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The number of international students choosing to study in Turkey has more than doubled since 2006, signalling the country’s growing importance as a higher education destination.
In the 2011-12 academic year there were almost 25,545 foreign students in Turkey – an increase of more than 9,000 compared to 2006-7.
Motivations for study in Turkey include an inexpensive and good quality education, and opportunities for scholarships that also pay a monthly allowance, covering accommodation and tuition fees, health insurance and travel expenses.
Turkey is already a firmly established tourist destination, with over 30 million tourists from all over the world in the period from January to November 2012. And statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organization say it is the sixth most popular holiday destination.
However, the Turkish government has much greater ambitions, having set a target of 100,000 international students in the country by 2015.
The number of universities in Turkey reached 175 in 2013: 104 state and 71 private. This is an increase of 99 compared to 2002, when the breakdown was 53 state and 23 private. Most of these institutions are relatively young; as recently as 1970, there were only eight state institutions, and the first private university (Bilkent University), was not established until 1985.
Among the youngest of all is Antalya International University (AIU), which welcomed its first students in the 2012/13 academic year, and aims to recruit more than half of its students from outside Turkey.
This target sounds ambitious, but may well be achievable. Turkey participates in the Erasmus Program, which facilitates student exchange between 33 EU countries. Additional enticements to study in Turkey include the appearance of nine Turkish universities in the QS World University Rankings® 2013/14, of which all but one are based either in capital Ankara, or in largest city Istanbul.
In Ankara, you’ll find Bilkent University, Middle East Technical University and Hacettepe University, while Istanbul boasts Sabanci University, Istanbul University, Koç University, Bogaziçi Üniversitesi and Istanbul Technical University. The ninth Turkish university featured in the QS rankings, Cukurova University, is in Balcali, close to Adana.
As a student living in Turkey – especially if you are based in one of the larger cities – you certainly won’t find yourself short of places to explore and things to do.
Music lovers will find plenty of variety, from folk to techno, classical to pop, and hip hop to jazz – plus everything in between. The cities are full of lively venues, and Turkey hosts a number of international music festivals each year. Meanwhile film fans may already be aware of the country’s growing domestic film industry, and will find themselves in good company; cinema-going is a popular activity in Turkey, and the latest Hollywood blockbusters are widely screened.
In terms of daily life, you may find yourself becoming adept at spotting a good quality doner kebab, haggling over prices at the souk, preparing (or at least appreciating) a real Turkish coffee, and perhaps even taking on the locals at tavla, or backgammon, which is popularly played in cafes and parks.
Istanbul is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, with a history going back thousands of years. The cultural heritage of the city is a big appeal for tourists, and also the clubs, pubs and Turkish taverns.
Out of the five top universities in Istanbul, the highest ranked is Bogaziçi Üniversitesi, placed at 461-470, in the QS World University Rankings 2013/14. Founded in 1863, it was the first American university to be established outside the US. Its many research centers include the Center for Psychological Research and Services, the European Studies Research Center, the Peace Education Research Center and the Polymer Research Center. Situated close by are the Bosphorus and the historical castle of Rumelihisar, forming the eastern boundary of the university’s South Campus.
The other four universities in Istanbul which appear in the QS rankings are: Koç University, Sabanci University, Istanbul Technical University and Istanbul University. Two of these, Koç University and Sabanci University, are private. But both public and private universities in Turkey conform to the Bologna Agreement, which standardizes degree programs across Europe.
Ankara is Turkey’s capital and second largest city. A busy commercial and political center, it has a large student population, as well as a significant community of international diplomats. Its most popular visitor attractions include Ankara Castle, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, and Anıtkabir (pictured) – the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey. Ankara is also a popular destination for bird-watching.
World-ranking universities in Ankara include Bilkent University, Middle East Technical University and Hacettepe University. This last is Turkey’s first private non-profit institution, founded in 1984. Its name is an acronym of “bilim kenti”, Turkish for "city of learning and science” – appropriate, as it’s the highest ranked university in Turkey, and attracts top students and academics from around the world, offering a selection of courses taught in English.
Turkey’s second highest-ranking university is also in Ankara: Middle East Technical University (METU). It has about 26,500 students, many of whom are exchange students attending for either a semester or a year. METU only accepts students from the top 1.5% of its 1.8 million yearly applicants, because demand is so high. As at Bilkent University, international students can take courses taught in English, but Turkish language study is required.
Other universities in Ankara include the Turkish Military Academy, Baskent University and Gazi University.
Another student city is Balcali, home to Cukurova University, Turkey’s ninth entrant in the QS World University Rankings. Apart from its world ranking, the university’s location makes it highly attractive. On the east coast of the Seyhan Dam Reservoir Lake, its facilities include dining halls amongst the pine trees. Programs taught in English include computer engineering, mechanical engineering, automotive engineering management, economics and econometrics – but a preparatory course in Turkish is also required.
Other top universities in Turkey include Anadolu University in Eskişehir, one of Turkey’s more affordable big cities. Courses are taught in Turkish, English, French and German. Another is Süleyman Demirel University, Isparta, which is one of Turkey’s largest universities in terms of student numbers, and is also part of the Erasmus Program for exchange students.
Finally, Akdeniz University in Antalya is actively encouraging international student participation, through programs such as the Mevlana Exchange Program, the Bologna Process and the International Association for the Exchange of the Students for Technical Experience.
In most of these locations, many local people can speak English, making it relatively easy for international students to settle in, even without fluency in Turkish. All in all, studying and living in Turkey promises to provide an experience unlike any other – as you’ll discover if you choose this truly ‘Eurasian’ destination for your university years.
In order to study in Turkey, you'll first need to be accepted onto a course at a Turkish university, and then apply for a student visa at your nearest Turkish consulate. In order to be granted a Turkish student visa, you will need:
After arriving in Turkey, you should also apply for a residence permit, within one month of arrival. This can be done at the nearest police headquarters, and requires you to show proof that you are enrolled at a Turkish university, your passport and Turkish student visa, photographs and a fee.
International students in Turkey are permitted to work for up to 24 hours per week.
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