Before the COVID-19 pandemic, protests at many universities against the cafeteria prices were only the visible part of the income inequality the students faced. There were many faces of the deepening income gap and injustice in accessing the right to education: The inadequacy of the state scholarships, the inability of the students’ to continue their education due to temporary jobs, the constant hike of the rent prices, the difficulties in the dormitories, the conversion of scholarships to debts (1)… Unfortunately, the measures taken against the COVID-19 pandemic have further increased this.
Where did the students go after they were evacuated from the dorms that were converted into quarantine centers?? What about the students who do not have a family or who can not return home, where will they stay? What happens to students who have to work to contribute to their families, already precarious with the cessation of many economic activities? Those who can barely continue their education, pay their rent and sustain themselves through their jobs, what will they do? What about students infected with COVID-19? Do we know their number? All these financial problems, along with health and safety risks, increase the uncertainty of students’ access to distant education. Due to inequality in access to the Internet, software and computers, only a few students can attend their classes.
YÖK (Higher Education Council) announced that the students can freeze their enrollment if they are not able to access the distant education, and that they can be reimbursed for the months they are not staying at the dorms. However, this is not a solution. Won’t this result in a greater inequality, as those with lower incomes will graduate later? This is all the more possible under the current conditions which force the students to stand on their own feet as soon as possible. We expect the government institutions to guarantee students the conditions they deserve, not to help them as a favour.
Measures against the COVID-19 pandemic should not victimize students who are still studying under insecure and unequal conditions. In order for education to continue without interruption, constructive and qualified solutions should be developed. These solutions must take the injustice in income distribution and access to resources into account. It should not be ignored that the path to a sustainable, healthy and safe education is through structural equality. To advise society to stay home and to declare one’s own OHAL (state of emergency) is to ignore the needs of precarious and vulnerable individuals like students. It is possible for students to be individuals who stand on their own feet by providing their economic and medical assurances. Thus, the students’ right to education and to live must be protected by stopping the conversion of scholarships to loans, freezing the loan repayments and the interests, providing additional accommodation facilities and rent aid.
(1) Translator’s note: Until recently, KYK had been converting scholarships into loans when a student failed one or couple classes, depending on the university’s initiative. After a lawsuit against the practice, the Higher Council of Secondary Education changed its regulation. However, KYK can stop the payments of the state scholarship if there is a disciplinary investigation against the student.