Türkiye’s New Soft Power Instrument: Education Diplomacy



Türkiye, whose universities hosted 224,000 international students last year, strengthens its official and commercial cooperation with the relevant countries through its graduates. A similar door has been opened by the Turkish Maarif Foundation, which operates a network of schools in 47 countries.

There has been a significant increase in the number of international students enrolled in Türkiye’s higher education institutions. Whereas the Turkish universities hosted 107,000 international students in 2018, that number soared to 224,000 last year. The number of international students enrolled in Turkish colleges is expected to exceed 300,000 next year.

The students, who graduated from Turkish institutions over the years, have assumed important positions in the academic life and public institutions of their countries. Many others played an important role in developing diplomatic and commercial relations between Türkiye and their nations. International students, who completed their education at Turkish universities, use their experiences in Türkiye as entrepreneurs – which creates an advantage for their companies and taps into a significant potential for increasing the trade volume between their countries and Türkiye.

A similar potential reveals itself through the Maarif Schools. The educational institutions operate under the Turkish Maarif Foundation, which opens schools at all levels abroad, and encourage the citizens of those countries to develop an interest in Türkiye. In this sense, some 50,000 students enrolled in 428 educational institutions that the Foundation operates in 49 countries represent an important potential for future relations. Whereas 400 of those schools are at the K12 level, the Maarif Foundation also operates 43 housing centers and one university on Türkiye’s behalf. Those schools, which offer classes in local and foreign languages as well as Turkish, continue their activities in line with the “Curriculum for Teaching Turkish to Foreigners” that was approved by the Turkish Ministry of National Education.

Consolidating Contacts
In addition to local events, students enrolled in those schools are regularly hosted at events attended by the Turkish ambassador in their country and during visits by senior officials from Türkiye. Such contacts fuel students’ interest in Türkiye. The Maarif students also find opportunities to meet representatives of Türkiye’s business community through forums and fairs.
Meanwhile, the Maarif students win various prizes in their countries and many graduates choose to pursue their college degree in Türkiye. Education fairs, which Turkish universities hold in those countries, also attract students’ interest in Türkiye. In 2021, 1020 graduates of the Turkish Maarif Foundation’s schools have chosen to study at Turkish universities.

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