s preferences were also taken into account. Since then, universities were more free in their activities especially in terms of teaching staff [3].

Currently, the Council of Higher Education prepares the whole process of establishing the education system. The system is called a constitutional body (based on the constitution adopted in 1982) which is responsible for planning and coordinating work in the field of higher education. The Council consists of 21 members, who are equally nominated by the Interuniversity Council, the Government and by the President of the Republic. The powers of the Council of Higher Education and the Council’s Chairman are defined for a four-years term. Moreover, both State employees and representatives of academic educational circles can be members of the CoHE. [4]

There were 29 universities in Turkey at the time of the CoHE establishment, however, their numbers reached 100 in the end of 2000 and currently there are 208 higher education institutions. Most of them, about 129 are state and 75 are private institutions. In addition, there are 4 specialized higher education institutions that serve the labor force, all of which run by the CoHE. Total number of university students is 7.5 million.

The Turkish-Kazakh Hoca Ahmet Yesevi and Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas universities, which are state institutions with special status, such as military and police academies and universities are operating in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (13 universities). 9 universities out of 208 are ranked at the top of the QS World University Rankings 2020 . Let’s look at some of them.

Koç University was founded in 1993 by Vehbi Koç one of Turkey’s wealthiest. Numerous research projects at the University were supported by the European Research Center (ERC). The university also collaborates with American (California and Cornell Universities), numerous European universities and international research institutions. In total, about 8 thous. students study at the university, including foreign students. The university teaches (mainly English) social sciences, engineering, business administration, biology, pharmacology, medicine and so on. Young scientists from these fields have been awarded with TÜBA GEBİP Turkish Science Prize in different years.[5]

Between 2004-2017, about 100 laboratories of the university implemented various projects worth $86 mil., funded by Turkey’s state and private institutions and the European Union. [6]

Bilkent University. It is one of the first private universities in Turkey (founded in 1984), which according to international assessments is one of the best universities in Turkey. There are about 13 thous. students at the university. The main language courses are taught in English and some subjects are taught in Russian, Arabic and French. The vast majority of lecturers are from abroad.

It also implements student exchange programs with different countries. Currently students from 64 countries study at the university. It should be noted that the university invests in educational-research projects, development of the latest technologies (including nanotechnologies), in which the students of the university can participate. [7]

Tuition fee is different for Turkish students and foreign students: the fee for foreigners is $14 500 per year (undergraduate and graduate) and for Turkish citizens is $ 8000[8].

The university pays attention to the development of information technologies, based on which the university administration created the Bilkent Cyberpark with state support. According to official data, about 250 organizations in the field of programming and information technologies in the area of technopark have imported $450 mil. worth of products since the day of creation [9].

Middle East Technical University (METU) was established in 1956. It is one of the European style state universities in Turkey. English is the main language. There are more than 28,000 students studying in the university [10]. Unlike Bilkent University, tuition fee is relatively affordable here, about $6000-9000[11]. There are 27 laboratories and 35 applied research centers, closely cooperating with METU-Technopolis. Many students and graduates are involved in the works of about 400 companies established in the technopark [12].

M ETU is also one of the leading universities conducting research and experimental design work. For the last 5 years, the university has had the largest share in the state research programs, funded by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK). METU is involved in numerous international projects and cooperates with organizations such as NASA and NATO, UN and World Bank [13].

Among the most prestigious universities in Turkey are the Bosphorus, Ankara, Sabanci, Istanbul Technical Universities, and the largest medical university Hacettepe University, all of which are in the top ranking list of universities. All state universities without any exception are funded from the state budget and the private ones are funded from large funds. Turkish universities are mainly based on the model of German Universities such as Istanbul and Ankara Universities, while the universities of the Bosphorus and Atatürk use the American model. However, the [14]current higher education system is in line with the Bologna Declaration.

As for the length of study in universities, bachelor’s is 4 years, however, for some professions it takes longer, for example dentistry and veterinary medicine is 5 years and medicine 6 years.  Graduates of a 4-year-long programs get a bachelor’s degree (Lisans Diplomasi). Master’s programs last for 2 years, after which the graduates get the opportunity to obtain the degree of Master of Arts or Master of Science and the doctoral program lasts 4 years [15]. Most universities have distance-learning programs. In a number of state universities, education is in English, German or French, but in public universities the teaching is mainly in Turkish. Knowledge of Turkish is not a must during the entrance examinations. Applicants who are taking exams and have little knowledge of Turkish, are offered a one-year Turkish language-training program, which allows them to fully master the language.

Most private universities teach in English. Almost all universities offer one-year English courses for students with low English proficiency [16].

As for the tuition fee, there is a great difference between the private and state universities, and the fee set for Turkish citizens and foreign students also varies. It should be noted that the tuition fee for state universities is determined by the Council of Ministers by taking into account the profession and length of study, as well as the language in which the student is going to get his/her education. The tuition fee for undergraduate students in state universities for Turkish citizens is $80-500 per year, for foreigners $240-1500 and respectively $100-300 and $300-900 for the master’s program [17].

The tuition for private universities is set by the board of directors and in contrast to the state tuition fees are comparably high by $5000-23000. For example, students at Baykent Universary pay $5000 a year for a bachelor’s degree, and $6000 for two years, for a master’s degree. Tuition fee is extremely high in the field of medicine. At Biruni University it is $8000-23000, with $23000 the fee at the medical faculty and $20000 at the dental with a $15000 cost at the pharmaceutical. [18]

Despite the high tuition fee, private universities offer significant financial support [19]. For instance, students receive up to $90 per month for high progress with the Prime Minister’s Scholarship (Başbakanlık VGM bursu).

