The previous post introduced the imperative of immigrant integration policies in university settings, outlining progress in Europe and areas for improvement. This article focuses on Turkey, which has faced challenges in implementing effective Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) frameworks in its institutions. Therefore, there will be an analysis of the complexities of immigrant integration in Turkish higher education, highlighting the necessity for policy interventions that align with social realities.

First of all, to get an overall picture of the urgent situation in Turkey, it is important to show that there has been a notable increase in immigrants and refugees, primarily driven by this country’s geographical and cultural appeal. According to the UNHCR (2023)[1], Turkey hosts around 5.1 million immigrants, predominantly Syrian refugees (3.3 million) escaping from the civil war and around 350,000 are from other nationalities.

The growing demand for housing, healthcare, employment and education highlights the critical nature of the issue. The latter is particularly evident as a significant proportion of these newcomers are young people, leading to a rise in their enrolment in universities. This increase emphasizes the need for stronger integration policies and greater awareness among academic teachers and educators of the numerous challenges faced by these students. Moreover, organizations such as CoHE (Council of Higher Education) and UNHCR continue to urge the government to implement more initiatives in this area. Doing so would provide immigrant students with internationally recognised skills and qualifications, while also preventing isolation and marginalization, as well as contributing to their stability and security.

In recent years, the government has therefore taken an interest in the problem, carrying out policies to encourage university attendance among targeted students through scholarships, free health insurance, accommodation support, and the provision of English and Turkish language courses: these initiatives have resulted in a steady increase in migrants’ annual enrollment in higher education.

However, despite the positive steps, several surveys, particularly the one made by the United Nations University (UNU-GCM)[1] , have found that the problem of integrating and including these young people within a new school environment persists, as it differs significantly from what they were used to in their countries of origin.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor

One of the major challenges is communication difficulties, as teachers primarily use English or Turkish to explain concepts, which are languages that these students are not fluent in. While language courses are available, they are too elementary and brief to enable university students to attain a proficient level of comprehension, particularly with respect to the complex and substantial vocabulary found in academic texts. This affects their academic performance, with surveys showing migrants struggle to understand and pass exams. Indirectly, communication barriers can lead to difficulties in forming relationships with local classmates, resulting in exclusion. Conversely, it has been noticed a lack of education on welcoming foreigners, leading to bullying and discrimination. Furthermore, additional training for teachers is necessary to better address the needs of migrant students in the classroom. Compulsory courses on refugee education, including strategies for inclusion, could help to tackle the aforementioned problems, which are becoming increasingly prevalent.

There is still much that can be done to promote a welcoming atmosphere between locals and newcomers. Improving access to quality Turkish and English language courses at an academic level is crucial. Additionally, promoting cultural exchange activities can foster language skills and intercultural understanding. Addressing negative stereotypes about immigrants through evidence-based discourse and facilitating interaction with local students are key strategies for promoting integration and mutual understanding. Finally, collaboration between universities could be an effective way to develop efficient policies throughout the territory.

As we conclude our exploration of DEI policy implementation in Turkey, it’s clear that while progress has been made, challenges remain. This sets the stage for our next discussion on Latvia, where we will delve into how similar immigration dynamics are being addressed in its higher education system, particularly in light of the recent influx from Ukraine.