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PhD Programs in Turkey

by Mark Bennett

Bridging Europe and Asia, Turkey has always been an important political and intellectual meeting point between Western and Eastern cultures. Its most famous city, Istanbul, was founded in antiquity as the city of Byzantium, then renamed Constantinople and served as the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire until its conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1453. Under the Ottomans, Istanbul and the wider Turkish region became a centre of learning and the source of important mathematical, philosophical and early scientific theories. Some of Turkey's oldest universities date from this age of intellectual enquiry and still serve as important centres of research and scholarship today. Other institutions have been established more recently as part of Turkey's development of a high-tech and forward-looking modern higher education sector.

All of this means that, in addition to being one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, Turkey also attracts large numbers of international students; on average around 30,000 foreign students enrol in Turkish universities each year across all levels of study. The Turkish Ministry of National Education is keen to encourage this trend, with new foreign-language institutions being founded and universities setting target quotas for foreign student recruitment.

The Turkish higher education system

Turkish higher education providers include standard academic universities as well as more specialised scientific research centres and technological institutes. These various institutions may be either public (established and administered by the state) or private (established and administered by independent foundations).

The majority of Turkish higher education occurs at state run institutions (Devlet Universiteleri) where student numbers account for over 75% of the country's total enrolments.

There are fewer private universities (Ozel Universiteleri) but the programmes they offer may take advantage of unique partnerships with business and industry.

Turkish higher education is overseen at a general level by the Ministry of National Education and its Higher Educational Council (YOK). This process ensures that universities operate according to government policy and that the Turkish higher education sector as a whole is modern and internationally competitive. PhD programmes will not usually be individually accredited, but you should be able to gauge the quality of a department's doctoral training by examining criteria such as the research activity of relevant staff, the number of existing PhD students and the presence of any ongoing research projects or partnerships.

Course structure

The Turkish academic year usually runs from October to July with semesters between October and January and between February and July. In addition to the summer vacation, a two-week winter holiday traditionally takes place between January and February. Commencement of PhD programmes can usually take place in either term and the degree usually takes between three and five years to complete.

As well as being a candidate for EU membership, Turkey is a participant in the Bologna Process. This means that the structure and content of a Turkish PhD will be broadly similar to those of other European doctoral training programmes. In most cases your primary focus will be the research and writing of an extended thesis and the examination of this work will be the primary criteria for the final award of the qualification.

Assessment and examination of a Turkish PhD

Though the procedure varies between institutions, the examination and validation of a Turkish PhD can be a relatively involved process, occurring over several stages. On some programmes a formal assessment of your abilities will take place early in your studies. This may follow any compulsory coursework or training and will be designed to ensure that you acquire the general subject knowledge necessary to successfully undertake your research and situate it as a worthwhile contribution to the state of your field.

Supervision of your thesis will usually be undertaken by a committee rather than an individual. This group will be responsible for conducting an examination of your dissertation proposal, which may require you to defend the coherence and potential of your suggested research project. This process is broadly similar to the upgrade from the MPhil to PhD registration undertaken at the end of the first year of a UK PhD programme.

The final defence of your completed thesis will involve your supervisory committee alongside additional experts appointed from outside your institution. This dissertation 'jury' will conduct a public examination of your work before questioning you on different elements of your research. The 'jury' will usually recommend one of three outcomes:

  • A poor quality and unsatisfactory defence will lead to a rejection (this is rare)
  • A dissertation with some significant weaknesses may be subject to revision (and permitted one resubmission to the same jury within six months)
  • A satisfactory dissertation and defence will be approved and the PhD granted accordingly.

Admissions and applications

The standard admissions criteria for a Turkish PhD is a Masters degree in an appropriate field. Recognition of foreign qualifications within Europe will not usually be a problem, but degrees from elsewhere may require confirmation. Your university should have an international office with specialist staff ready to assist you with these and other enquiries.

In addition to confirming your existing qualifications, universities will usually want to see some form of project proposal in order to confirm that your research is likely to be of the required standard and suited to their facilities and expertise.

Entrance examinations

Turkish universities require all applicants to undertake entrance exams and, in most cases, this also applies to foreign postgraduates. Don't worry though: this assessment is primarily to confirm that you possess the basic subject knowledge and experience to successfully complete your course - it won't be designed to overwhelm you or to catch you out!

