Women’s Access to Higher Education and Their Employment in Turkey

Women’s Access to Higher Education and Their Employment in Turkey
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Mahmut Özer

Mahmut Özer

The recent tremendous growth in higher education in Turkey is instrumental in increasing women’s access to higher education, either as students or as academics.

Higher education has recently expanded dramatically in Turkey. In the last decade, the number of higher education institutions has tripled and the number of students has doubled. Owing to the government policy of “a university in each province”, at least one university has been established in every one of 81 provinces. In addition, student transfers among universities have been made easier. In the meantime, the demand for higher education continues to increase steadily.

In the last decade, the number of higher education institutions has tripled and the number of students has doubled.

The number of applicants to the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM) in 2010 was approximately 1.6 million; as of 2016, it has increased to a record level of 2.26 million. Universities are now being established not only in populous towns but also in smaller towns. However, the rapid growth of higher education in Turkey has led to an array of problems varying from the quality of the universities to the inadequate number of qualified doctorate-level graduates each year to balance out the growth. The growth has also paved the way for new discussions and solution approaches to these problems.

Sound discussion of recent developments is vital for the exploration and recommendation of new mechanisms and approaches, to allow for healthy growth in the higher education sector. Considering the ongoing increase in demand, it is predicted that such growth in higher education will continue in the coming years. Therefore, it is neither rational nor realistic to suggest mechanisms to curb or disrupt this growth based on, for instance, quality-related arguments. Instead, potential problems or those created by the delayed massive demand for higher education should be recognized in advance, and mechanisms to solve such problems should be promptly put into effect. In terms of the sustainability of growth, in-depth and comprehensive research must be conducted in all areas of higher education, projections for the future made via research findings, and policies developed and implemented. In this context academics, in particular, as leading actors of higher education who are directly affected by this process, should take active roles. They should always be a step ahead of lawmakers, conduct scientific research in order to provide venues for lawmakers to reach healthy decisions, and share their research results with the public and other shareholders.

The ways in which such an expansion in higher education affects women in terms of access and employment is the crux of this article. In this context, utilizing the data for the last 15 years I would like to compare female and male access to higher education and vocational higher education; furthermore, I present data on the employment of female academics. (An earlier and brief version of the current paper in Turkish has appeared on the Education Column of Hürriyet Newspaper on April 10, 2016).

Participation in Labor Force Increases as Level of Education Rises

As the level of education rises in the world, both the ratio of employability and wages are known to increase also. This is valid for both men and women. There is a similar trend in Turkey. According to the report entitled “Women in Statistics - 2015” released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), the ratio of participation in the labor force was 16 percent among illiterate women in 2014. It was 25.8 percent among women with less than high school education, 31.9 percent among female high school graduates, 39.8 percent among women with vocational or technical high school qualifications and 71.3 percent among women with college degrees. That is to say, the employability ratio among women increases as their level of education rises.

That is to say, the employability ratio among women increases as their level of education rises.

On the other hand, according to the Income and Living Conditions Survey 2014 results -cited in the aforementioned report- a working woman with the same educational level as a working man earns less. This income difference decreases as the level of education rises among women. Thus, an increase in the number of female university graduates increases the ratio of their employability and reduces the risk of lower income for women.

Together with the recent growth in higher education, data from the last 15 years reveals a steady rise in the number of female university students in proportion to the total number of students, especially in recent years. The percentage of female university students, which was approximately 40 percent in 2000, rose to 44 percent in 2010 and to 46 percent in 2015. The total number of university students stood at 6,062,886 in the same year, 2,786,228 of whom were female students. Considering only female higher education students, the data shows that the number of female students increased from 605,308 in 2000 to 1,566,701 in 2010 (an increase of 2.6 times) and to 2,786,228 in 2015 (an increase of 4.6 times).

Female Schooling Rates in Higher Education are Noteworthy

It can be argued that the policy of establishing a university in each city has made it possible for the children of many families to attend college in their home cities -especially for those with social concerns and limited incomes who find it difficult to send their children to other cities for higher education– and this has also clearly facilitated women’s access to higher education. Considering the net schooling ratio of genders in higher education, a dramatic increase can be observed in the schooling ratio of females. According to data from the TUIK, the net schooling ratio (in higher education) in 2000 was 12.27 percent (both men and women combined) and 11.38 percent for females. The ratio jumped to 33.06 percent (both men and women combined) and to 32.65 percent for females in 2010. The data for 2013 and 2014 appears more striking: the net schooling ratio for females in higher education settled at 40.9 percent and at 38.9 percent for males, revealing that the schooling ratio for women outpaced that of males for the first time. All in all, women have benefited very well from the expansion in higher education, and it is evident that this is having a positive impact on the schooling ratio in higher education for females.

All in all, women have benefited very well from the expansion in higher education, and it is evident that this is having a positive impact on the schooling ratio in higher education for females.

