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An old ally sends droves of students to U.S. 8 avril 2013

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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International Herald Tribune (USA) Monday, April 8, 2013, p. 8

By D.D. Guttenplan, Istanbul

U.S. hosts more students from this Eurasian nation than from U.K. or France. Which European country sends more students to U.S. universities than any other? Is it Britain, which shares a common language and a reverence for ancient collegiate campuses? Or Germany, whose great research universities did so much to shape U.S. higher education?

The answer, it turns out, is neither. Though Britain sent more than 9,000 students to the United States last year – more than ever before – and Germany sent about 9,300, both lagged behind Turkey, which has been sending more than 10,000 students a year to the United States since 2000.

The numbers have fluctuated, with a sharp falloff after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the United States was seen as a less desirable destination, and when Turkey was mired in its own economic crisis. But according to Open Doors, a census of international student movement issued by the Institute for International Education in New York, Turkey has long been the only European country to figure regularly in the top 10 sending nations, behind mainstays like China, India, Canada and Mexico. In 2012, Turkey sent nearly 12,000 students to the United States.

« Turkey’s vision has always been looking to the West, » said Zeynep Gurhan-Canli, a professor in the business faculty at Koc University on the outskirts of Istanbul. « We have always looked to Europe and the U.S., » she said.

At one time, France and Germany were popular destinations for Turkish students, but the increasing popularity of English as a second language helps pull students to the United States. Britain’s appeal as an alternative has been diminished by recent changes to student visa rules.

« The U.S. is seen as more open to international students, » said Selcuk Karabati, Koc’s vice president for academic affairs. « The U.K. is seen as being mainly interested in attracting foreign students for financial reasons. »

For some students, the longer distance actually works in favor of the United States.

« It will be nice to study somewhere else, far from my parents, » said Alara Alkin, a chemical and biological engineering major at Koc who is heading to Drexel University in Philadelphia next year. Ms. Alkin is a graduate of St. Joseph, a French-language high school. « I had the opportunity to go to Paris instead. But French is dying, and America is alive. »

Todd Pierce, cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, said that demographics had much to do with the number of Turkish students on U.S. campuses. « There was a baby boom here from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, which is still just reaching the age to go to college, » he said. « Turkey expanded its own educational capacity a lot in the past 20 years. From a few dozen universities, the current figure is 164, and that number keeps growing. But it hasn’t grown fast enough to keep up with the demographic bulge. »

Admission to Turkish universities depends on a candidate’s score on a single national exam. With a constantly rising student population, « you could be a really good student and still not get in anywhere – especially in fields like medicine or engineering, where the required scores are very high, » Mr. Pierce said.

The highly competitive nature of admissions poses a problem for Turkish families, which traditionally place a strong emphasis on education. Admission to any U.S. university is attractive given the real possibility of being shut out at home.

« The leading private educational institutions in Turkey were modeled after American universities, so when our students think of studying abroad it is only natural that they should think of America first, » Dr. Karabati said. « Even our grading systems are the same. We have A’s and B’s, tests every week and midterm and final exams. »

Idil Kutay, a finance major at Koc, said she had been encouraged to think about studying in the United States since high school. « We were really recommended to study abroad. A lot of my friends went to universities in the U.S., » she said, adding that she had decided to spend part of next year at Drexel after researching schools on the Internet. « They had courses in my major I couldn’t find in my college. »

Irsadi Aksun, a professor of electrical engineering at Koc, said, « There are two different groups of Turkish students who go abroad. »

The first, he said, is « very competitive – some have taken Advanced Placement courses in high school. Some have followed the International Baccalaureate. »

« This group is quite small, » he went on, adding that most came from a handful of Turkish private schools that offer English instruction in many subjects. Such schools are increasingly popular among wealthy families in Istanbul and Ankara.

« But there is also another, much larger group who don’t do so well in the national exams, » Dr. Aksun said. « They are not so academically competitive. But we have agencies here that specialize in placing students in U.S. universities. »

« We have many Turkish students who attend community colleges in the U.S., » Dr. Karabati said. According to the Web site of the Turkish Fulbright Commission, students studying a range of subjects like agriculture and tourism management are eligible for grants to attend U.S. community colleges, which generally offer two-year programs that can act as a bridge to four-year universities. The program also provides English language training for students in Turkey and additional language classes in the United States before classes start.

« Foreign-language proficiency is a major problem in Turkey – especially for students who come from state schools, » Dr. Karabati said.

Nearly 30 percent of Turkish students in the United States are undergraduates; 52 percent are graduate students. The rest are either classed as « other » or are pursuing Optional Practical Training, under which students with appropriate visas who have already studied in the United States for more than nine months are allowed as much as 29 months of work experience.

Because of longstanding research ties, the draw for graduate students is particularly strong.

« At Koc, 95 percent of the faculty received their Ph.D.’s from American universities, » said Dr. Karabati, who completed his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin.

« Most of our top graduates go on to universities in the U.S, » said Dr. Aksun, who holds a doctorate from the University of Illinois. « When I was at Bilkent we were sending 50 students a year, » he said, referring to the oldest private university in Turkey, founded in Ankara in 1984.

For some Turkish universities, the ties to U.S. institutions are even more direct. Bosphorus University, a Turkish state institution and Dr. Karabati’s undergraduate alma mater, actually took over the Istanbul campus of Robert College, a private prep school founded by the American philanthropist Christopher Robert in 1863.

The alumni of Robert College’s Turkish branch include former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, the first woman to hold that post, former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, and the novelist Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel laureate in literature. Tuition is currently 25,000 Turkish lira for day students and 44,000 lira for boarders, or $14,000 and $24,000, respectively.

Koc, which was founded in 1993, boasts a Henry Ford Building, a testimony to the relationship between Vehbi Koc, a Turkish industrialist who was the university’s benefactor, and Ford Motor.

« Last year Sabanci University, another private university in Istanbul, started a dual degree program » with the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Pierce said, adding that while the most recent statistics actually showed a slight decline in the total number of Turkish students going to the United States – from 12,184 in 2011 to 11,973 in 2012 – he was not concerned.

« As long as the economy here keeps doing well, I think the numbers will hold up, » he said. « But we’d like to get more American students to come here. »

In the 2010-11 academic year, the most recent year for which Open Door statistics are available, the United States sent slightly more than 2,000 students to Turkey – a jump of 34 percent from the previous year, and more than double the 2006-7 number.

« I can definitely see Turkey as the next frontier in studying abroad, » Mr. Pierce said.


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