The state also provides education (Öğrenim Kredisi) and consumer loans for accommodation, food and other needs. The loan is paid two years after graduation, which can be used by both the citizens of Turkey and by foreign students studying in Turkey [20].

The number of foreign students studying in Turkey is increasing year by year due to foreign language programs. If between 2000-2001 the number was 16,000 [21], between 2018-2019 it increased by 154,000. It was envisaged to increase that number to 180,000 by 2023. Based on the statistics of 2019, a large number of students from Syria studied in Turkey (27034), which is followed by Azerbaijan (19383), Turkmenistan (17571), Iraq (7608), Iran (7157), Afghanistan (6804) and from European countries Germany (4378), Bulgaria (3010), Greece (2713), the Netherlands (650), France (356), as well as from Russia (1316), China (2257) and from the USA (661). The majority of foreign students study at the Anatolian (6661), Istanbul (6648) and at Karabuk Universities [22]. 80% of foreign students study at state while 20% at private universities. As for the professional preferences of the applicants, medical, pharmaceutical, economic and engineering faculties are the most chosen ones. [23]

T he state is also actively involved in solving staffing problems in Turkish universities. It should be noted that education and science responsible bodies pay special attention to the issue of training their own staff inside the country and currently, almost all subjects of natural sciences and technology are included in the educational programs of higher education institutions in Turkey. Nevertheless, the specialists of the leading technology fields are still preparing and receiving academic degrees outside Turkey. That’s why, some work has been carried out to return state-funded specialists educated or trained outside Turkey. In addition, it organizes their remote consolidation through information networks and scientific cooperation.

Between 2007-2015, 541 specialists in the field of aviation, energy, information technology, chemistry and biology returned to Turkey from the USA, Canada, Japan, who were employed in universities, technoparks, industrial enterprises and in the private sector. This was implemented through the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) and European programs supporting “brain drain” [24].

In September 2019, TÜBİTAK organized the fourth conference on “Turkish Scientists Abroad”, which was dedicated to the opportunities of developing and applying cooperation mechanisms with Turkish Diaspora scientists in the field of advanced technologies (nano, medical, digital, nuclear and renewable energy) return to Turkey, teaching in Turkish universities with short-term and long-term programs and other issues. 

In this context, the conference discussed the experience of such countries (South Korea, China, India) that have achieved success in the field of state-diaspora cooperation in the field of science. A number of proposals were presented at the conference, such as:

  • Involvement of Turkish scientists living abroad in research projects, legislative regulation of their tenure in state universities,
  • Establishment of “Turkish Scientific Diaspora Unions in different countries, following the example of the Turkish-American Union of Scientists (TASSA) in the USA,
  • Appointment of responsible science attachés in Turkish consulates, who will cooperate with Turkish specialists working in the country’s technoparks,
  • Preparation of distance or existing learning programs with the involvement of Diaspora specialists in Turkish higher education institutions.

At the same time, there is a task to facilitate the employment of scientists returning to Turkey (paperwork, living conditions) [25].

It should be noted, that there is also some concern among the representatives of the Diaspora, as thousands of specialists were arrested and expelled from the university system after an unsuccessful military coup attempt in Turkey, in 2016. At the same time, more than 2000 schools and 16 universities were closed within this framework [26].

[1] https://www.yok.gov.tr/kurumsal/tarihce

[2] И. Селек, Управление университетским сообществом в условиях модернизации (на примере республики Турция), Казанский педагогический журнал, 2015, № 4 (111), часть1,c.198

[3] Устюньер Ильяс. Краткая история высшего образования в Турции: опыт и проблемы, Уральское востоковедение. — Екатеринбург: Изд-во Урал. ун-та, 2005, Вып. 1, С. 175.

[4] И. Селек, same place, p. 197

[5] https://www.ku.edu.tr/kesfet/hakkimizda/

[6] https://research.ku.edu.tr/centers-labs-projects

[7] https://www.topuniversities.com/universities

[8] https://w3.bilkent.edu.tr/www/ucretler/

[9] Bilkent CYBERPARK girişimcilerinden 450 ,

[10] https://www.metu.edu.tr/tr/tarihce

[11] https://ncc.metu.edu.tr/ro/fees

[12] http://odtuteknokent.com.tr/tr/hakkinda

[13] http://lead-project.org/organisation/middle

[14] М.Дегирменджи, Подготовка специалистов дощколново образавания в высших учебных заведениях Турции, Одесса, 2015, с. 52.


[16] Same link

[17] http://www.studyinturkey.com/content

[18] https://issa.org.tr/wp-content/uploads

[19] https://ieft.net/i/ieft/turkish_students_

[20] https://kygm.gsb.gov.tr/Sayfalar/2441


[22]En çok yabancı öğrenci Anadolu’da

[23] https://issa.org.tr/wp-content/uploads

[24] TÜBİTAK'tan Türkler'e dön çağrısı  &   Beyin göçüne bürokrasi pürüzü


[26] Турция: жертвы и герои событий 15 июля 2016 года, և Турецкие ученые бегут из страны как сирийские беженцы