This report, on the Turkey National Stakeholder Dialogue, held in Ankara on 13 December 2018, is the fourth in the series, and summarises the discussion of the issues, and recommendations for practically addressing these issues in Turkey. When all five dialogues have taken place, a consolidated report will be created allowing the identification of common issues across countries, where a common approach to solutions might work, as well as issues and solutions that are specific to a particular context.
Structure of Dialogues
Each dialogue addresses the following broad areas, though it is likely that different dialogues will focus on some areas more than others. But all dialogues seek to find ways to improve access to high quality language learning, continuity and relevance of learning, and, where possible, a recognised record of achievement.
- Addressing the specific language requirements of the local higher and further education systems
- Encouraging a culture of commitment – addressing drop out
- Different models of language course delivery in the local context
- eLearning – fully utilising blended, online and digital courses
- English/ ‘Language for Specific Purposes’
- Needs in terms of teacher training.
The structure of each dialogue follows the following lines:
- Welcome and introductions, including any recommendations from previous events.
- Panel session: Addressing the specific language requirements of the local higher and further education system
- Language for resilience for Syrian students: Brainstorming and Group Discussions:
Identifying opportunities in language programmes
- Programmatic challenges and needs
- Capacity of the higher education institutions
The session involves:
- Brainstorming ideas onto flipcharts of issues and potential solutions to the issues above.
- Group discussions on each of the flipcharts, and other issues.
- Feedback from groups with recommendations.
- Next steps and closing remarks.
Process of the dialogue and issues addressed
There were 32 participants in the dialogue, comprising experts, providers of scholarships, university representatives, teachers of English, and Syrian and (one) Turkish students. All took actively part in the discussions, and the views of the students were particularly sought.
Welcoming remarks were given by Dr Carsten Walbiner Project Director of HOPES, providing a brief background to the HOPES project, and the focus of the dialogue: what has been done and what still needs to be done. He noted that the language of higher education in Turkey is obviously primarily Turkish. And unlike other countries where at least the host community’s language is Arabic, the language of the community is Turkish. This causes double difficulties to Syrian students in Turkey. They need to learn Turkish, and for many courses they also need English to enrol and succeed. Harry Haynes, the HOPES project lead for the Higher Education English Access Programme (HEEAP) for HOPES, spoke of the 17 partner universities involved in the programme, including five in Turkey.
Ms Jennifer Roberts, Senior Education Officer at UNHCR, noted that, for refugees in Turkey, language is not only needed for education but for daily life. Language is an issue of protection, and is needed for living, as well as for personal needs like visits to a doctor.
In Turkey, 97% of refugee children are in primary school, but only 27% in secondary school. Access to higher education for refugees builds human capital, enhances community resilience, improves protection, builds social ties and allows graduates to contribute to the host society.
The pathway to higher education in Turkey is by having a recognised Grade 12 certificate from Turkey or another country (e.g. Syria), by passing the Turkish Council of Higher Education (YÖK) entry examination (YÖS) and by providing proof of Turkish language proficiency.
UNHCR offers a comprehensive higher education support programme: a preparatory year focused on language improvement; promotion of enrolment of refugees, and support for refugee students to continue with their studies and prevent dropout. The 9-month preparatory course includes 960 hours of instruction, aiming to take beginners in Turkish to C1 level (most reach B2-C1). A monthly stipend of TL700 is provided.
8,000 students have completed this course in 3 years, <7,000 urban dwellers, and >1,000 rural dwellers. The courses have covered 21 cities, 27 Universities, and 42 TÖMER (Turkish Language) Institutes. A high level of Turkish language competency is achieved, and students have shown a high level of commitment.
From the lessons learned so far: The intensive course (30 hrs per week) needs to be completed for success. Some institutes have shown a lower level of success.
There is an ongoing need for standardisation of courses, and regular monitoring for quality assurance. YÖS examinations, and their preparatory courses take time, and university enrolment can take place up to 2 years after the completion of the preparatory course.
Ms. Aysen Guven, Head of English and Higher Education for British Council Turkey, spoke of the British Council’s strategy of engaging with universities, and this presentation provides a snapshot of work to improve English in Higher Education in Turkey, both for refugees and the host community.
Research has demonstrated that English language barriers apply to both refugees and Turkish speakers as well. There are 2,20 universities in Turkey, of which 120 also use English as a medium of instruction. There are 20,000 Syrian students at Turkish universities. But they, like Turkish students as well, face challenges in accessing quality English language provision.
In a 2015 British Council report on improving ELT provision in Turkish higher education, the fundamental finding was that access is there, but the quality of provision is very variable. In 2017, the British Council started work to improve capacity in some specific institutions, and in 2018 have been developing minimum standards for English as a medium of education (EMI) in preparatory courses. So far, 10 institutions have gone through the assessment procedure. The power of having Syrian, and other international students, is crucial to the continuing internationalisation of Turkish higher education. Any English language solutions for Syrian students also need to be available for Turkish students. The priority areas for developing English skills, are for academic purposes, for greater community integration and for employability.
The final two speakers were Dr Cengic Turan, lecturer in foreign languages, Adana Science and Technology University, and Mr Mohammed Musaob Wazzan, a Syrian, working as a lecturer in the school of Foreign languages in the Social Sciences Faculty at the University of Ankara.
Dr Turan noted that the need for English for all students is real, many courses are through English medium, and even those that are not, have English language reading requirements. A better English provision will benefit all students at this level. He had found it challenging to teach Syrians, and it took time to learn how cultural and gender differences manifested themselves in language learning. He found the HEEAP package well designed and it provided effective training. However, not many students benefited from the on-line component as very few used it. The Aptis exam is good, but he, and the students, would prefer to have an internationally recognised examination like IELTS as a benefit, though he recognised that the benefits of using IELTS would only appear if the students were at B1/B2 levels. In his institution there are seven teachers involved and 70 students. He has found delivering HEEAP a valuable experience.
Mr Wassan received his Master’s in Syria and moved to Turkey. His brother died, so he became the only son in his family. He was looking for a PhD placement, but could not get the needed GRE certificate due to cost. He outlined some of the barriers for Syrian students in Turkey. The Turkish language courses are insufficient to meet the academic needs of students. TÖMER charges high fees, so students need to work. GMAT and IELTS examinations are too expensive and Syrian students are unfamiliar with self-directed on-line learning. The solutions offered included, fee waivers to attend international English exam preparation courses and exams (e.g. GRE and IELTS). Because of many Syrians’ interrupted educational background, students need preparation in specific fields of study. Many also need to learn the skill of writing in English, which they may not have in Arabic. Models of good academic writing and feedback on their writing would be beneficial.
In the following Q&A, it was confirmed that English for Academic Purposes (EAP) was recognised by the British council as part of the reforms they are working on, and Jennifer Roberts from UNHCR noted that students also needed academic language support in Turkish as well. She noted that there was considerable anxiety among students about passing tests, and she had found that removing the anxiety about tests made learning more efficient and quicker.
Discussion moved on to the particular language issues of Arabic speakers. All agreed that the biggest issue was writing, and students need both more practice in writing and more support with their writing. It was suggested that Syrians are often very good on content, but poor on grammar, spelling and punctuation. Turkish students were often observed to be the other way around.
It was agreed that having integrated Syrian and Turkish groups on HEEAP courses was beneficial to both groups and supported social cohesion. Syrian students had limited experience of online learning. No Turkish universities appear to have permanent writing centres, but the British Council report recommends these are established.
During the coffee break participants were asked to comment or make recommendations against five flipchart headings, and at the end of that session they moved into groups to discuss each of the issues.