Half of ministry-sponsored students opt to remain abroad

Half of the students who go abroad for their master's or doctoral studies after receiving scholarships from the Education Ministry do not return to Turkey and instead continue their careers overseas.

While the ministry does not keep track of the students or keep regular data on them, the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) has recently released a report on the issue. According to the report, which looks at the career choices of students who received scholarships from the ministry between 1987 and 2012, half of the students stayed in the country where they studied. The foundation said in its report that 1,271 students in 2012 benefited from the scholarship opportunities offered by the Education Ministry; there were another 204 available that were not awarded.

The leading reasons for the brain drain of students include quitting school to work in the new country and finding a job overseas in order to avoid obligatory service. The scholarship holders are expected to serve in positions that the ministry sees fit for a period after they return to Turkey.

An official from the ministry, who wish to remain unnamed, told Today's Zaman that the employment problems after their return is among the main reservations of scholarship holders. He noted that the ministry does not collect data on the scholarship holders.

Law No. 1416, which governs the distribution of scholarships to students wishing to pursue graduate degrees abroad, has been in effect since 1929 and is therefore considered outdated.

One such scholarship holder, A.K., went to the UK for further education last year. Already in trouble with the ministry, he avoided revealing his identity. In remarks to Today's Zaman, A.K. said that he had received 1,000 euros a month as part of his scholarship, which he said is equal to the minimum living wage in the country. “Most of this money goes toward accommodations. We experience many problems before we even graduate. We also hear about the problems that graduates experience in Turkey,” he said.

In the event of a complaint or request, scholarship holders are subjected to Law no. 1461, according to A.K. He plans to stay in the UK, taking the risk of not paying a large sum of money to the ministry for not coming back to Turkey.

Those who study abroad and come back can be appointed as an assistant professor in three months at newly opened universities. However, in older universities, these academics may have to wait for five to six years to be appointed as university staff.

Assistant Professor Ilhan Varank from Istanbul's Yildiz Technical University's faculty of education said he filled temporary positions after returning to Turkey following his ministry-sponsored education overseas and waited for 10 years to obtain his current position. He noted that those who receive scholarships from the Education Ministry are made to do irrelevant chores, such as making photocopies for professors and stuffing letters into envelopes. Varank urged lawmakers to amend the law to bring it up to date with the current needs of the Turkish academic world. He added that 271 academics had signed a petition which they submitted to the ministry, asking for amendments to Law No. 1461.