AMID Turkish anger at being rebuffed by the European Union, the country's university authority, YOK, is negotiating with United Kingdom universities to cut fees for Turkish students.
Kemal Guruz, YOK chairman, said: "We are seeking to gain similar status for Turkish students at English universities to those of EU students." The talks are at "a very preliminary stage", he said.
At the centre of the university-by-university talks are students whom YOK sends on scholarship to the UK. As Turkey is outside the EU, its students in the UK must pay full overseas fees.
In 1996-97, there were 1,804 Turkish-domiciled students in UK universities. More YOK-supported students have been going to study in the US and bypassing the UK, which was once one of the most popular destinations.
The Department for Education and Employment was unaware of the initiative and expressed scepticism about its chances of success. Turkey has to be a full EU member to qualify for "home student status", but it is not even in the first tranche of prospective EU states being brought into Erasmus. At an Erasmus meeting in Brussels last week to discuss the inclusion of the five countries expected to be in the next round of enlargement, Turkey was not on the agenda.
With Turkey's membership bid to join the EU blocked for the foreseeable future, YOK's attempt to deal with individual universities is seen as way of getting around the problem of EU membership.
University-level negotiations are "the only way to solve this problem", Dr Guruz said. Although he refused to name the UK universities contacted because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations, he expressed guarded optimism for their success. "If we are successful, I hope that it can be extended eventually to all Turkish students."