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Recruiting Intelligence

Turbulence in Turkey: Opportunity for Student Recruitment


Turkey has been in the news a lot recently, and not for the best reasons. Political uncertainty plagues the country and the country’s foreign relations. From an international student recruiting point of view, this is a market where parents truly value education. And, Turkish students continue to seek English language courses and education abroad. Is your marketing approach able to adapt to this changing market niche?

Bottom Line: Stay flexible in uncertain times. As political climates begin to shift and foreign relations appear unstable, it is essential to focus on your relationships with agents and reassure your markets. In particular, in Turkey, local networks are vital to success. Creating strong bonds with agents and other student recruiting channels in the country can help your institution connect directly with the whole family.

Read on for a more perspective on current events and a few tips on recruiting options that might work for your institution in Turkey.

The Political and Economic Climate

According to IMF World Economic Outlook Database, Turkey is the world’s 17th largest economy. It has also been the fastest growing in Europe in recent years.

However, the political situation in Turkey has been increasingly unstable in the recent past. Bordering Syria hasn’t helped any. In the past year, Turkey’s political situation went from troubled to worse.

In July 2016, an attempted coup caused the government to declare a State of Emergency and activate emergency powers. April 16, 2017 will see the referendum vote on government reforms to increase President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s powers.
Relations between Turkey and the EU have intensified in the lead-up to the referendum. On March 11
th , Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said their agreement with the EU on the flow of migrants to the EU could be in jeopardy if the Union did not implement the visa liberalization that was promised, according to Reuters.

Turkey’s ultimatum came during a rough weekend for European relations with Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Minister’s plane was banned from landing in the Netherlands after negotiations between the two governments fell apart. Cavusoglu was planning to campaign for the referendum. Limits on campaigning in both Germany and the Netherlands has been considered taking the “no” side on the upcoming referendum. Strained ties between these countries are reverberating through the entire EU.

Attracting Turkish Students

So, what does this all mean for universities looking to recruit international students from Turkey?

At our International Student Recruitment Bootcamp held in January of this year, Ali Hantal, CEO of Mezun Group who splits most of his time between Istanbul and Washington, DC, shared perspective on the Turkish market and what students are thinking today. According to Ali, the political instability and threats to a fully democratic state in Turkey are prompting many Turkish families to look abroad for their children’s education. With the value they place on open dialogue, exploration of ideas, and career development, study abroad opportunities are becoming more desirable for those families able to afford them.

Further influencing these decisions, straining ties with the EU, and possibly more restrictive visa policies in the region could mean that the largest EU markets for Turkish students begin to decline. UNESCO data from 2012 shows that six of the top 15 destination countries for Turkish students are in the EU (excluding the UK). Restrictive EU policies could open mobility to other countries (UK, U.S., possibly Canada and Australia), especially considering the high demand for English language programs.

According to UNESCO, Turkish students’ top choices for study abroad destinations were Germany and the US (roughly 12,000 students each) followed by boarder country Bulgaria (5,000), and then the UK (3,300). English speaking country Canada drew just 650 and Australia 480.

The Market

So, if interest in non-EU countries is growing among Turkish students and their families, what do we do with that information? Which programs should we promote? And how do we do it?

Most Turkish students in the U.S. study at the graduate level. In 2015/16, their breakdown was as follows:

  • 31.7% undergraduate;
  • 47.9% graduate students;
  • 7.4% other;
  • 12.9% OPT (Optional Practical Training).

Though the majority of Turkish students in the U.S. studied at the graduate level, the largest increase from 2014/15 to 2015/16 was in undergraduate study. (Source, IIE Open Doors Reports).

The Turkish Fulbright Commission tells us the most popular fields of study chosen by Turkish students studying abroad are:

  1. Business administration and economics (especially MBA programs in finance, marketing and international business)
  2. Engineering, computer science and other technical fields
  3. English as a second language
  4. Short-term certificate programs and/or summer programs (mostly in business ESL)
  5. Social sciences, humanities and arts (mainly psychology, political sciences, architecture, and law)
  6. Mass communications (radio-TV, film, and video production)
  7. Medicine and other medical fields (for the most part, advanced level residencies)

Eren Göker, manager of GKR Educational Counselling in Istanbul and president of UED The Association of International Education Counselors Turkey told ICEF Monitor that statistics regarding the number of students from Turkey studying abroad can be difficult to pin down. However, they estimate that 80,000 students traveled abroad last year for study. This includes students pursuing higher education and language study. Language courses are receiving a great deal of attention in Turkey and students prefer English speaking countries for these programs. 

This is big news for the UK, Eren believes. While many have concerns regarding Brexit, he thinks it could increase the flow of Turkish students headed to the UK. He points out that, generally, students choose EU countries with relatively low tuition prices for higher education studies. The current position of the pound could mean that more students can afford UK schools.

By our own estimatation, the US is also likely to see increased interest among Turkish parents and students. Despite US changes to visa policies and the negative publicity around the new administration’s executive orders restricting travel from a set of Middle Eastern countries, the educational opportunities in the US remain vibrant and desirable. Those US institutions confirming a welcoming and diverse academic environment with great career opportunities for their graduates are going to draw students.

Recruitment Tips for this Region

  • Relationships and connections are always important, and very much so in Turkey. If you have current students and alumni from Turkey, they are going to be a huge help in building your reputation in this market and reassuring prospective students that the study options in the US can work for them.
  • Translate content to help parents understand the value of your institution and your academic programs. They will be strong decision influencers and you want them on your side.
  • Choose agents in Turkey carefully and look beyond the large agencies in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. They won’t be the best connected once you get outside the major cities.
  • Build relationships with agents and other influential people in the education market in Turkey. Meet them outside of your student fair activity. Establish bonds that will last.

Higher recruitment rates from Turkey will not happen overnight, but they are possible through time spent with agents and other local networks that will build your brand and reputation. A digital presence is a must. The student recruiting opportunity during this time of political upheaval in Turkey is real for those institutions able to take advantage of the changes and adjusting their messaging accordingly.