The number of international students who travel to Turkey for higher education is increasing every year, yet these students face challenges with regards to adapting to social and academic life in Turkey.
According to data from the country's Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM), the number of international students studying at Turkish universities has increased dramatically over the past few years. While the number of international students studying at Turkish universities was 15,481 in the 2005/06 academic year, in addition to 578 international students who were studying at other educational institutions, in the 2008/09 academic year, there were 18,158 international students studying at universities and 562 students in other educational institutions in Turkey. In the 2009/10 academic year, these numbers increased to 21,361 and 587, respectively. The number of international students in the 2010/11 academic year was 26,228, with 683 studying at other educational institutions.
Although the number of international students in the country is increasing, the Turkish authorities seem indifferent to the problems frequently faced by these students and fail to take action to make things easier for them.
The complicated process involved in getting a residence permit is one of the main problems international students encounter when they first come to Turkey.
For those in İstanbul, it is only possible to get a residence permit from the İstanbul Police Office in the Vatan neighborhood of the Fatih district, more commonly known as the “Vatan Emniyet.”
After getting their student identification cards, international students need to get an appointment from the Vatan Emniyet to get a residence permit within 30 days. However, this is not easy as the system always shows all the appointments as taken.
Even if the students can get an appointment, dealing with the paperwork at the Vatan Emniyet is not an easy task for newcomers to the country.
Ramazan Ünalan, an education consultant for international students at the İstanbul-based Fatih University, lamented the fact that there is not a special department for international students at the Vatan Emniyet and that most students are treated rudely by police officers.
He said all foreigners in İstanbul go to the Vatan Emniyet and there is always chaos there, which is a bad start to international students' education adventure in the country.
“The absence of any staff with English skills at the police office also makes things more complicated for international students, and things proceed very slowly there,” he told Sunday's Zaman, adding that his efforts to help his university's students complete their paperwork at the Vatan Emniyet all the time prove fruitless as nobody answers telephone calls or provides any information.
The difficulties faced by international students in getting a residence permit is just the tip of the iceberg, as these students face other problems in adapting to social and academic life in Turkey.
Ömer Yalçın, secretary-general of the İstanbul-based Mozaik International Students' and Culture Foundation, which brings together hundreds of international students under its roof and tackles their problems, spoke to Sunday's Zaman about these problems.
He said that since there is no common exam that all international students have to take before being admitted to a Turkish university and because most of them are selected according to their academic performance at high school in their own countries or after interviews, some students who come from countries where the quality of education is low have problems in adapting to academic life in their departments.
“I know some students who lost their scholarships due to their academic failure and had to return to their countries,” he said, underlining the necessity of an exam for these students to measure their academic competence before they are admitted to a Turkish university.
Concerning the problems students face socially, Yalçın said some students with dark skin complain about being insulted while travelling on public transportation.
In an attempt to make things easier for international students when they first come to Turkey, Yalçın said his foundation has prepared a booklet which includes all the necessary information and phone numbers of the institutions an international student would need when they are new in the country.
Rabat Sami, an Iraqi student at Fatih University, is one of the students who did not have a smooth start to his education life in Turkey.
Although he was placed in a department at Selçuk University in Konya, he only found out after coming to Konya that the language of education in that department was Turkish and not English, as he had expected.
Sami said that after he missed out on the chance to go to university in Iraq, he applied to Fatih University, which offers education in English, but could not enroll at the university for a month because he was waiting for the settlement of some procedural problems.
Another student at Fatih University, Muhammad Ahmad Abu Bakr from Chad, who studies international relations, said the major problem he faced when he first came to Turkey was the language.
He said his grasp of Turkish within several months helped him to overcome the language barrier and adapt to social life in the country more easily.