Monday, November 15, 2010

Remembering Our Alma Maters…

Posted by Karalyn Watson

Turkish universities are on the rise, and some of their degrees are becoming globally recognized and accepted. In a recent ranking by the Times Higher Education of London, two Turkish universities made it onto the Top 200 World Universities list—Bilkent University at #112 and Middle East Technical University at #183.

On the other hand, the top five schools in this ranking were U.S. schools. One reason for this is that U.S. higher education institutions are being lifted up and forward by grateful and loyal alumni. Compare universities and colleges in the United States—which receive huge support—to Turkish ones that do not, and it becomes clear why U.S. schools usually rank on top. It’s no coincidence that U.S. universities also have the highest alumni giving rates. In 2009, Harvard and Stanford each received over $600 million in alumni donations. The alumni and friends of these schools are investing back into their institutions, allowing them to build new facilities, conduct advanced research, hire qualified professors, and purchase the best equipment, all making them world-class.

Some Turkish alumni ask: why should I give back to my alma mater? One answer is to make them world-class. Generosity abounds in Turkish culture. Giving to those in need, or to friends and family, is second nature to anyone from Anatolia. Yet, despite this culture of giving to one another, Turkish alumni do not have a philanthropic tradition toward institutions. This is especially evident in the level of philanthropy for higher education. Another reason to give is that we want our universities to improve and keep Turkey’s brightest minds in country. It is also vital to provide these Turkish schools with support so our hard-earned degrees can become stronger and more valuable on our CVs.

Additionally, we should give back out of gratitude for what was given freely to us—either from the school itself or from our parents who paid for it. This is a way of expressing our thankfulness.

It is important to understand why Turkish alumni may hesitate to donate back to their institutions, while on the other hand they may donate easily to a foundation such as Kızılay or Turk Hava Kurumu at Kurban Bayramı. One reason can be the perception that the universities are rich – that they don’t need money. Another obstacle is, due to past incidents in society, there tends to be a mistrust of authorities and funding. Lastly, in Turkey there is often a lack of the university “spirit” that is found on American campuses. Turkish universities are often missing the mascots, theme songs, insignia clothing, and other essentials that can contribute to school spirit and bond people into a community.

These obstacles can be overcome, but only with some work. School administrations could share budgetary needs with alumni and friends, allowing them to see the areas where increased funding could help the school improve. Second, the university can help by being transparent about how funds are used and staying accountable to the alumni donors. We must also cultivate a better school spirit while alumni are still students, giving them the feeling of a university family, and not just a place one attends for four years.

Lastly, the school should work through its alumni office to stay in touch with students after they graduate, keeping and updating their contact data and communicating regularly.

If alumni give back significantly to their Turkish universities, Turkey’s higher education outlook would brighten. We could decrease brain drain, improve the strength of our degrees, and watch our alma maters rise to world-class levels.
Investigate what your university is doing in philanthropy. Find out if there’s a way to give back. Start small—just $50 or $100 at first could make a big difference and help familiarize you with giving back in the future.

Karalyn Watson earned her B.A. in Journalism at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, then her masters degree in 2007 in International Relations at Bilkent University, Ankara. Since then, she has been working for Bilkent in the U.S. as the Alumni Relations and Development Director for their North America branch. There are roughly 1,200 Bilkent alumni spread across the U.S. and Canada. She is in the process of also expanding the program to the United Kingdom.

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