UK study: the challenges facing Turkish students

“For many of them, receiving their acceptance letters is only the first of many hurdles”

By the UCAS deadline today, 15 January, thousands of Turkish students will have submitted applications to study in the UK. In this blog, Remzi Gur of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board discusses the challenges facing Turkish students attending UK universities.

The UK has been one of the most popular international destinations for Turkey’s ambitious student population, with 3,440 currently enrolled in universities around the country. The majority of them are postgraduates, studying business, social science, engineering and law.

Turkish applicants will have spent months, if not years, preparing to apply for competitive places in the UK’s most prestigious academic institutions. However, for many of them, receiving their acceptance letters is only the first of many hurdles. I am worried that the increasing complexity of the student visa processes and rising international tuition fees are driving many students away from the UK.

As The PIE News has reported, every year we hear of more and more Turkish students being denied student visas. The majority face rejections by British consulates in Turkey even after they have received offers to study in prestigious universities. Some agencies in Turkey assisting students with this process have reported visa denial rates as high as 60%.

It is especially concerning that there are often no clear reasons behind these decisions. A higher education advisor in Turkey has said that refusals can be so unusual and obscure, that his team are often compelled to enquire if the cases in question have been misplaced or mistaken for other applications.

According to English UK, the UK’s largest language teaching association, high refusal rates have resulted in a “significant drop” of students from Turkey attending institutions in Britain. This process must be improved for UK universities to preserve their attractiveness to international students.

It is encouraging to see that the Chair of English UK Board recently met with the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) representative in Turkey, the office responsible for handling visa applications. He has said that UK authorities are “aware of the high visa refusal rate and are working closely with the UKVI team to remedy this.” This is a welcome development and we hope will lead to further clarity.

In addition to visas, many international students can no longer afford the soaring cost of tuition. Fees vary considerably but international students can expect to pay up to £34,000 for a postgraduate degree and £55,000 per year for an MBA, excluding living costs. These are inaccessible prices for a large majority of Turkish students, and it looks like they are only set to rise: Oxford University, for example, increased international tuition fees by 10.2% this academic year.

“International students are opting for more accessible destinations”

Fortunately, some initiatives are already in place to help students cope. The British Council launched the GREAT Scholarship programme that will assist 11 Turkish postgraduates with their tuition next year This is a promising step in the right direction, and we stand ready to work with universities and relevant entities to increase the number of scholarships available to Turkish students.

In the long-term, my fear is that the UK is slowly moving down an unsustainable path. In the United States, visa processes are so cumbersome and unpredictable, and tuition costs so high (26% rises in the last ten years), that the number of international students in US institutions has been dropping steadily, by 10% in the last three years.

International students are opting for more accessible destinations and, for example, Canada, Australia and Ireland have all seen application rates skyrocket. Turkey has been working to improve its offer as well. There are currently 125,000 international students in Turkey and our Council of Higher Education recently removed all limits on the number of international admission . A clear sign that Turkey’s doors are open to all.

Ultimately, UK institutions must strive to provide competitive offers to the almost half a million international students enrolled in courses around the country. Turkey’s population is youthful, ambitious and outward-looking. Many have benefitted from a great education in British institutions, and I truly hope that this opportunity will remain available to future generations.

About the author: Remzi Gur is the UK representative of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board.