The U.S.-Turkey relationship encompasses not just the most important security, economic and humanitarian issues of day but also an issue vital to tomorrow—the education of future generations of global policymakers, scholars and entrepreneurs.
Turkey is regularly among the top-10 leading countries of origin for international students in American classrooms, and around 10,000 Turkish students have studied in the U.S. each year since 2000. But it’s not just Turkish students who are studying in the U.S. Indeed, more than 2,000 American students studied in Turkey during 2012-2013 academic year, and the U.S. National Security Education Program (NSEP) encourages the study of Turkish by designating it as a “critical language”. This strong link between the U.S.’s and Turkey’s higher education sectors is important for both countries, as well as their bilateral relationship. It offers students vital language skills and a competitive advantage in the global economy, in addition to a boost for each country’s own colleges and universities. According to the Institute of International Education, Turkish undergraduate and graduate students contributed nearly $400 million to the U.S. economy in the 2013-2014 academic year alone.
Turkey’s efforts to open itself up to international students from strategic partners like the U.S. and Europe are directly tied to the impressive strides the Turkish higher education sector has made in recent years. In 2001, the Turkish government signed the Bologna Accords incorporating its universities into the Erasmus program, an exchange initiative that fosters student and faculty mobility within the European Union and EU candidate states. Significantly for educational exchange with the U.S. and Europe, the program has led Turkish universities to offer more courses in other languages, particularly English, and to establish larger degrees of standardization, international accreditation and university partnerships for joint and dual degrees. More broadly, the Turkish government allocated $96 million to scholarship programs for international students in 2014 to help expand the country’s current 48,000 foreign students to 100,000 foreign students by 2018.
The ties between the U.S. and Turkey’s higher educational sectors are particularly notable. Turkish students increasingly view the U.S. as a primary destination over Germany, France and the U.K. That is not only because English is the most common foreign language offering in the Turkish education system, but also because Turkey’s top private institutions are modeled after American research universities. In fact, a significant proportion of the faculty at many Turkish universities has earned their graduate degrees in the U.S. For example, 95% of the full-time faculty at Koç University, one of Turkey’s leading institutions and one of the world’s top 400 universities, earned their doctoral degrees in the U.S. or Europe. In addition, Turkey’s economic growth has tripled the levels of personal income over the past 10 years and enabled an increasing number of Turkish families to afford the price of American universities.
This academic connection only stands to increase in the coming years, and bring the U.S. and Turkey even closer together, as more Turkish universities partner with their American counterparts and U.S. institutions offer Turkish studies programs. A number of Turkish and U.S. universities have already established exchange agreements, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Sabanci University; Oklahoma State University and the Middle East Technical University; and the State University of New York-SUNY and a number of Turkish partner universities, to name a few. These exchange agreements are in addition to the dozens of top-tier U.S. institutions that offer Turkish studies programs, from Columbia University to Harvard College to Georgetown University, and the even greater number of universities and colleges that offer Turkish language studies. Several Turkish institutions are also expanding directly into the U.S. Earlier this year Istanbul Okan University established a satellite campus, Okan University International, in Miami and in 2014 Bahcesehir & Ugur Educational Institutions launched BAU International University in Washington, D.C. These offerings not only enrich the opportunities for Turkish and American students, but they also foster a greater appreciation of different cultures and religions among tomorrow’s torchbearers of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
Given the number of shared security, economic and humanitarian challenges and opportunities they face, the U.S. and Turkey stand to benefit from continued cooperation over and investment in the education of future generations of global policymakers, scholars and entrepreneurs.
To download a fact sheet on the education partnership between the U.S. and Turkey, click here.