In the past decade, Turkey has expanded its trade relations and adopted a flexible visa regime, allowing the movement of people on a scale hitherto unprecedented. This and efforts to integrate neighbouring countries into the world economy through educational and cultural exchanges may make Turkey a regional hub for the education of young people from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena).
Turkey, with its relative economic, political and social stability and unique blend of conservatism and globalism under the Justice and Development Party, is catching the imagination of Arab elites and societies at large.
In the past five years, the number of non-Turkish citizens in higher education in the country has increased by 59 per cent, rising to 26,000 students from 147 countries. The biggest jump in numbers can be seen in entrants from Iraq, Syria, the Gulf states and Egypt.
The main beneficiaries are large state universities in Ankara and Istanbul, but some smaller private institutions are also trying to grab some of the action by enticing students with scholarships and flexible curricula.
International factors have increased Turkey's allure for Mena students, but the government has also been implementing measures to attract them, best evidenced in the participation of state universities in regional educational fairs for the first time.
One of the most prominent, the ICEF Dubai, hosted 407 participants, 11 per cent from Turkey alone, in 2012.
Thanks to their formal educational partnerships and exchanges, state universities traditionally have not seen the need to advertise, let alone spend money to promote themselves.
However, in the past two years, they have been allocated budgets and office staff to participate in international fairs and attract students from the Gulf states in particular.
In addition, the Council of Higher Education in Turkey (YOK), the autonomous public body responsible for the sector's planning and supervision, last year increased foreign student quotas by 25 per cent. It also abolished the central allocation system for such students, meaning that state and private institutions now have the authority to accept applications themselves.
Turkish universities used to educate Mena's military and civil servant class in schools in Istanbul and Ankara: for example, Colonel Gaddafiremembered his student days in Ankara fondly when approached by Turkish firms for contracts. Today the nation wants to educate the region's new civilian and economic elite with an Islamic touch, fostering conservative values that will make Turkey a strong cultural influence.
The financial aspect cannot be ignored either. The Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Board aims to recruit 100,000 new university students in the next three years, who would bring in an additional 4 billion Turkish lira (£1.4 billion) in tuition and fees.
The proactive turn in foreign policy and the nation's aspirations to leadership in the region coincide with the emergence of Turkish universities as possible attractions for Mena students looking for higher education abroad. Turkey is not too far from home, has cultural and historical affinities, and offers English-language education in an environment that is less hostile than the US and Europe, with their geopolitical and security concerns.
US and UK universities continue to be the first choice among top achievers in the region, but new players have joined the race to recruit them. It would be safe to say that Turkey is among the most prominent of those competitors.