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Higher Education Policies and Overeducation in Turkey by Nader Habibi

Nader Habibi, Department of Economics and Crown Center for Middle East Studies, Brandeis University, Waltham, USA

In the past two decades Turkey has experienced a rapid increase in higher education student enrollment. The recent essay published in the European Journal of Higher Education suggests that this sharp increase in access to higher education has satisfied a strong social demand for university education but it has led to a growing surplus of university graduates who cannot find adequate jobs. This imbalance has lead to two undesirable developments in recent years. First, unemployment rate among university graduates has increased and it has even exceeded the unemployment rate among high school graduates. Second, a growing number of unemployed university graduates have been forced to accept jobs that do not require university skills. Our analysis of the education levels of low-skill and semi-skilled job categories clearly reveals that in the past decade the share of workers with university degrees (in these job categories) has increased. This development is referred to as qualitative underemployment. The rising rates of unemployment and underemployment among university graduates, is a clear indication that Turkish labor market is experiencing overeducation (also known as over-schooling).

   Analysis of the higher education policies of various administrations in Turkey reveals that government policies are partly responsible for the country’s overeducation crisis. Instead of paying attention to labor market demand for various university degrees, Turkish government allowed for a rapid increase in the number of universities, and their enrollment capacity, in response to the strong social demand for university education. The fastest growth in higher education took place after the 2002 victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP leadership believed that it had to respond to public demand by expanding enrollment capacity because other political parties were also advocating for the same policies in their political agenda.

   Furthermore, the AKP government relied on privatization of higher education to pass a portion of the cost of higher education to the private sector. On one hand the Council for Higher Education issued permits for establishment of many new foundation (non-profit private) universities. At the same time it issued permits for public universities to admit tuition-paying students in addition to the regular students whose education was free. As a result of these policies the AKP government was able to increase the enrollment capacity of Turkey’s higher education institutions without a proportional increase in the financial burden of higher education on the fiscal budget.

  One of the adverse consequences of the rapid expansion of universities is that some of the newly established universities did not have adequate faculty and educational facilities. As a result they have not been able to offer high quality training to their students.

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