Turkey’s higher education system is under two major pressures: rapid population growth and lack of resources. The population growth rate is currently approaching 1.4% per year, and is gradually decreasing. The 19-22 age group was 5.6 million in 2000, and is expected to decline to 5.3 million in 2010, and 5.1 million in 2025. However, this evolution alone does not It’s going to take the pressure off, because high school enrollment is approaching 70%, and it will continue to climb. This means that the demand for secondary education will continue to grow and will require more resources. Until recently, and for many years, public spending on higher education was less than 1% of GDP.
It must be taken into account that the resources of the public universities do not come only from the government budget: in 2005, more than half (57%) of the expenses of the universities were covered with contributions from the budget, 38% were channeled through from recovered funds (for example, revenue from services provided by universities), and 4% came from tuition. However, resources have always been insufficient, especially due to the increase in students.
Another problem in secondary education, in addition to resources, is the inability to increase the number of teachers. It is not possible to increase the number of PhD students in the short term without sacrificing quality. Over a 10-year period (1995 to 2005), the number of students in four- to six-year faculties increased by 74%, and the increase in two-year vocational schools was 215%: a situation that the workforce of teachers couldn’t cope. Despite the rapid increase in student numbers, only 25% benefit from higher education, and another 14% have enrolled in distance education, bringing the total to 39%.
Turkey has a very extensive and efficient distance education system, but its offer is limited to certain subjects, and its graduates generally do not get very bright job offers. Therefore, one of the main objectives is to increase the number of higher education institutions. The growing demand for higher education has had two consequences: on the one hand, all the cities of the country, even those in remote regions, pressure the government and politicians to open a university, or at least a college. That would not only increase educational opportunities, but also stimulate economic activity.
For this reason, the number of State universities has risen to a total of 68 (with 680 faculties, 266 four-year study schools and 632 two-year professional schools). The second consequence is that as much of the demand cannot be met by state universities, the number of so-called “university foundations” (private non-profit institutions) has increased. There are 25 university foundations, although in general they have few students: less than 10% of the total.
This is mainly due to the fact that the enrollment fee in these universities is very expensive compared to the average salary. In 2005 there were more than 870,000 students in university colleges, and more than 400,000 in two-year vocational schools. Enrollment fees at state universities are modest, plus there is the possibility of obtaining credit for those who cannot afford it. In many universities there is the problem of the overcrowding of classrooms, and not very comfortable residences. There are a large number of student clubs in all universities, and students have become more active in recent years.
The Turkish higher education system is quite centralized from an administrative point of view: the highest body is the National Board of Education, with quite a lot of power. This council is made up of 21 members: seven appointed by the president, seven by the government, and the rest elected by the interuniversity council, a large academic body made up of the rectors and a representative from each university. The Higher Education Council has the power to approve the opening or closing of departments, colleges and universities, and to award academic places to state universities.
This centralist system was introduced in 1981 by the military regime, and it was more centralist and authoritarian during its early years. One of its main characteristics is the “strong rector”. The system has always had to face widespread criticism, which has prompted some reforms to be carried out, although there are still many pending. Even the Council of Higher Education has noticed this fact, so it has appointed a commission to prepare a reform project, which has been open to public debate, and has been reviewed and completed in the light of criticism, but the legislative procedures they will take some time, due to the lack of dialogue and cooperation between the Council and the government for different reasons and political disagreements.
However, not all improvements have to wait for legislative changes, and there are important examples of progress. For example, the number of articles published in journals included in the citation indexes has multiplied by 30 in the last 20 years, and Turkey’s place in international rankings has improved considerably. Turkey has joined the Bologna process, for which it has made the necessary changes to its system, of which the introduction of a quality assurance system stands out. Many universities have undergone national or international evaluation procedures (for example, the ABET evaluation or the US institutional audit).
The scope of the Erasmus program is growing, as is the number of students participating in exchange programs. One of the main problems with the system is the extremely difficult entrance exam to universities. The number of places is very small compared to the demand, and the results of this examination reflect one of Turkey’s structural problems: social and regional disparities.
As stated in the reform project, the system has to be decentralized, transferring power from the Higher Education Council to the universities. In addition, it is necessary to increase the participation of the members of the faculties and the students. The effectiveness of the system will also be greater by allowing greater diversity and competition among individual institutions.