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Laying firm foundations in Turkey

Jonathan Dyson on the explosion in foundation courses and English-medium degrees


A growing number of students in Turkey are taking EAP foundation years, as English-medium degrees become increasingly commonplace in the country’s rapidly expanding higher education sector. There are now around 180 universities in Turkey, of which roughly 100 are in the private sector, with around fifteen new universities opening each year.

Simon Phipps, who has 28 years’ experience in Turkey’s ELT sector, and was previously deputy director at Ankara’s oldest private university Bilkent University (founded 1985), said there is now growing importance attached to students having a high level of English when they start their degree courses. Many Turkish students need an additional period of English language preparatory study prior to starting their degree.

‘Almost all the degree courses at Bilkent are taught in English, so when a student is provisionally accepted, if their level of English is below an Ielts level of 5.5, or equivalent, they are placed into a preparatory school to take pre-sessional English classes, which involves approximately 25 hours of English lessons per week ... anything from one semester to two years.’

At the end of that programme, explained Phipps, ‘students usually have to pass a proficiency exam similar to Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) level. This is the model in most private universities.’ But Phipps added that some universities may ask for an Ielts level lower than 5.5. He attributed the rise of English-medium degrees partly to a growing demand among Turkish students who ‘realise that if they have a good English medium degree they are in a good position in the job market. More and more private universities are highlighting their English-medium degrees as a way of attracting students.’

Capitalising on the trend is Istanbul-based teacher training centre of excellence the International Training Institute (ITI), one of only a few institutions in Turkey providing a range of Cambridge English courses leading to teacher training qualifications such as TKT, Celta, ICELT and Delta. Applicants for ITI’s Celta courses have grown from 83 in 2008 to 354 in 2013, and applicants for its Delta courses from 37 to 303.

Tom Godfrey, director of ITI, ascribed this rise to the explosion in foundation courses: ‘They are our main customers in terms of teacher training.’ He added, ‘Teachers want to get the better jobs at the better universities, so it is becoming increasingly important to have Celta as a minimum. Previously employers wanted more academic qualifications, but now Delta is much more popular.’

Godfrey noted a growing number of ITI students coming from overseas, in particular the US and the UK for Celta, as well as from Eastern Europe and the Middle East for both Celta and Delta, with many attracted by the lower cost of Istanbul than, for example, London. In 2014 Godfrey and Phipps also established the Anatolia Training Institute (ATI), based in Ankara, which runs TKT, Celta, ICELT and Delta courses in conjunction with ITI. ‘Istanbul has reached its peak in terms of the growth of universities,’ said Godfrey.

The growth in English-medium degrees is also having an impact on Turkish schools. Burcu Kayıtmaz, an ELT academic specialist at Istanbul-based Terakki Foundation Schools, one of the leading private schools in Turkey, said, ‘We are definitely seeing a growth in demand in general in Turkey for higher levels of English, because of the English-medium degrees. Students who want to go to the top universities need a very high level of English to achieve that.’

Kayıtmaz noted that the average number of hours of English lessons in private schools in Turkey is around ten per week, while at government schools it is around three to four hours per week, mostly from teachers who are Turkish nationals.

She said that Terakki has a total of around 3,000 kindergarten, primary and secondary students, and its English teachers include native speakers and Turkish teachers.

Kayıtmaz noted that students at Terakki take a variety of Cambridge qualifications as they progress – from the seven-or-eight-year olds who take the Starters exam, through FCE taken by students aged thirteen to fourteen. She added that students at the Terakki high school (age sixteen to nineteen) take the IB Diploma Programme (DP). Terakki also uses the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), which Kayıtmaz said is used by around 30 per cent of private schools in Turkey.            

EL Gazette’s constantly travelling correspondent Jonathan Dyson visited Turkey at the beginning of 2014. He is a freelance writer and photographer covering international business and sport. His articles and photos have also appeared in TheTimes, the Observer, the Independent on Sunday and World Soccer