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.
In the 2013-2014 school year, Turkey ranked 11th in the top countries sending students to study in the U.S., and has been among the top-10 leading countries of origin for international students in American classrooms for well over a decade. Last year more than 10,000 Turkish students advanced their education in the U.S. In the 2013-2014 year, the breakdown of degrees was as follows: 52 percent graduate students, 30.3 percent undergraduate, 17.7 percent other and Optional Practical Training (OPT).
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. Indeed, in 1984, private foundations in Turkey gained the right to establish and develop universities, which were primarily modeled after the U.S. university system.
Additionally, 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.
But it is 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, a 2.5% increase from the previous academic year. The U.S. National Security Education Program (NSEP) encourages the study of Turkish, having designated it as a “critical language.”
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.
The 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. And importantly these study abroad and exchange programs not only enrich the opportunities for Turkish and American students, but they also foster a greater appreciation of different cultures among tomorrow’s torchbearers of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.