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By 1971 Turkey had nine universities. Controlled and financed from the Ministry of Education the universities themselves, at least until  the 1980 military coup, were from 1946 onwards autonomous institutions. The structure of their academic work was heavily influenced by the model of German universities with a great deal of status and power being attached to the senior academics who held personal chairs.

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Higher Education in Turkey

Promotion was strictly regulated and slow and academic standards uneven. Low academic salaries were, in addition a strong cause for complaint among Turkish academics. Turkish criticism of the system during the 1960s focused on issues like overcrowding the inadequacy of lise graduates to the demands of university work, the lack of teacher-student contact and a reliance on formal teaching methods and limited text books, a method of teaching promoting memorisation and rote learning.

Professor Okyar (1968), then the professor of Economics at Hacettepe University and former Rector of the Atatiirk university, criticised the universities in 1967 for poor standards of analysis, research and research training and low levels of exertion. ‘Strong feelings’, he wrote, ‘and the stifling straightjacket of dogmatic thinking continue to influence attitudes and behaviour and the role of thinking in various ways’. The defence of autonomy, he felt, often prevented creative self-criticism and the system as a whole failed the economy in various ways. 

Alongside the universities there were, until recently, a number of high institutes providing specialist training for the professions and for commerce as well as teacher training colleges. Many of these institutions have been incorporated into the university system as new universities have been established. There are now twenty-seven universities in Turkey each one suffering from the problems of rapid expansion, poor resources and inadequate teaching and research.

The system as a whole does not dovetail at all well with the needs of the country for scientific and technical personnel. As has already been stressed, universities have been at the centre of the political strife which has taken place in Turkish society. These questions, to be understood, have to be set against the social and economic developments of the post-war period which generated new strains in Turkish society and against the pattern of student recruitments to higher education.

After the Second World War Turkey became part of a new structure of international relations which was itself bound up with power bloc rivalry between East and West. In response to Russian pressure on it in 1946 Turkey became part of the Western alliance. The country received Marshall Aid from 1946 onwards from the United States. In 1949 Turkey joined the Council of Europe; a year previously it had joined the OECD and in 1952 became a full memberofNATO. From this period on (and following Turkish military involvement in the Korean War) the political, economic, military and educational links with the West have increased as has the volume of Western aid to the country. 

Within this international framework Turkish higher education received a great deal of significant help from both in bilateral and multilateral aid (Stirling, 1976). Examples of such aid include the help given by France to the University of Ankara to complete a hydraulic laboratory. The British Council offers help with language training for Turkish students. The Germans have financed management education projects in Ankara university.

The Atatiirk University at Erzurum was helped considerably by a USAID programme involving staff from the University ofNebraska between 1955 and 1968 and the Middle East Technical University received considerable aid from diverse organisations, including USAID, CENTO, the Ford Foundation and OECD. 

Paul Stirling (1976,) had analysed the pattern of aid from the West under five headings: the training of students and staff in foreign universities; the bringing of foreign staff to Turkey; contact between Turkish universities and universities abroad; the provision of capital and buildings; and, finally, ‘the provision of models of university life, academic values, assumptions, standards, organisations’. What emerges is a complex pattern of exchanges which defy complete description.

It is a pattern with considerable benefit to Turkish universities but Stirling has cautioned about some of the disadvantages and dangers. They concern research priorities and, as one might expect, given the logic of science and technology transfer between countries grossly unequal in terms of material resources, the cultural integration of Turkish society itself. 

On the research question Stirling simply notes that almost all able Turkish staff in universities receive their research training abroad and return with research priorities defined in the West: Either by capturing domestic or foreign aid resources in Turkey, or by managing to finance regular visits abroad, they launch on research related not to the activities of other Turks, nor to their Turkish university, nor to the needs of Turkey.

Many of Turkey’s best university brains are, in horrific ways, clients of foreign universities, contributing yet further to the colossal advantage which the rich nations already enjoy in knowledge and research; the academic analogue of the Turkish emigrant workers. (Stirling, 1976). 

Stirling (1976,) asks: ‘How far does the fact that so much of Turkish life is directly linked to foreign enterprises, models, institutions and sources of finance prevent Turkey from developing an indigenous natural culture of its own?’

