Higher Education Policies and Overeducation in Turkey

The Hollings Center for International Dialogue- April 19, 2016

Nader Habibi is the Henry J. Leir Professor of the Economics of the Middle East at the Crown Center.

On October 15, 2015 the President of Istanbul University, Professor Mahmut Ak, shocked the attendants in the annual ceremony for the start of the 2015-16 academic year by announcing that student enrollments for current academic year have been reduced. He further explained that this decision was motivated by the poor job market conditions for university graduates. The difficult labor market for university graduates is not an unnoticed issue in itself but the unemployment rate for university graduates has recently reached unprecedented levels that Turkey has never experienced before. Turkey is one of the few developed countries in which the unemployment with university degrees is higher than the rate of less educated workers.

The 2015 employment statistics for Turkey confirms Professor Ak’s concern. The July 2015 statistics that were released in October show that university graduates accounted for 24% of the unemployed workers in July 2015 while the same ratio in April 2014 was only 18%. This bad employment news comes at a time when a record-large cohort of Turkish university students is expected to enter the labor market in the next two years. At the same time the recent political turmoil is taking a toll on Turkish economy and its capacity to generate new jobs. However, the significance of this analysis extends beyond Turkey and is relevant for other Middle Eastern economies as well. Similar to Turkey, many countries in the region, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, have seen a sharp increase in the number of students in tertiary education institutions in recent years. Consequently they are also struggling with high rates of unemployment and underemployment among university graduates.

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