Universities usually require postgraduates to sit Turkey's Entrance Examination for Academic Staff and Graduate Students (ALES) but they may accept international tests such as the GRE or GMAT in lieu of this. You can read more about international admissions tests for postgraduate students here.

The minimum score required for the ALES test is usually 70. The equivalent GMAT and GRE test scores are 500 and 685, respectively.

Information on the schedule and application process for the ALES exam is available from ÖSYM, the body responsible for administering the test. The majority of their online information is in Turkish, but your university's international office should be able to help if you have difficulties accessing the information you need.

Language requirements

A large amount of teaching at Turkish universities is undertaken in English and in some newer institutions this is the case for all programmes. However, you may still be required to possess some basic knowledge of Turkish in order to successfully integrate with your course and the scholarly community at your institution. As a result, you may be asked to sit a language test as part of your entrance examination. Some institutions also run their own language courses for foreign students. You will be able to find out more about the requirements and provision by contacting your international office.

Whatever the requirements of your course, learning some Turkish is definitely worth considering. Whilst it may pose an additional challenge, acquiring foreign language proficiency whilst studying abroad will offer a substantial benefit to your CV and, with a Turkish PhD lasting three to five years, you will have plenty of time to develop (and benefit from!) your new skills.

You may also need to take a proficiency test if you are applying for an English-language programme and English is your second language. ÖSYM offers its own tests for this purpose, but common international tests such as TOEFL or IELTS may be accepted. You can read more about English language tests for international students here.

Visas and immigration

Because Turkey is not yet a full EU member state, international students still require a visa to travel to the country. You should make your application to the nearest Turkish consulate in your country of residence. In addition to your passport and a nominal fee you will also need to prove that you have been accepted onto a recognised programme of study in Turkey; your university's international office should be able to supply a formal letter for this purpose.

The examination, approval, and acceptance of a visa application can take up to eight weeks and you should factor this into your application process. Make sure you begin your PhD application early enough to confirm a place at your institution (including the confirmation of overseas qualifications) with sufficient time remaining for your visa to be issued before you need to travel to Turkey.

Once you have arrived in Turkey you will need to apply for a residence permit within one month. This will allow you to enter and leave the country without needing to have your visa re-issued. You can apply for a permit at a local police office, providing a copy of your passport, visa and proof of enrolment at your university.

To find out more about life in Turkey once you've arrived, take a look at our guide to living as a PhD student in Turkey.

Fees and funding


Tuition fees in Turkey vary according to a range of criteria. As a rule, courses in English are more expensive than those in Turkish, but the cost of study at state universities is generally low in comparison with other international options. You can expect to pay an average of 1250-1850TL ($600-900) as an international student on a course delivered in English at a state university, or 650-1250TL ($300-600) on an equivalent programme delivered in Turkish.

Costs at private institutions can be much higher - as much as 10,000 and 40,000TL ($5,000-20,000) - but some have scholarships and other support schemes in place to provide partial fee waivers for suitable students.


Various funding packages exist for foreign postgraduates in Turkey, many of which have been developed by the country's government as part of a broader international recruitment strategy. You can find out more about scholarships offered by and supported through the Turkish government here. Eligibility criteria will vary according to your nationality and, at present, more funding is being directed towards developing regions in Africa and Asia than to students from relatively wealthy European or North American countries. It is always worth enquiring with your university, however, as individual scholarships may be offered to students according to individual merit and/or financial need. This is particularly likely if your university or course operates any commercial or industrial partnerships.

Turkey also participates in the Erasmus exchange programmes run by the European Commission, having recruited over 5,000 international students in this way so far. To find out more about opportunities in Turkey and other countries, visit the website of the current Erasmus+ scheme here. You can also read our guide to the Erasmus Mundus international scholarship programme.

Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a PhD in Turkey, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment

The Turkish PhD is a robust and internationally recognised qualification that demonstrates an impressive level of achievement in your subject area and confirms that you have passed several stages of academic assessment. Your time spent studying at the meeting point of Europe and Asia will also equip you particularly well for an academic or professional career in various rapidly expanding Eurasian and Middle Eastern regions.

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