ISTANBUL – As surging inflation pushes up the cost of living in Turkey, law student Candeniz Aksu says he hasn’t been able to afford his housing rent for the past two months.
“The natural gas has been cut off and they’ll take the meter away in a couple of days because we have large debts,” said Aksu, 23, who is studying at the University of Kocaeli and lives in Istanbul with another student.
With higher-education students in Turkey returning to regular studies after a long period of distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are increasingly dependent on support from parents and income from part-time jobs to get by.
Their struggles are part of a broader erosion of living standards driven by inflation and high unemployment which has sharply cut support for President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party ahead of elections set for 2023.
Economists say interest rate cuts which Erdogan pushed for to stimulate the economy – notably a surprise 200 point cut on Thursday which sent the lira to a new record low – will stoke inflation already near 20% and exacerbate the students’ difficulties.
“The current government is entirely responsible for the increased rents and they still insist that there is no problem,” said Enes, a student in the journalism department at Ege University in western Turkey’s Izmir province.
“Private dormitories are raising their prices. In short, a university student needs to work in order to live,” he said.
Housing inflation was 21% annually in September, according to official data, driven in part by rental prices as students returned to fully opened schools after pandemic closures. The residential property price index was up an annual 33.4% nominally in August.
Students in Istanbul and elsewhere have staged protests at the rent hikes, symbolically sleeping in parks to highlight their plight.
At first, Erdogan pledged to end any wrongdoing and said his government had done more than its predecessors to increase student housing.
However, he took a harsher stance at the end of last month, likening the protests to 2013 demonstrations which began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park before spreading nationwide in a challenge to his rule.
“These so-called students are exactly the same as the Gezi Park incident, just another version of that,” he said, adding that Turkey had the highest dormitory capacity for higher education students globally.
Muhammed Karadas, a Turkish language teaching student at 9 Eylul University in Izmir said he was staying at a friend’s house because rents were too expensive and he was 3,247th in line on the list for a place at a state dormitory.
Students would now need to spend the equivalent of a family’s income to sustain their university life, he said.
Those hardships are compounded by concerns over high unemployment, now running at 12.1%, said Derya Emrem, a fourth year student in the radio, TV and cinema department of Ege University.
“When I graduate this year, I will be both unemployed and in debt. I do not want such a life, there are thousands people who do not want such a life,” she said.