Foreign language policy in Hacettepe University

Author(s): Orhun Yakin
Institution/Organisation: Hacettepe University Ankara (TR)


Turkish higher education dates back to the Nizamiye Madrasa, founded by Seljuk Turks in Baghdad in the 11th century. A Turkish-Islamic institution, corresponding to the medieval university in many respects, the madrasa offered courses in religion, canon law and rhetoric as well as in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Geared to the learning and interpretation of knowledge rather than its creation and dissemination, the madrasa also served the needs of the Ottoman Empire during its formative centuries and years of power. However, lacking the capacity to provide intellectual stimulation and induce change, the madrasa as an institution became an obstacle to Ottoman attempts at modernization in later years.

In 1773, soon after the Russian navy annihilated the Ottoman navy at Ce?me on the Aegean coast, the Ottomans felt the need for an entirely different type of institution of higher education for the first time. Subsequently, in 1795, the Imperial Military Engineering College (Mühendishane-i Berri-i Hümayun) was opened. Under French influence, several other state institutions of higher education, similar to the Grandes Ecoles, were opened towards the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century. These included the School of Public Administration (1877), the School of Law (1878), the Higher School of Commerce (Ticaret Mekteb-i Alisi, 1882), and the Imperial School of Fine Arts (Mekteb-i Sanayi-i Nefise-i ?ahane, 1882). The decision to set up a European type of university was taken in 1846, soon after the proclamation of the Gülhane Imperial Edict (1839), an official declaration of will by the Ottoman Empire to modernize.

The Tanzimat (reorganization) Reforms (1839-1876) created a system of contemporary schools of three years each: Sibyan schools, Rushdiya, Idadiya and Sultaniya, Teachers Colleges and University, respectively. Despite a variety of obstacles, Tanzimat succeeded in creating Rushdiya and Idadiya and in training their teachers in the western tradition. Though University failed or fell short of its objectives, the professional schools filled the vacuum. Tanzimat was successful in introducing:

The decision to set up a European type of university was taken in 1836, soon after the proclamation of the Gulhane Imperial Edict (1839), an official declaration of will by the Ottoman Empire to modernize. It took seventeen years of preparation from 1836 to 1863 before the Darulfunun (House of Sciences) was inaugurated. Moreover, due to social resistance, mainly from teachers in the madrasas, which by that time had become bastions of reactionary activities, the Darulfunun was closed down and reopened twice before it was firmly established in 1900 with a new name, Dar’ul-fununi Osmani (The Ottoman House of Sciences).

Robert College, the first Anglo-American type of higher education institution in Turkey, was founded in Istanbul in 1863 as a typical liberal arts college by the American missionary and philanthropist Cyrus Hamlin. In 1971, Robert College was converted into an English-medium state university and renamed Bogazici University as an English-medium state university.

The established pattern of the Turkish university based on the Continental European model underwent a critical change in the 1950’s, following the coming to power of the Democratic Party. The relatively more market-oriented new government apparently believed that the manpower requirements of the growing market economy would be better met by the American university model, and showed a keen interest in the expansion of the university system. Four new universities were established: Karadeniz Technical University in the northeast and Ege University on the Aegean coast (both in 1955), Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara in 1956, and Ataturk University in the east in 1957.

All four new universities were set up as campuses, rather than urban universities with the component parts isolated from each other. More importantly, however, METU was organized as a typical American state university with a lay board of trustees who appointed the president of the university, as opposed to elected rectors in the three older universities. Furthermore, its medium of instruction was English. The first private university, Bilkent, was founded in 1983. Its teaching medium is also English.To keep up with the demographic pressure and to meet the manpower needs of a growing market economy, 25 state and two private universities were founded in the period 1992-1993, bringing the total to 56 universities. Among these was Galatasaray University in Istanbul, the first French-medium university in Turkey. The system has continued to expand during the last four years, this time in the private sector. Sixteen new universities, 13 in Istanbul, two in Ankara and one in Tarsus, were founded by non-profit foundations. The system presently comprises 53 state universities, two of which are English-medium and one French-medium, and 19 private universities, 18 of which are English-medium and one German-medium institutions. In addition, some programs in the Turkish-medium state universities are carried out either wholly or partly in English, and a smaller number in German. A one-year intensive preparatory English course is required in various state universities.

There are two viable contenders to a higher education degree: foreign languages and computer sciences. Most of the public advertisements for market employment require both, even before the diploma or the institution. Then the question is how to acquire these skills. One of the dilemmas of recent decades has been (a) “teaching of a foreign language” or (b) "teaching in a foreign language. Private schools that teach in a foreign language also seem to be more successful in teaching the foreign language. Families in middle income groups who cannot afford the high tuition fees charged by private schools, forced the ministry to have a new category of “Anatolian Schools” teaching some selected subjects like maths and sciences in foreign languages so that students will learn. Everybody agrees that mastering at least one foreign language is essential. Yet the method and techniques of teaching it have yet to be found or innovated, without sacrificing, the language of national instruction-Turkish. The popularity of private secondary school teaching a foreign language is so high that the “private classrooms” (dershaneler) of tutoring have already become a billion dollar business. Among the cries for educational reform, those who can afford the tuition fees of private colleges teaching one or two foreign languages stand better chances in the higher education placement exams, for admission to a foreign language university and finding a job waiting ready at graduation.



ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: These schools provide 8 years of education. Its basic education program includes Turkish language and literature, mathematics, social studies, science, civics and human rights, the history of the Turkish Republic and Atatürk's reforms, a foreign language (mostly English but French and German are also offered), individual and group activities, religious culture and ethics, art/handicraft, music, physical education, traffic safety and first aid, career guidance, and elective courses. Public elementary schools are free but private schools offer more extra-curricular activities which means more English classes as well as better facilities.