According to the TUIK report “Women in Statistics - 2015”, only 13.9 percent of the total population graduated from higher education institutions (either universities or college-level vocational schools). The figure is 16.2 percent among men and 11.7 percent among women. As the figures tell, the ratio of university graduates in Turkey is still low, not only among women but also among men. However, considering the data of the last 15 years, the proportion of female university graduates increased from 42 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2010, and to 49 percent in 2015. Among the total of 803,760 university graduates in 2015, 394,581 were female. On the other hand, the ratio of female university graduates increased from 95,196 in 2000 to 263,737 in 2010 (an increase of 2.7 times) and to 394,581 in 2015 (an increase of 4.1 times). The corresponding increase in the realizations of the ratios of female students in higher education in the periods 2000-2010 and 2000-2015, and of the ratios of female university graduates during the same periods is interesting to note.

Women’s Access to Vocational Higher Education

Education in general, and vocational education specifically, plays a key role in the development of a country. The empowering of vocational education implies tremendous contributions to the development and the competitive power of countries. In this context, Turkey has recently intensified efforts for the modernization of vocational education as a means of solving its problems, improving the quality of education and seeking adaptation with the EU countries. The 10th Development Plan underlines the significance of upgrading vocational education from the level of secondary schools to the level of Post-Secondary Vocational Schools (MYOs).

Turkey has recently intensified efforts for the modernization of vocational education as a means of solving its problems, improving the quality of education and seeking adaptation with the EU countries.

All of these recommendations, regulations and synchronous capacity increases have yielded a substantial increase in the number of MYO students, and the students in MYOs comprise considerably high percentages of the total numbers of students in higher education. As the number of female students in proportion to the total number of students in higher education increases, the number of female students in associate degree programs at MYOs increases as well. The ratio of female students in associate degree programs increased from 45 percent in 2000 to 47 percent in 2015. Among the total of 2,013,762 students in associate degree programs, there are 950,939 female students. A closer examination of the female students reveals that the total number increased from 163,429 in 2000 to 455,275 in 2010 (an increase of 2.8 times) and to 950,939 in 2015 (an increase of 5.8 times).

Female Academics Doing Relatively Better

With regard to female academics, a relatively rosy picture is seen. The ratio of female academics in proportion to the total number of academics was 35 percent in 2000, which increased to 41 percent in 2010 and to 43 percent in 2015. The total number of academics in 2015 settled at 148,903, 64,123 of whom were females. Similarly, a closer look at the increasing numbers of female academics reveals that there were 23,099 female academics in 2000, rising to 43,131 in 2010 (an increase of 1.9 times) and to 64.123 in 2015 (an increase of 2.8 times). In the same period, the number of male academics increased at a slower pace (by 1.5 times in 2000-2010 and by approximately 2 times in 2000-2015).

As the percentage of female research assistants was 38 percent in 2000, this figure increased to 48 percent in 2010 and to 50 percent in 2015. Given the numbers of research assistants hoping for an academic future, the numbers and ratios of female academics are predicted to increase exponentially in the upcoming years. Therefore, the growth in higher education has expanded the employment of female academics. It is also the case that the number of female administrators in universities is increasing as well, though still insufficiently.

The rise in the level of education triggers the rise in employment of women in Turkey.

In conclusion, the rise in the level of education triggers the rise in employment of women in Turkey. In addition, the lower wages for women, compared to those for men, follow a positive trend, decreasing the wage differences as the level of education rises among women. A higher level of education for women is, of course, desirable beyond employment concerns. The activities, productivity and appearance of women in society are heightened as their level of education rises. It is seen clearly that the recent tremendous growth in higher education in Turkey is also instrumental in increasing women’s access to higher education, either as students or as academics.

The developments in higher education in recent years have contributed tremendously to meeting the demand for higher education and increasing the schooling ratio. It is seen that the recent rise in the supply of higher education has triggered women’s access to higher education in the last decade at an unpredictable level, though it was particularly low in the 2000s, and has dramatically increased the demand for higher education from women in various sectors. It seems that this demand is quite sensitive to supply. The policy of ‘a university in each province’ has played a significant role in this development. Nonetheless, extensive field research is needed in provinces and regions in order to give a sound interpretation of the data. Keeping in mind that an increase in education level encourages an increase in employability, fierce competition is predicted in the coming years between female and male academics for a share of the employment pie. Accordingly, the visibility of women in various professions will also increase. However, we have a long way to go before seeing major changes in the number of women who serve as senior administrators at higher education institutions.

Professor Mahmut Özer is the Rector of Bülent Ecevit University since November 2010, the Vice Chairman of the Turkish Vocational Qualification Authority (MYK) and also the Vice Chairman of Association of Quality Assurance Agencies of the Islamic World (AQAAIW).