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At a time when the domestic market is shrinking there are two products that can be seen prominently in the media: Housing and universities. In particular, private universities, which are referred to as “foundation universities” in Turkey, are advertising themselves widely across various media. None of these institutions are more than a decade old, but their number has grown to 71 in a short period of time. Big holdings, big trade and industry chambers, and educational firms with test-prep schools (dershane) have formed their own foundation universities and are now competing in the higher education market, which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been attempting to call “semi-public.”
Plenty of demand
The Turkish Constitution regards education as being a fundamental right for all citizens. However, the state still has trouble providing universal education to all, and many only attend a state school at the primary level. Only 52 percent of citizens go to state high schools, while only 38 percent go to state higher education establishments.
Nevertheless, every year hundreds of thousands of students rush to exams, but around 500,000 of those who graduate from a higher education institution (in other words, one fifth of all unemployed) end up joining the ranks of the unemployed. Despite this, the passion to get a higher education degree does not appear to be diminishing.
The AKP regime has ignored quality and increased “access” in order to “satisfy” the education-demanding voter by encouraging the opening of dozens of universities. Access has been increased by erecting a “university” building in every city of the country and encouraging the formation of foundation universities. So much so that the schooling rate at the university level, which was barely 9 percent in 1990 with 736,000 students, rose to 2.5 million in 2007 and 5.5 million in 2014. The number of those studying in higher education has now climbed up to 38 percent.
From 2006 to 2014, 50 new state universities were founded, while between 2007 and 2014 more than 40 foundation universities were founded. Total higher education establishment capacities between 2006 and 2014 increased by more than 75 percent. In the 1950s, it was a government habit to set up a sugar and cement factory in each province; the populism of that era was the construction of factories. Now, it is a university for each province. The total number of universities in Turkey is now 175, with 104 state and 71 foundation universities. There are 5.1 million students in 104 state universities and approximately 360,000 students in 71 foundation universities.
After 2006, 50 new universities were opened from Hakkari to Kars, from Kilis to Giresun. However, these universities lack the number of academic staff and the proper physical environment. Out of the more than 5 million students who attend state universities, 2.5 million attend regular full-time courses, 640,000 take evening classes and around 40,000 are distance learning students. You can fill in the blanks.
With the newly opened state universities and private universities, it has been presented as if there has been an increase in access to higher education. But what about the quality of the education? In 2013, there were 1.9 million students entering the nationwide university entrance examination. Out of the total number of applicants, only 41.1 percent (800,000 people) were senior year students from secondary education, while the rest were made up of applicants who did not score well enough in previous years, who were not happy with the higher education institution where they had registered, or who had already graduated from a higher education institution.
Despite the quantitative “boost,” the quality and qualification issue was explored and criticized in the latest official Development Program: “The inability to restructure the higher education management system, primarily the Higher Education Council (YÖK), and correspondingly not being able to ensure their administrative and fiscal independence, negatively affect quality. Other significant issues that affect quality are that the quality evaluation and accountability system could not become functional, the low capacity of universities to generate income, the high number of students per academic staff and the inadequacy of the physical infrastructure.”
It was unthinkable that neo-liberalism would exclude education, especially higher education. The commercialization of education, which started a very long time ago in the West, is now beginning to occur in Turkey, especially in higher education.
The number of foundation universities has risen to 71 in a very short space of time, with nearly 10 percent (360,000) of the total number of students in Turkey attending one. Foundation universities are trying hard to attract students by widening their academic staff in order to have a bigger share in the higher education market. While the,r student share is around 10 percent, 12 to 13 percent of academic staff are employed by these universities. Their locations and facilities are new and “cool.” Their main goal is “branding.” Thus, they are creating an attraction and the principle of “pay the piper and call the tune” is being accomplished. The average annual fees of students are from $20,000 to $25,000.
One other target of private universities is to attract students from overseas. Currently, U.S. universities have around a quarter of all university students, and Turkey’s share is 0.7 percent (around 20,000 students). Foundation education businesses also have a target of making Turkey the “education base of the region.” Well, we can say the stomach has limits but the appetite does not!
State universities are not exempt from this wider process of commercialization and marketing. Around 56 percent of the income of state universities is provided from the central budget, 33 percent is from their own working funds, and 11 percent is made up of special income. The AKP regime is also forcing state universities to be commercialized, as exemplified in its official annual program: “Universities should set up cooperation with the private sector and produce projects that would generate added value … The need to increase the share of student contributions in the financing of higher education is continuing.” In other words, this is effectively starting to say: “Parents and students who expect higher education from the state should dig deeper into their pockets. This is the era of higher education with money. If you don’t have money, you do not have education.”