In the absence of such a strong national frame of reference Turkish academics will face a dilemma of measuring their achievements against those of colleagues in the West and will always find their own achievement falls short on account of poorer resources, or, to deny the importance of such a comparison and risk not being part of an international order of science and scholarship. 

This particular dilemma highlights another, that of how the educated Turk should relate to his or her less educated countrymen. Stirling has noted that Western influence on Turkish society has been to increase the gap between the majority of Turkish people and the educated elite. The differences between villagers and recent urban migrants and the Western-educated groups in terms of such things as taste in music, art and leisure, in ‘political convictions and assumptions, in personal morality, in cosmology and religious belief are vast’ (Stirling, 1976).

The basic expectations of the educated for a standard of life related to that of Europe are likely to increase their sense of difference from those whom they would claim to lead. These expectations, in any case, can only be met if the Turkish economy can be made to grow within an unequal distribution of incomes, forifthe less well off increase their share of national income then it will be at the expense of groups whose expectations for a high standard of living are already high. It is these groups who value higher education and they are the ones, too, who have been severely worried in the past decade by high levels of inflation. 

Ozay Mehmet (1983) has noted that Turkey in the 1970s had a grossly unequal pattern of income distribution, one of the worst in the world among middle-income countries. He claims, too, that the structure of income distribution is dominated ‘by a top-heavy, selfserving cluster of bureaucratic political elites on the centre allied, on the one hand, with landowning provincial polity and, on the other, with urban-centred monopolistic interests who often earn large profits and indirect state subsidies through their dealings with SEE [State Economic Enterprises]’ (Mehmet, 1983,).

During the period of rapid inflation during the 1970s the group, including the free professionals made gains in their incomes while farmers, industrial workers lost significantly. Civil Servants, Mehmet claims, maintained their income share but since these economic difficulties corresponded with growing levels of unemployment there was much in the failure of turkeys development strategy and economic policies which fuelled political and revolutionary activity in the society. 

For those in the higher status positions a claim to being well educated is a major plank of their self-respect and educational differences are powerfully acknowledged status criteria in Turkish society. The educated represent and echo to the great as opposed to folk traditions of Turkish culture. Closer inspection of the pattern of recruitment to higher education shows that it follows the same logic as that of secondary education. The system favours the better off, those from urban as opposed to rural areas, where most of the lises are and the children of officials as opposed to those of peasants or workers. 

Andreas Kazamias (1966) noted in the 1960s that the pattern of opportunity in Turkey had the shape of a minaret, it was very narrow at the top. Those who succeed to higher education have first to be successful in the lise. In this way the inequalities visible at this level in the system are amplified. Regional inequalities in the distribution of secondary educational opportunities overlap with the inequalities of income and life style within the society and through this, influence considerably patterns of cultural transmissions, attitudes and opportunity in education. 

Education is perceived in Turkey to be a central avenue of mobility but one which confers prestige rather than high income (see Aral, 1980).1t seems also the case that opportunities for social mobility in Turkey since the Second World War have had a great deal to do with changes in the occupational structure of the society and migration to urban areas and less to do with real change in education. 

The few studies which do exist on social mobility in Turkey are small scale and really do not sort these issues out. Something of the pattern of educational mobility is indicated in a study of university admission by researchers in Ankara. The survey, carried out in 1976 showed that one-third of applicants were from rural areas.

One-third were women (although women constituted less than one-tenth of the applications from rural areas). One-third of all applicants and nearly one-half of those who passed the entrance examinations were from three large urban centres – Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Applicants from upper income families were much more likely than those from poor backgrounds to pass the examination (Ozgediz, 1980). 

There is little reason to be surprised by these patterns; they are the predictable outcome of a system of social stratification in a society which has always had a well-developed state and administrative apparatus and an undeveloped economy. The challenge to education planners in Turkey is to secure changes of a kind which are consistent with longer-term needs in the economy for trained personnel but which, in the short term, are politically feasible.

The strong demand from lise graduates for places and political pressures, particularly from the provinces, that this demand should be met is difficult to square with national economic needs for better trained technicians and for a higher output of scientists and engineers.  

The root issue here is the possibility of scientific and technological development in Turkey in a way which limits the country’s dependency on outside aid. Critical to whether the country can mobilise its own scientific resources to develop its rich natural resources are the broad policies for science and education and research being followed.

What these policies themselves can be is something constrained not just by available resources but by attitudes, expectations, and strategies of economic development.