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With Turkey in Turmoil, Students Leave to Study Abroad


FILE - A woman holds a placard demanding "a secular and science-based education system" as hundreds of students and teachers march at a rally in Ankara, Feb. 13, 2015.

FILE - A woman holds a placard demanding "a secular and science-based education system" as hundreds of students and teachers march at a rally in Ankara, Feb. 13, 2015.

Young Turks are increasingly taking to studying abroad as Turkey reels from social and economic crisis.

"Because of terror attacks, political uncertainty and security concerns in Turkey, the willingness of Turkish students to go abroad has seriously increased," Rahmi Mesud Yilmaz, a Turkish foreign education consultant, told VOA.

The number of students looking to study abroad has doubled every year since 2009, according to the independent daily Cumhuriyet. At the private high school, Robert College of Istanbul, 151 of 196 seniors recently applied to study abroad, the newspaper reported.

Some 90,000 Turkish students go abroad annually, spending about $1.5 billion for education outside the country, the government-funded Anatolian News Agency reported. The country ranks 11th among those with students getting an education abroad, according to the World Bank.

Preferred education destinations include Britain, the United States, Malta, Canada, Australia and Germany, Anatolian said.

U.S. higher-education institutions enrolled 10,724 students from Turkey for the 2014-15 academic year, according to the New York-based Institute of International Education.

"There are a number of ‘push’ factors that lead youngsters to seek education and employment abroad or just decide to stay abroad," said Aysit Tansel, an economics professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, who researches "brain drain" among young Turks.

"Among these ‘economic instability and uncertainty’ in Turkey is marked most often as a very important factor in the decision to remain abroad," she said, adding that she believes "such considerations became more important" after the July 15 attempted coup.

Pessimism about future

Tansel said her students “have become quite pessimistic about their future in this country.”

Duygu Balli, who studies psychology at Istanbul Bilgi University, suggested opportunities in her country are limited.

"Students are considering moving abroad because of Turkey’s recent terror attacks, economic decline and concerns people have for their future in Turkey," said Balli, who is looking to study abroad for her master’s degree.

Young Turks see foreign education as a way for gaining an economic foothold to remain abroad.

"Getting education abroad also creates the opportunity of finding good jobs not only in Turkey but also in other countries,” said Yilmaz, whose company, Edcon Education Consultancy, facilitates study abroad.

Added academic Tansel: "There is just anecdotal evidence that indicates that they are ruminating over their possibilities to find a job when they complete their studies. They say that there is much favoritism in Turkey and that they will not be selected for jobs in their applications. Many have blatantly asked me if I think that there is any favorable future for them in this country.”

Ergulen Toprak, who recently graduated from the City University of New York with a major in communications, said he wants to remain in the United States for the job opportunities.

"I want to work in the U.S. media and gain experience," Toprak said.

He added that “it is clear that Turkey is not an attractive country for journalists.” Turkey has for years imposed curbs on press freedom. Since the failed coup, arrests of journalists and academics have increased during Turkey’s presidential-imposed state of emergency.

“Many people from Turkey call me and ask if they can come here for education,” he said. “I hope this picture of Turkey changes for the better – and soon."

Difficult learning environment

Students who remain in Turkey are finding a trying academic environment.

"The failed coup and the subsequent crackdown on the academics have created a toxic climate for academics," said Aykan Erdemir, a political scientist at Ankara’s Bilkent University's and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "The Turkish government needs to realize that rights and freedoms are more important to academics than monetary incentives.

"It is no coincidence that the world’s leading research centers are located in countries with strong tradition of rule of law and freedom of expression,” he said. “Unless Ankara implements democratizing reforms, it is unlikely for Turkey to attract top caliber scholars."

Editor's note: In earlier version of this story, Ergulen Toprak’s reasons for remaining in the United States were incorrectly characterized. VOA apologizes for the error.

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