Disillusioned by the education and the future, Turkish students join the exodus

With a big smile, she extended her hand and said ‘Hello, I think I know you, I am a Turkish student, just arrived.”

I was at a brief visit for a university in Sweden, and had landed in the midst of a crowd of newcomers from all over the world. The yard was a sort of beehive, great stage for meet and greet, students making new friends.

In a breath, she told me her story. ”Herr Yavuz, my university in Turkey, Zirve, was shut down brutally. I was just left out in the cold. Then, I managed to get myself to Ankara University. But, soon almost all my teachers were sacked from there, so I called my elder sister in Sweden, and came here.”

”I am so sad for friends left out there, they have no future” she added, her eyes darkening.

What could I say? ”I agree with you, sadly” I mumbled. ”But you did the right thing, and it is important that you complete your education in a totally free environment like this, and, by the time you are through, I am pretty sure you will return to a free Turkey…’

The fact was that I wasn’t that sure. I just didn’t want to spoil her hopes and dreams. Wished her all the best, and walked away.

On the road to my meeting, a girl shouted from behind. She was having trouble finding the path to train station and asked for help. Her English accent was so in-your-face Turkish. ‘Let us speak Turkish” I said and she now had big eyes. Quickly, I learned her story. She had left her homeland to do her master’s thesis. Her comment was brief: ”I left because there is no more legal order over there, it is finished…” Before she parted ways, she told me that there were now quite a few happy Turkish students there, and they all felt a relief for a better future.

Walking alone, I happened to find myself in grief suddenly. These kids were alright, but the entire generation of millions of others, many of them bright young urbanites in Turkish cities, I felt such a pity for them: their unhappiness in an increasingly conservative, intolerant, brutal environment would definitely contribute to a bitter, hopeless, isolated youth. From other oppressive societies we had enough knowledge on how radicalisation creeps in, dragging the countries into a steady state of instability.

Turkey’s ‘backward transition’ to Orwellian format has been sending these clear signals in a powerful manner lately. The unease that has has spread to large parts of the society, and to those parts opposed to what they see as Erdoğan’s path towards Militarist-Islamist order, both families and children of seculars, left-leaning segments, Alevis and Gulen sympathisers seem focused on getting out to an education system abroad.

Daily Cumhuriyet compiled some statistics latelt, that are telling of the powerful trend of ‘student exodus’. We learn that the number of students – at gymnasium and university level – who want to finish their studies elsewhere than in Turkey increased in a year by 30 percent.

Germany and Canada top the league of desired countries, according to the report. For example, those seeking studies in Canadian universities increased from 100 per year to a nearly 1.000 this year. The applications for German universities tripled during the same period. The attractive part with German system is that it makes it financially easy for students to move on to state universities with low costs.

”The brightest youngsters of the country now seek ways out of here” told one expert to Cumhuriyet. ”Of all those who have finished foreign-affiliated gymnasiums, half has done that…’


She refers to well sought-after schools in big cities in Turkey. There has been a number gymnasiums built during the late Ottoman era. Several top level French schools as well as German, Austrian, Italian and English ones.

Other countries such as Italy and France have also seen an increase, even Poland and Czechia, but the real ”boom” is noted, according to the report, with the stream into Sweden. The statistics say that this year the increase has been more than 60 percent.

So, if the oppressive trend and political crisis continue in Turkey, which it seems it will, even accelerate, the inevitable exodus will not only be limited to the elite and qualified adults, as well as dissidents, but also what potentially would constitute a better future for the country.

Having been born and raised in secular western and southern urban settlements of Turkey, this generation of students – who have been the core of Gezi Park protests – may be the last one that either abandon the ship with others simply resorting to bitterness, isolation and – perhaps – mass aggression.

Turkish education system has always been problematic, with the need for a fundamental modernisation, and now, with the rejection of Darwin and injection of Jihadism as part of the curriculum, and rapid erosion of secularism in the schools, it leaves the youth with dramatic choices.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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