Squandered potential

The Turkish community is generally regarded as being less education-minded, socially underprivileged and poorly integrated into German society. At least, that’s the public perception. The existence of an elite group of Turkish college graduates would seem to many a contradiction in terms.

Do they even exist, these academicians of Turkish descent? Yes, they are real. But there are very few statistics about them. There are an estimated 24,000 college students of Turkish descent in Germany – not including those who have been nationalized as German citizens. No overall figures are available about the number of Turks at Germany’s universities. Little is known about them.

To fill in this gap, the “Futureorg Institute for Applied Futurology and Organizational Research” conducted the so-called TASD study. TASD is the German acronym for “Turkish college students and graduates in Germany.”

Squandered potential
Kamuran Sezer, head of the study
“There is a tremendous lack of knowledge about Turks in Germany,” said Kamuran Sezer, head of the study. “The Turkish community is perceived by many as a homogenous group with regard to topics such as religion, political views, patriotism, cultural expression and buying habits.”

But in truth, the group is anything but homogenous. Using college students and graduates as an example, the study shows that there are big differences among the so-called “German-Turks.” A total of 254 respondents answered questions about various aspects of their daily lives. The preliminary assessment includes a few surprising results:

“Young, qualified and unwanted”
Fully 80 percent have little or no faith in Germany’s integration policies. Thirty-eight percent express the desire to immigrate to Turkey. Of that group, 41 percent attributed this desire to “lack of feeling that Germany is home, where one belongs.”

These figures sparked a wave of media interest in the Turkish academicians, those who had emigrated from Germany as well as those who were still in college. “Young, qualified and unwanted” was the title of an article that appeared in the leading news magazine, DER SPIEGEL, according to which young Turkish college graduates emigrated from Germany because they felt disrespected, and believed they would have better opportunities elsewhere.

“When a Turkish graduate has to send out four times as many job applications as a German with the same qualifications, it becomes frustrating. Then you begin asking why, and develop a certain degree of skepticism for Germany,” Sezer said. The sobering figures are from a study conducted by the OECD in 2007.

Bridges to German society are eroding
College graduates of Turkish descent have successfully navigated the German educational system. Most of them come from blue-collar families where little value is placed on education, and their parents were usually only able to support their education financially. It’s a long and difficult road to a high school diploma and college degree. To make it, you have to be dedicated, hard-working and long-suffering. Squandered potential

That’s precisely why college graduates of Turkish descent play such an important role in the integration effort. They are “multipliers” and opinion leaders within the Turkish community, and they influence and help shape it. But precisely these highly qualified young people, who are well positioned to build bridges to German society, are increasingly disappearing from the scene. 

“Do you intend to move to Turkey within the next few years?” was one of the questions asked. The number of potential emigrants would have been much higher, Sezer said, if the question had been put differently, namely along the lines of “Would you like to move to another country – e.g. a country that is recruiting talent such as Canada, Australia, England or the United Arab Emirates?”.

No sense of identification with Germany?
The Futureorg Institute is currently completing its final assessment of the questionnaire responses. One finding was particularly surprising to Sezer: Apparently, most of those who want to emigrate are female. This is surprising, because many young women emancipate themselves to some degree during their college years in Germany, and enjoy freedoms that cannot necessarily be taken for granted in conservative Turkey. So why do they want to move to a country that offers women fewer opportunities than Germany does?

“Germany needs to ask itself, why so many Turkish college graduates who have successfully completed the German educational system Deutschland are unable to identify with the country that made it possible for them to get an education,” Sezer said.

The study also dealt with the religious self-image of the target group. A plurality of respondents has a positive attitude toward Kemalism and the secular Republic of Turkey, but at the same time they consider themselves very devout. At first, this would appear to be a contradiction. Apparently, however, the respondents associate secularism with religiosity.

The majority, however, are not very strict in their practice of religion. Few, for example, adhere to halal dietary restrictions, and many attend Friday prayers only sporadically. This too is not necessarily a contradiction: Islam must be seen in this context as a part of their identity.

To be sure, German policy in the past few years has done much to promote integration, but the potential of the educated elite foreigners is hardly being recognized to its full extent, let alone exploited. And yet educated young people of foreign descent are in the best position to build bridges between immigrants and Germans.

Nimet Seker
(21/07/2008)

Translated from the German by Mark Rossman

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