Scholarships attracting African students to Turkey

The numbers have grown to over 60,000 up from around 40,000 since 2019, thanks largely to scholarships by the Turkish government, and are bound to grow even higher in the future as the country intensifies its engagement with Africa.

The numbers currently stand at around 61,000 students, the country’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has revealed, saying that increased scholarship grants has been a result of his country’s policy of using education as a key element of cooperation with the continent.

The country views education as “the most important area” for cooperation with the continent the minister says, and will continue to devote its energy and resources in growing the relations, an indication that the numbers are set to grow even higher in the coming years.

“Currently, nearly 61,000 students from the African continent are studying in Türkiye, many of them through Türkiye’s scholarships,” he is quoted saying by the Turkish news agency Anadolu, while opening a Turkish Maarif Research Centre at the University of Pretoria in South Africa last week.

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“We are also glad to announce that a memorandum of understanding on scientific and technological cooperation has been signed between our relevant authorities,” the minister added in another meeting with South African government officials in Johannesburg, reinforcing the place of international education in his country’s strategy for engaging Africa.

The minister who was on a five nations tour of Africa South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe, noted that Turkey had become an “African hub with a growing African diaspora of students and businesspeople” over the past 20 years.

During a December 2021 summit with African heads of state, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan disclosed that Turkey had awarded 14,000 scholarships to African students, and had trained close to 250 African diplomats. The scholarships could be part of the reason for the growth in enrolment.

Last year president Erdoğan revealed that institutions, including Turkish Airlines, TIKA, the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities, the Yunus Emre Institute, the Maarif Foundation and the Turkish Red Crescent, helped the country reach its diplomatic goals.

The use of education as Turkey’s policy of what has been described as soft power approach, meant to win influence over the continent, a method also shared by other emerging and established world powers including India, Russia and China, in the recent past.

The country is using both its study aboard agency Maarif Foundation and the Turkish language council Emre Yunus Institute to drive the growth.

This has seen an expansion of the latter centres across Africa with new centres opened in Somalia, Senegal and Sudan in 2021, the ultimate aim of having a total of 25 such centres across Africa up from the current 10.

The number of international students enrolled in Turkish universities has seen a huge growth in the recent past, hitting 260,000 in 2022 up from 224,000 in 2021, and up from a mere 32,000 a decade ago in 2012.

According to an analysis by Study in Turkey published in 2019, countries sending the most students to Turkey included Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany.

Other top five source countries for international students in Turkey in 2020/21 were Turkmenistan with 19,384; Iraq 14,799; and Iran 11,223, according to YÖK.

In Africa, Egypt led with 5,821 students followed by Nigeria, which had 3,174 students in Turkish universities.


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