Opening Ceremony of 2021-2022 Academic Year Takes Place at Presidential Palace

October 5, 2021 / Beştepe People's Congress and Culture Center

The Council of Higher Education held the “Opening Ceremony of the 2021-2022 Academic Year” with the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vice President Fuat Oktay, Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Mustafa Şentop, CoHE President Prof. Erol Özvar, high state officials, ministers, CoHE members, directors of the related institutions, ambassadors, and the university rectors of all Turkish universities attended the event.

The music recital of the Symphony Orchestra of the Turkish Music State Conservatory at Istanbul Technical University was held under the baton of Prof. Ali Tüfekçi. It was followed by a movie screening entitled “Higher Education” which was about the development of Turkish higher education and its current situation.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and CoHE President Prof. Erol Özvar made speeches in the opening ceremony. At the end of the opening ceremony, CoHE presented the “YÖK 2021 Excellence Awards”, which are given in two categories every year.

In his opening speech, CoHE President Erol Özvar reiterated that the “Academic Year Opening Ceremony” had been held at the Presidential Palace under the auspices of the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey for the last five years and that “YÖK Excellence Awards” were granted at this ceremony. He also expressed his best wishes for the 2021-2022 academic year.

He stated that serious and long-lasting obstacles, transformations and new education models flourished in the field of higher education as in other areas as a consequence of the new lifestyle driven by the pandemic all across the world for the last two years, and said that more than 1 billion 725 million students in all higher education institutions were affected by the pandemic.

- Major transformation in higher education in the last 20 years

Özvar emphasized that the support of President Erdoğan enabled the infrastructure problems of Turkish universities to be solved to a large extend in the last twenty years and that more and more students had gotten the opportunity to access higher education in parallel to this development. ”The number of higher education students, which was 3 million 480 thousand in 2010, has risen to 8 million 241 thousand in 2021. Half of the students enrolled in our universities are female. Access to higher education in our country is not limited to Turkish students. Almost 250 thousand international students are also a part of Turkish higher education system. In parallel to these developments, the number of academic staff in our universities has shown an increase of 80% in the last ten years and has risen from 102.682 to 181.272. As a response to the increasing demand, we have to achieve two difficult but complementary missions which are to enrich the higher education area without sacrificing the quality of the educational programs and to increase the number of highly qualified academic staff,” he said.

- The rate of female researchers carrying our R&D projects exceeds the EU countries’ average

CoHE President Özvar stated that our higher education institutions were determined to continue their research activities in cooperation and interaction with public and private stakeholders under present circumstances.

“Today, university and public/private sector joint projects and research have reached an exciting level thanks to the support and grants provided by the national and international institutions. For the last couple of years, the Ministry of Industry and Technology, other related ministries and their affiliates granted increasing numbers of funds. In 2020, our universities and the sectors they are collaborating received grant and contribution funding from 623 national and international funding institutions and carried out R&D and innovation based 12.358 projects and research. In addition to these developments, in this challenging technological competition, universities are expected to build observation and improvement mechanisms to put forward better R&D activities as well as properly managing the qualified human resource. I would like to draw your attention to a remarkable development. As you have just seen in the video, the rate of female researchers that are carrying out R&D projects exceeds the EU countries’ average.”

“They try to steer social transformation with a strategy that aims to solve contemporary problems in the fields such as health, law, security, agriculture, food and education by making use of the opportunities of software and digital technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence, big data and robotics in the IT world. The observations show that one of the most important elements that will contribute to the development of all these processes and their dissemination to the masses is the big data technology, which consists of huge data collected through sensors and software from all over the world. As the Council of Higher Education, we will prioritize the use of big data, which forms the basis of knowledge-the most important power of our times- and rapidly-changing technology, in the new period.”

- A management style that closely monitors the employment of graduates

Özvar said that the universities of the Republic of Turkey prepared over 8 million young population in Turkish higher education-the highest number of students in the European Higher Education Area-for the future and that these institutions had to be sensitive to the social values, follow sectoral developments and evaluate the student demands of the 21st century accurately, as in the rest of the world. He emphasized that they would prioritize the activation of an administrative approach that allows universities to closely monitor the employment of their graduates considering the labor market in Turkey in the new period. CoHE President Özvar underlined that the 2014-2023 National Employment Strategy Document aimed to establish efficiency in the labor market, to train people with the skills and competence to meet the expectations of the labor markets, and to increase labor productivity with employment ratios in order for Turkey to be among the most advanced economies. Özvar said that 44 thousand 452 undergraduate and associate degree students in 81 provinces completed their internships in public institutions under the principle of equal opportunity with the “internship campaign”, which President Erdoğan had included in the 2021 Presidential Program and had been acknowledged as best practice by the OECD. He added that the primary approach of the Council of Higher Education, apart from our traditional perception of university education, would be to rapidly update and lead the higher education sector both in the classrooms and out in the field.

