The Mission: To Become a Turkish ‘Elon Musk’
What do Russians think about Turkey? The first thing that comes to mind is all-inclusive resort vacations, followed far behind by the country's ambitions in world politics. However, the Republic of Turkey has unexpectedly revealed a new industry it is about to develop...
Mechanical engineering is one of the leading sectors of Turkey's economy, alongside tourism. The country manufactures cars and accessories, industrial air conditioners, construction and metalworking machines, turbines, and much more. Mercedes-Benz, Land Rover, Honda, Opel, Man, Hyundai, and a dozen more local car manufacturers assemble their vehicles in Turkey. Moreover, last year saw a presentation of a local competitor to Tesla, which will produce an electric-powered crossover under the 'TOGG' brand. The importance of the landmark was further emphasised by the fact that the off-roader was demonstrated to journalists by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, personally.
As Kutlu Karavelioglu, Chairman of Machinery Exporters' Union, notes, one-sixth of $19 trillion, constituting global investments in machinery, originates from Turkey. Over the past 20 years alone, export volumes of Turkish machinery have increased tenfold, which explains why young Turks are interested in studying mechanical engineering.
"I was born in Ankara. Yet a schoolboy, I already knew what I wanted to do - design, manufacture, and service various machines, equipment, and spare parts. That's why I decided to study in a class with advanced study of physics and mathematics. There are many universities in my country, but I wanted to explore international study opportunities. Our youth mostly follows the same path, with many leaving to the US, Europe or Asia. Of all the options, I chose to go to Russia. All my friends were shocked - in their eyes, it was a completely crazy decision to move out of the country with a warm and comfortable climate to 'cold and harsh' Russia. I can't say I had no concerns at all: a different culture and living environment are indeed the reasons to worry. But I knew I did not leave to get a tan. I was also warned of differences in mentality. Southern nations are usually friendlier; people smile more often. Of course, I heard a lot about Russians from fellow countrymen who work in tourism. Considering that each year about seven million Russians come to Turkey for a holiday, all kinds of situations happen. But I, personally, believe most Turks have a deep respect for Russia and Russian culture. And as for my choice, it was due to Russia's remarkable performance in the industry of my interest," explains Ömer Güngōr, a student at St Petersburg Mining University.
The student from Turkey participated in the annually organised competition, held by Rossotrudnichestvo, an organisation responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad. The competition winners receive a quota enabling free studies in one of the Russian universities. According to Ömer, the year he applied over 500 school graduates competed for 56 quotas.
The popularity of Russian education does not decrease over the years. A couple of weeks ago, at the end of October, an annual educational exhibition took place in Ankara. At the event, prospective students familiarise themselves with the Russian education system. They can watch videos of university students sharing their school experiences, attend presentations of educational programmes, or have consultations with representatives of higher educational institutions.
"Machine engineering, construction, and architecture have remained the most popular study fields for years. This year's exhibition, because of the pandemic, was visited by only 300 people, whilst we usually have up to a thousand attendees. Regardless, Rossotrudnichestvo's executives informed of the future plans to issue more study quotes to Turkish nationals," says Ilya Mishin, who represented Mining University at the event.
But for now, Turkey grants extra scholarships to students relocating to Russia for studies.
"If we want to be the region's economic power, we are going to need highly-qualified engineers who can ensure the country's advancement. Therefore our authorities are ready to invest in engineering education and promote it among youngsters. Despite occasional geopolitical disagreements, our countries' economic relationship remains as productive as before. We have here, in Turkey, numerous joint enterprises operating across a variety of industries. Young Turks hope that Russian education will help them make their way into one of these companies. As examples, Rosatom is building our country's first nuclear power plant - the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. Lukoil's petrol station network has expanded to now over 550 stations. And Sberbank owned and controlled from 2012 to 2019 DenizBank, the fifth-largest bank in Turkey, wherein over 14,000 employees work. Vice versa, our companies do their business in Russia, too. As such, Rönesans Holding, which is a construction company, built Lakhta Center, the tallest building in Europe, and Sochi International Airport," notes Ömer.
When faced with the choice of a university, the Mining University's student did a lot of research, browsed through global university rankings, and compared various study programmes. In the end, Ömer settled on St. Petersburg Mining University.
"I was looking for an educational programme that would encompass all aspects of mechanical engineering. Soon I found out Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, graduated with a PhD from Mining University. That convinced me I made the right decision. My specialisation is 'Technologies, Equipment and Automation of Engineering Industries'. Once I complete education,I'll be able to work, for example, in the aircraft industry; alternatively, I can engineer mining equipment or manufacture household appliances and electronics. My utmost dream is, nonetheless, to work in space engineering. My father is a financial officer in the state missile-producing company. When I was a child, he used to tell me fascinating stories about conquering outer space. Since then I have been dreaming of inventing a technology that will turn my country into a space-faring nation," says Ömer.
It has been known of Turkey's plans to become a space power for quite some time. Ten years ago, Hasan Aksay, then Commander of the Turkish Air Force, promised the state would have established its own space forces by 2020. The first step was to launch several satellites into space: Göktürk-2 was launched in 2012 and Göktürk-1 in 2016. Pre-installed hardware allows satellites to make high-quality images of the Earth with a resolution of around 50 m, which is enough for both military and civil purposes.
The next step was the establishment of the Turkish Space Agency - a governmental organisation for national aerospace research - in 2018. The agency works in close relation with TÜBİTAK Space Technologies Research Institute (TÜBİTAK UZAY), Roketsan - a Turkish weapons manufacturer -, Türksat - a communications satellite operator -, and a few others. Cooperation with strategic partners is often required because in some countries, for various reasons, agencies cannot develop space programmes on their own.
"Hence Roscosmos, a Russian space agency with which negotiations are being held, is our potential partner. An intergovernmental agreement on cooperation, which includes training of Turkish pilots at the Cosmonaut Training Centre in Russia, is currently being prepared. And if everything goes according to the plan, the first-ever Turkish astronaut will fly into space in 2023. The Russian side also admitted of being ready to lend us rocket vehicles and suggested we use the Baikonur Cosmodrome as a launch site. In this case, Turkey could be responsible for launching rockets, Russia could assist with transferring technologies, and Kazakhstan would provide access to a spaceport. Suppose a project like this actually comes true. It might be a real opportunity for Turkey to join the club of global space powers," claims Ömer.
The Mining University's student is, as of now, earning a Bachelor's degree, but hoping upon completing his studies to enter a Master's programme. Air and space technologies are linked with many fields, and mechanical engineering is one that particularly stands out. Ömer says he hopes to get a job at Roscosmos, gain some practical experience there, and after moving back home, apply for work at the Turkish Space Agency. He believes that skills and knowledge acquired in Russia, a homeland of Yuri Gagarin, will guarantee him a job in the space industry...
"...And hopefully, a title of a Turkish 'Elon Musk'," adds Ömer.