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Why are the higher education exam results tragic?
How do people who think that it is a big accomplishment to turn each and every plain plot of land into a construction zone not design a tuition system which will enable students to study at any university they like?
The results of the higher education examination were announced. I have not checked the numbers, but I am pretty sure the tragic picture prevailed. I will explain the tragedy at the end. But first I would like to go back to the debate from last Saturday where I argued that the construction frenzy could not change Turkey’s mediocre position in the world league of human development. Then I will relate it with the higher education exam tragedy.
Last week I chatted with a friend of mine. He was calculating how Turkey can improve its GDP by enhancing productivity. It is an easy one: take the current production factors – capital stock and labor force – as given. Evidently GDP would grow if the production factors were used more efficiently. Assume that efficiency improvement is measurable. For instance, if efficiency is improved by 10 percent, GDP will grow by 10 percent. Then, keeping the population size constant, per capita GDP can be increased by 10 percent as well.
To increase efficiency, you need to enhance the skills level of the labor force at considerable degree, employ more advanced production technology and organization and improve infrastructure. As you might have noted, the latter three are closely associated with the first one. Advanced technologies are either imported or developed domestically. The prerequisite for the latter option is to have a skilled, that is, qualified and well educated labor force. The same requirement applies when you import the technology too, as you will need people skilled enough to operate the device. Alike, an advanced production organization necessitates a well-educated labor force. So do infrastructure improvements. To build better highways, you have to employ qualified engineers, and workers.
These cold and simple facts are validated also by research based on global statistics. Most of the countries that have attained GDP per capita around $10-15,000 usually get stuck at this level. One common feature of countries which make a leap after that point is a well-educated labor force. I have stressed several times here why Turkey’s outlook was not much pleasant in this regard. Take the higher education placement exam results, the results of the PISA tests the OECD implements in a number of countries, or the fact that Turkey’s population is composed of seventh-grade dropouts. Or just think about the grammar faults in advertisements and banners, or red light violations. On a more specific level, you can always consider the total number of patents obtained, the short-lived teeth fillings or toilet flushes, crooked apartment walls, or why so many people died and injured during Gezi Park protests.
And here is the tragic part: a vast majority of the students who scored enough to study in top-class universities confine to those which offered low-quality education both at national and international level excluding a few departments and academics. Because you have to pay tuition fees for some of the top universities. Please don’t get me wrong, not all of the private universities are high-quality. But it is true that a considerable part of the few good universities in Turkey are, and they ask for tuition. They offer scholarships, of course. But this does not change the cold truth: Students, who are successful but cannot score high enough to make it to one of the high-quality public universities, do not have the opportunity to study at a high-quality private school, an opportunity enjoyed by students who ranked much worse but have the financial means to pay tuition.
How come people who think that it is a big accomplishment to turn each and every plain plot of land into a construction zone cannot design a tuition system which will enable students to study at any university they like? Or is that related to the level of educational attainment as well?
This commentary was published in Radikal daily on 27.07.2013