Keynote Speech by Ambassador Selçuk Ünal at Elmwood School Titled “Turkish Education System in General”

Selçuk Ünal 15.10.2016

I have the pleasure to be here to address this distinguished audience. I will explain the Turkish education system in general and then would be happy to receive questions.


Turkish Education System

Primary education involves the children from the age of 6 to 13. It includes elementary and middle schools each of which lasts four years. Secondary education, again lasts four years, comprises of high schools of a general or vocational/technical character.

Primary and secondary education is compulsory for all citizens and free at the public schools. Higher Education in Turkey includes all post-secondary institutions, offering at least two years of education. The number of universities has dramatically increased during the last decade. As of September 2016, there are 173 universities in Turkey. 111 of them are public universities and 62 are foundation universities.

With the increase in the number of higher education institutions, the higher education has become more accessible in Turkey. The higher education gross enrolment rate for the relevant age group has passed 70%. As of last academic year there were approximately 5.5 million higher education students in Turkey, around 5 million in public universities. 260 thousand masters and 65 thousand PhD candidates. 39 percent of the total higher education students were undertaking their studies via distance education. The number of incoming international students is around 55.000. With over 80.000 outgoing international students, Turkey is one of the top student sending countries in the world.

Turkish education system is under the supervision and control of the Ministry of National Education. According to the Constitution, everyone has the right to receive education. Education is compulsory from ages 6 to 14 and free in state public. The country's primary schools currently have a 98 % participation rate.

Stages of the Education System

Pre-School Education: Optional kindergarten education, up to 6 years of age.

Primary Education: Compulsory and free basic education for eight years (5 years elementary + 3 years secondary), 6-14 years of age.

Secondary Education: 4 years of High School or Vocational High School education, 15-17/18 years of age. Some schools might have an additional year of language study. High schools are mostly owned by the government and provide free education.

Higher Education: 4 years of University, or 2 years at Higher Vocational Schools. Some schools have an additional year of language study. Under normal circumstances, a Master's study lasts 2 years; a PhD 3-5 years. This category includes all educational institutions which will provide post-secondary education. They are under the supervision of Higher Educational Council (YOK).

Types of High Schools

Public High Schools: Any student who successfully completes 8 years of basic education can go onto these schools. Graduates of public high schools, if successful in the nationwide University Entrance Examination (ÖSS), can go onto higher education institutions.

Vocational High Schools : Some of these schools may take an additional year to complete. Graduates can automatically go on to higher vocational schools (2 Year Vocational Colleges) in their respective fields of study if they wish. Alternatively, if successful in the university entrance examination, they can go onto 4-year schools in their respective fields.

Anatolian High Schools: One year of English study followed by 3 years of regular high school education, additional hours for English. Maths and science lessons at these schools are sometimes taught in English. Lessons at some Anatolian high schools are taught in either English, German or French.

Super High Schools: The difference between these and normal high schools is one extra year of English study. They differ from Anatolian high schools in that the language of instruction for maths and science courses is always Turkish and less hours are given to English lessons.

Science High Schools: These are special public schools for students who have exceptional aptitude in the sciences. These very competitive high schools train students specifically for higher education in the sciences, technical and medical fields. There is also Anatolian Science High Schools language of instruction for maths and science is sometimes in English.

Private High Schools: Most private high schools charge high tuition fees.

Types of Higher Education Institutions

State Universities: The university system in Turkey is governed by the Higher Educational Council (YOK). Turkey has 104 state and 62 private universities (a total of 166 institutions of higher learning), 5 of which are located in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Apart from the public and private universities, 8 foundation higher vocational schools serve the job market.

Generally, undergraduate education takes 4 years at universities, but some fields such as medicine (6 years), dentistry (5 years), and veterinary science (5 years) take longer. Turkish high school graduates go directly into fields of study such as medicine, law, dentistry and so on. No tuition fee is charged in public schools; students pay only a small basic fee. Students need to pass a nationwide University Entrance Exam (OSS) to enter a university. The graduates of 4-year programs are awarded with the Bachelor’s Degree.

The medium of instruction at some state universities is English, German or French. Therefore, all correspondence with the university staff and applications to the faculties can be done in English, German or French. However, instruction language at state universities is mostly Turkish. When entering exams of the university, knowledge of Turkish is not necessary. Those who pass the exams, and have only a little knowledge of Turkish, are considered to take one year of language courses to gain proficiency in the Turkish.

Graduate-level programs consist of master and PhD programs, coordinated by institutes in universities. Medical specialty programs are carried out within the faculties of medicine and the training hospitals owned by the Ministry of Health and the Social Security Institute (SGK).

Higher Vocational Schools: They offer 2 years of undergraduate study after high school and are very much like the community colleges in the USA. The only difference is that students cannot easily transfer to 4-year schools in the USA due to fewer places at the 4-year schools. Two year graduates must take the national Vertical Transfer Test and have a high GPA to be able to apply to 4-year schools. The graduates of 2-year programs are awarded with the Associate’s or Pre-Bachelor’s Degree.

Private or Foundation Universities: Private foundations obtained the right in 1984 to establish and develop universities. They were established with the fundamental aim of creating a centre of excellence in higher education and research. Private universities take more active initiatives to form and to select international and global educational and research networks.

The medium of instruction in most private universities is English. Almost all have one year of English study for those whose level of English is not found to be proficient upon entrance.

Girl children education

Especially in rural parts of Turkey, increasing schooling of girls has been one of the priorities of Turkish authorities. In this regard, various projects have been implemented to support girls education in Turkey such as Haydi Kızlar Okula! ('Hey Girls, Let’s Go to School!'), Kardelenler (“Snowdrops”) and Baba Beni Okula Gönder (“Daddy, Send me to School). These aimed to increase schooling of girls in Turkey through scholarships by reducing the financial burden of education on families, as well as facilitate the continuation of their education by constructing girls dormitories. The projects have been implemented by the government in collaboration with and by the support of UNICEF and other relevant UN agencies, Turkish private sector and NGO’s. These projects have been a great success story which led to the enrollment of around 200.000 additional girls in primary schools since 2000. Additional scholarships were also given to high school students, and with the continuation of their education more than 1.000 students, who had enrolled in elementary schooling by the support of these projects, have completed their university studies to this day.

Syrians in the Turkish education system

According to the UNHCR, Turkey has become the biggest refugee-hosting country in the world. The total number of Syrians living in Turkey reached 2.7 million and the total number together with Iraqi refugees reaches to 3 million. There are around 835.000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey and around 520.000 of them miss on schooling. Proper funding for the implementation of UN “No Lost Generation Strategy” is needed. At present 311.000 Syrian kids at school age receive education, and more children will be integrated to the Turkish education system in the coming years. 1078 Syrian students receive public scholarships for their studies in undergraduate (789 Syrian students) and graduate (289 PhD and MSc students) at the Turkish universities. An additional 1841 Syrian students also receive government scholarships for their studies at the Turkish universities.

Thank you



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