Rising back-to-school prices hit students and parents

As Turkey gears up for a new academic year, families are facing higher prices of school supplies and university accommodation as the country grapples with an economic crisis of high inflation and unemployment.

Even purchasing basic items for students places a strain on families on a tight budget. Selim, who works at a stationery store in Istanbul’s Kadıköy neighbourhood, said costs had gone up dramatically due to the 40-percent fall in the lira against the dollar this year.  

“The prices of notebooks have increased with the fluctuation in the exchange rate. The price of a basic notebook went from 2.50 lira ($0.40) to 4 lira. And this is the type of notebook that people typically don’t want. If you want to get a good notebook, you need to be willing to pay 15 lira to 20 lira. As a matter of fact, we need to double the prices, but if we do, the customers won't come.”

Turkey has become increasingly dependent on imports, as paper mills have closed down in recent years. According to the Turkey Printers’ Federation, the country’s five paper mills produce 250,000 tonnes of paper annually, far short of the 650,000 tonnes consumed. The cost of imported paper has also risen due to the fall in the lira.

Selim said students needed at least eight notebooks a year, which would cost families at least 200 TL lira. When taking other supplies such as bags, erasers, pens, folders, compasses, and extra paper into account, the cost of school supplies per year is at least 750 lira.  

Most children in state and private schools in Turkey wear uniforms, another significant back-to-school expense for families. Each school has an agreement with certain stores to sell its uniforms.

According to uniforms sold by the shop Türkmen, a uniform for a state primary school is 300 lira, while the price of a uniform for a private primary school is 500 lira. Employees at the store said prices had increased by at least 40 percent since last year and sales had dropped.

Because parents need to buy multiple uniforms for their children, many families will spend 1,000 lira or more on uniforms alone. This figure does not take into account other necessities such as sportswear. 

Taking all this into account, parents of students must spend at least 2,000 lira at the beginning of the academic year. The minimum monthly wage is 1,600 lira.  

The situation is not much better for university students, even though tuition at public institutions is largely subsidised by the state. The price of accommodation and meals are still rapidly on the rise.

University students can apply to stay in dormitories belonging to the Credit and Dormitory Institution (KYK), which are as cheap as 150 lira a month for a bed in a dorm. The KYK has said there would not be any cost increases this year.

But there are not enough KYK dorms in Istanbul to house all the students who apply. Students who are not able to secure a spot in one of these dorms have no choice but to stay in a private dorm, or rent a room in an apartment.

The Laleli Dormitory for men, in the Beyazit neighbourhood, close to Istanbul University, has raised prices by 25 percent since last year. Arkan, another private dormitory close by, has also raised prices. 

There has also been an upsurge in the price of renting rooms in apartments in Istanbul’s student-friendly neighbourhoods such as Beyazit.

Sermet, a real estate agent in Beyazit, said rents had shot up.

"Last year, we found houses for students for 1,000 lira. Even if they were bad, at least it was something. Those who come from Anatolia to Istanbul to register their children are bewildered. While they can live in the most beautiful houses (in other cities in Turkey) for 1,500 lira, this amount (in Istanbul) might only get you a ground floor apartment. Everyone says that the rents have increased slightly, but I've seen that they've increased by at least 50 percent.”

In Beşiktaş, an Istanbul neighbourhood known for its large student population, many studying at nearby universities are being priced out altogether.

"In August and September, I know that I rented a total of 40 apartments out. Now, students cannot come near these prices. Most prefer to rent houses in remote corners of the city. Beşiktaş has started to become a place for the rich and the elite,” said Muharram, who works in real estate in Beşiktaş.