Turkish Delight: Rising in the University Rankings

/ 12 Jan 2017

Turkish Delight: Rising in the University Rankings

ISTANBUL—Turkish universities, which sit at the cultural crossroads linking Europe and the Arab world, are climbing in the international rankings.

Three Turkish higher learning institutions placed among the top 10 in the BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings, published Wednesday by the London-based magazine Times Higher Education. 

Ankara’s Middle East Technical University jumped from ninth to third place, making it the developing world’s highest-ranked university outside China.

A total of eight Turkish universities—up from seven last year—secured spots in the top 100.

“It’s fantastic news for Turkey,” said Phil Baty, editor at large of Times Higher Education.

The success follows Turkey’s achievements in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2014-2015, where four Turkish universities ranked among the top 200 institutions globally.

“In Turkey, not only are there now four universities in the top 200, up from just one in 2013-14, but each institution has risen dramatically in the rankings by at least 15 places,” said Helen Silvester, the British Council’s regional director of education in Wider Europe, in an October statement.

Middle East Technical University ranked the highest among Turkish universities—in 85th place internationally. Along with Istanbul Technical University, it considerably improved its ranking from last year to place among the top 200.

“Now we are more confident about what we are doing and we are appreciated and we are better known in the world,” said the vice president of Middle East Technical University, Volkan Atalay. The institution’s efforts to become a research university combined with the nation’s efforts to increase support for research and innovation helped the institution’s ranking, Atalay said.

Sabanci University joined the rankings for the first time—ranking 182nd on the global list—while Bogazici University jumped from 199th to 139th place. Koc University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara ranked among the top 400.

“This is an important sign of the rising quality of Turkish universities,” said Durmuş Günay, a member of the Executive Board of the Turkish Higher Education Council, in an e-mail.

The same core data set was used to rank universities in both the world and emerging economies lists. In both rankings, Turkey’s involvement in the recent discovery by physicists of the Higgs boson particle—sometimes known as the “God particle”—was a powerful factor. Several Turkish universities were affiliated with that research and were part of a highly-cited research paper, boosting their scores for research impact, he said.

Yet that is only one among 13 performance indicators used in the rankings, which assess research-led universities worldwide across their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. (Teaching is notoriously hard to measure, however.) Turkey’s commitment to research spending nationally and a competitive distribution of research funding are also healthy contributing factors, Baty added.

Turkish institutions are popping up elsewhere: In the recently-released QS World University Rankings, Turkey’s Bilkent and Bogazici universities placed among the top 400.

Students are sometimes conscious of the rankings. Mohamed Maarouf, an Egyptian-American who began studying at Sabanci University in eastern Istanbul this semester, is well aware that Sabanci ranked 182nd in the Times Higher Education world ranking. “That’s actually better than a lot of universities in the U.S,” he said, adding that his friend is a student at New York’s Stony Brook University, which ranked 188th. “So, we are actually competing on the international level.”

Nihat Berker, president of Sabanci University, said the institution’s placement among the top 200 this year was thanks in part to the university’s philosophy of focusing on students. “If you care for individuals, individuals care for you—they perform,” he said. The university is also proactive when it comes to research, he said, while students are active in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Meanwhile, “all universities are making an effort” across Turkey, Berker said. As a result, close to 20 Turkish universities deserve to appear in the global rankings, he said. “Part of this is presenting, packaging your data,” he said, “and there will be even more improvement next year.”

One asset for Turkish universities is that they collaborate in various ways, including on research, Berker said. “I look at Istanbul certainly as one big campus,” he said.

“But it’s also competitive,” Berker added. “When bean-counting time comes, we like to be number one.”




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