Turkish Market Report 2012 – what the British Council wouldn’t print

The ‘English Language Market Report: Turkey’ was written by Levant Education and published by English UK and the British Council in September 2012.  Although the taxpayer-funded British Council’s Istanbul office costs £5m per year to run and staff, nobody in that office felt confident enough in their knowledge of education exports to write it, so they outsourced it to us… (This lack of expertise doesn’t stop the BC charging £200 per session should you wish to pop in for market advice).

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While the British Council didn’t contribute towards the content of the report, they did redact the parts that, as a vital part of the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, they felt should be left out in case they offended the Turkish government.

In light of recent events in Turkey, I’m publishing the chapter that the British Council refused to print last year. It was written to give UK Language Centres some background about Turkish politics, society and (lack of trust in) the law, which shows how hard it really is for people and agencies working in Turkey.


14. Law in Turkey

Trust issues

“Akan suya inanma, el oğluna güvenme
Beware of the river: like a stranger, there is danger beneath the surface.”

Turkish proverb

It is hard for British people used to living in a stable society governed by English / EU law, to appreciate that people living in Turkey cannot count on the state or the law.

People in Turkey do not trust the police, who are perceived to be ill educated, corrupt and inconsistent at best; or the judiciary: anybody unlucky enough to be involved in a legal process needs to put aside a few years and all of their savings. (A note: It would not be safe to write this paragraph in Turkey.)

Here’s a sample question from a report about young Turks and their faith in the legal system (the respondents are law students).

Do you have any trust in the current Turkish legal system?

– 2% of the participants trust the Turkish legal system

– 57% of them have some trust

– 38% of them said they have no trust at all

How do you feel about the future of Turkish legal system?

– 62% of them are pessimistic

– 32% of are optimistic

Family fortunes

Without a fully functioning legal system, you can’t take it for granted that the law of the land protects you when it comes to business or day-to-day life.  It also means that daily business relationships can be precarious, and dependent on trust – of which there is little. This explains why so many agencies in Turkey are mini-dynasties of family members. Staff are not necessarily recruited for their abilities or experience.

Recruitment from outside of the trusted circle of family is a gamble, and even within the family, nothing is safe. The deepest rivalries between Turkish agents are rooted in family feuds, break-away offices and (alleged) treachery. An employee hired through a due interview process in the UK, leaving for another company (even a competing one) raises few eyebrows. In Turkey, if your brother, cousin or long serving employee leaves for another company (or more likely to set up a rival company) it is the beginning of a feud.

Politics, like everything in Turkey is divided along the religious / secular fault line, so that if your party is in power, you are more likely to win government contracts or find a sympathetic ear within the municipal council / government. Watching recent ‘Red Shirt versus Yellow Shirt’ disturbances in Thailand (urban cosmopolitans versus rural folk) will have struck a chord with people in Turkey.


Conclusion (June 2013): The British Council can be a cog of the diplomatic machine; it can be an independent, fee-charging advisor and service provider to international education providers. But it can’t be both.

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