HIGH SCHOOLS: They last 4 years but some of them have an additional 1 year of English preparatory classes. Different kinds of high schools are available in Turkey but two of them need special attention in relation to their foreign language teaching curriculum.



In Turkey, all applicants for the university must take a selection and placement test held annually by the Turkish Student Selection and Placement Center. ÖSS was first applied in the late 1960’s. Before that year, each university selected its students via some criteria. However, with the increasing number of youth and the overloaded applications, the universities gathered and founded "Yüksekögretim Kurulu", the Higher Education Council, and a subdivision named ÖSYM, "Student Selection and Placement Center". The name of the exam was decided to be ÖSS, Student Selection Exam. In 1980, a big change took place: the number of the exams were increased to two, namely the ÖSS and ÖYS. If a student did not achieve the specified grade in ÖSS, he did not have the right to enter ÖYS, and thus, lost his chance to be accepted to a university. This system continued until 1999. At the moment, it consists of two stages and the second stage includes an exam to evaluate the applicant’s level of achievement in foreign languages. These languages are English, German and French. The students are allotted to departments to pursue higher education according to the results of these tests and to the choices they have stated. Since 2006, this exam lasts 195 minutes and has two parts: ÖSS 1 and ÖSS 2. ÖSS 1 has 120 questions on the ninth and tenth grade curriculum. There are 30 Turkish, 30 Math, 30 Science and 30 Social Sciences questions. Each student has to answer every question regardless of his/her department. ÖSS 2 is composed of 120 questions out of which students have to answer 60. The students at the foreign languages departments have to answer the whole ÖSS 1 and foreign language questions; which are tested separately in another exam named YDS-foreign language exam.


Hacettepe University is one of the oldest and largest state-owned higher education institutions in Turkey.  Its foundation goes back to 1963 and the establishment of Faculty of Medicine and the School of Dentistry. Following the acceptance of Act. 892 by the Turkish Parliament in 1967, the Faculties of Medicine, Science and Engineering and Social and Administrative sciences were officially established. In 1982, most faculties were re-organized and one of them was the Faculty of Letters which Translation and Interpreting would become one of its departments. The current student population is around 30.000 for an academic staff of 3.200.



Most faculties of the university, with the exception of Fine Arts, require their students to take an English Proficiency Examination given by the School of Foreign Languages. This exam or test is given in two parts and in two days at the beginning of each academic year. Those dates are determined by the Senate of the university. If students should fail the exam they are required to develop their language skills for a year in a preparatory class whose curriculum designed for the requirements and needs for his/her department of choice. This special course would last either one semester or two according to the development of the student. Those who wish to enroll a department whose teaching medium is Turkish take a Turkish proficiency test and in case of a failure, they either take the necessary courses or given a year to learn Turkish by their own means.

The School of Foreign Languages  was established as the School of Basic Sciences in 1967 with the aim of teaching basic sciences and foreign languages to the students of the university. It plays a key role as the central support service for students, graduate and undergraduate, to acquire and develop foreign language skills.. The School is comprised of the following departments: Basic English, Basic French, Basic German, Post Preparatory English and Basic Turkish for Foreign Students.  Apart from these languages, Italian, Spanish and Chinese courses are offered as elective courses to all students of Hacettepe University. Apart from preparing and administering the Language Proficiency Examinations of the University, The School of Foreign Languages has two main responsibilities:

  1. a one-year/ one-term foreign language education which aims at assisting the native students who fail the Foreign Language Proficiency Test assigned by SFL in developing the necessary knowledge, skills and confidence to understand and use the target language effectively both throughout their academic studies and in work-related and social environments before graduate program and…
  2. programming and implementing of the required and elective courses to teach and develop foreign language skills which the students  will need during their on-going education and  their professional lives upon graduation.

As it is, the focus of language teaching in Hacettepe University by The School of Foreign Languages  is for specific purposes, targeting every degree program  offered by the university. As in the case of Translation and Interpreting, all students in three divisions would take 8 hours of foreign languages per week for each semester including German, French, English, Spanish and Italian.


The Department was established in 1982 and subsequently divided into divisions. With the establishment of French division in 1993 and German division in 2007, the department has been providing education in three Western languages. The teaching medium is a combination of language pairs, e.a English/Turkish or Turkish/English.

Having accepted its first students in academic year of 1983-1984, the department had its first graduates in 1988. Its total number of graduates, as of 2007, reached 801 students.

According to the protocol signed with Marc-Bloch University on October 30, 2006, those students who have proved their proficiency in another foreign language by taking an approved examination such as KPDS or TOEFL at the end of their second year in order to obtain a bilingual diploma offered by the department could also spent their fourth year at March Bloch University in Strasbourg for a joint diploma. To do so, they should take an exam conducted jointly by the members of two departments at the end of their third year. If they are successful, a joint diploma will be issued to these students. As for the 2006-2007 academic year, there are 6 students in this program working with English/French language pair.



The Department has signed bilateral agreements with 5 universities (Hacettepe University has more than 350 agreements) and the number of students who went abroad within the framework of Erasmus significantly increased during the past five years. It is evident from the feedback they provide upon their return that their language skills have developed considerably during their study abroad.


As explained above, a significant amount of students find the opportunities offered by the department in the shape of joint diploma, bilingual diploma and Socrates/Erasmus scholarships. Since their introduction, the number of students who wanted to enroll other language courses given by the School of Foreign Languages. Although all of them have to take at least one obligatory foreign language throughout their undergraduate years, such programs definitely play a motivational role for learning more than one foreign language.