- A period of close interaction with the world's leading higher education institutions and scientists

CoHE President Özvar pointed out that Turkey was one of the top 10 international student destinations in the world, considering the number of international students in our higher education system, and reiterated that Turkey was in the fifth place after the UK, Germany, France and Russia in the European Higher Education Area. He stated that he believed Turkish universities would increase the number of international students to reach their 2023 goals without sacrificing academic standards and quality. “We have another important aim to achieve as a part of internationalization; close interaction with the world's leading higher education institutions and scientists. In order for our scientists to generate more qualified and reliable publications on a global scale and to increase their productivity, we must build institutional facilities and infrastructures that will enable them to work together with their widely respected international colleagues,” he said.

CoHE President Özvar pointed out that internationalization was also one of the most effective and strategic ways to develop qualified scientific productivity. “We are proud to say that the Turkish Higher Education System has evolved into a community with its competitive universities and highly qualified scientists. In this part of my speech, let me present some numerical data on the scientific studies at Turkish universities: While the Turkish scientific world was ranked 27th with 6,985 scientific publications out of 209 countries in terms of quality international publications in the 2000s, it ranked 17th with 62,545 publications in 2020. The impact of our publications on world science, which was 0.76 in 2000, increased to 0.86 in 2020. The projects and incentive mechanisms that the Council of Higher Education will develop for Turkish universities during this period will be based on the quality standards, employment interests, academic performance and scientific productivity of Turkish universities. We expect the university administrators of Turkish universities to monitor and evaluate their institutions through these criteria in the fields where they can create a competitive advantage compared to other institutions. We believe that Turkish higher education institutions that produce quality publications and provide quality assurance will increase their global prestige in many respects.”

CoHE President Özvar noted that extraordinary works had been carried out for our country to have a say in the world and to be a strong nation that lead the way in developments. “Turkey, siding with the right rather than the strong, has become the voice of the oppressed nations around the world. Turkish universities are also indebted to support this process under two main topics. The first one is to train young people who are the guarantee of our future and the second is to use the human resource and infrastructure facilities of Turkish universities effectively, efficiently and in a planned manner to become a country that steers the studies in science and technology and maintains its power.

CoHE President Özvar reiterated that Turkish universities were strong and qualified enough to have a say in the international scientific world and concluded his speech by saying that they would do their best to make this capacity visible.

Click here to read the full transcript of the speech made by CoHE President Prof. Erol Özvar. (In Turkish)

Following the speech of CoHE President Erol Özvar, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech. He reiterated that they had faced major challenges in educational services, as in many other fields, due to the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020 and stated that it was important to continue education even if it was offered online. Erdoğan noted that it was obvious distance education could not replace in-person learning. He said that the State took every measure to start educational institutions at every level on schedule.

- “Global Visions Support Program in Turkish Higher Education Towards 2030”

President Erdoğan stated that the global political and economic transformations and vital developments such as climate change necessitated a strong vision targeting the next decade in higher education and its implementation with determination. “We believe that Turkish universities could realize such a vision with the support of the State and the resources they will develop. During the pandemic, we all witnessed how we have already had the infrastructure and vision required in many fields from health and industry. We have entered a new period in which we need to stop imitating and following and reach a position where we determine and guide,” he said.

He continued by saying, “One of these steps is the 'Global Visions Support Program in Turkish Higher Education Towards 2030', which is the largest financial support organization ever made to universities in the history of the Republic. Through this program, which will be implemented under the leadership of the Council of Higher Education, Turkish universities will help our country to become one of the leading centers on innovative studies in the world. We will support this program and make every contribution for our universities to achieve global success.”

- "44 percent of the youth aged 18-22 can now access higher education”

Erdoğan noted that higher education in Turkey was a privileged service that only a small section of the society could access for a long time. He pointed out that the schooling rate of the youth aged 18-22 was below 15 percent even at the end of the 1990s and said, “We increased the number of public and foundation higher education institutions, which was 76 in 2002, to 207. We ensured that every province has its own university in Turkey. In parallel to the increase in the number of universities, the number of academic staff has increased from 70 thousand to 180 thousand. The number of university students has also increased from 1.6 million to 8.4 million. 44 percent of the youth aged 18-22 can now access higher education.”

President Erdoğan said that the fact that the schooling rate of young women, who were not allowed to get into universities before, surpassed men by five points was a sign of the level of rights and freedoms in education.

Erdoğan reiterated that they believed in a strong relation between education and development and that they established this relation. “As the education level, knowledge and skills of our people increase, the political, social and economic development of our country accelerates at the same rate. Prosperity increases in the countries which have widespread and strong educational institutions. The spread of higher education institutions across the country means the fair and equal distribution of this prosperity that will emerge in this way.”

Following the opening speeches, the “YÖK 2021 Excellence Awards” were presented to academics and universities to encourage the studies, projects, theses and activities related to community services that are carried out through the scientific studies of universities.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presented the awards in two categories.

The “Individual Awards” were given in the categories of Social and Human Sciences, Science and Engineering and Health Sciences, and the “Institutional Awards” were given in the categories of Contribution to Local Development, International Cooperation, University-Industry Cooperation and Community Service.