During the pandemic, there have been protests against the education and health policies of different governments across the world. In Turkey, students taking the Higher Education Exam (YKS) this year campaigned for the postponement of their exams and for better precautions against the pandemic. However, instead of postponing the exam, the authorities chose to go ahead with the normal academic calendar to encourage parents and families to go on summer vacations. More than one and a half million students took the exam two days in a row under the pandemic conditions.
Following the announcement of the exam scores, students helped each other out while they were selecting their prospective departments. In order to make better selections for their future careers, students taking the YKS exam seek advice from actual university students. They do not choose to refer to the university booklets as they do not find them reliable.
As the Civic Space Studies Association, we interviewed university candidates and the university students who helped them. We asked the students about their struggles in the selection process, and the advice they seek. Ulaş is one of the students who took YKS :
“This year was very difficult. We were very stressed. There was a pandemic, we were trying to both take the exam and make our voice be heard. If I had not been so nervous, my exam results would have been different.”
– What method did you follow in your selection period?
“Frankly, I did not know whom to trust. That’s why I try to get information from everywhere. I compare different sources. I get information from university students: How are the courses, the meals, the dormitories, transportation? I will choose a university based on the answers of my questions.”
Beril is another student who recently took the exam: “During my selection period, I only take into consideration what the university students’ say. For example, my sister is also studying at the university. She was very disappointed when she went to university. You trust the ads, none of them turn out to be right. This also happens at private universities.”
Beril has also considered the scholarship programs of foundation universities: “The only way to understand what the scholarship covers is to talk to students. When my sister went to university, the dormitory fee was covered by the scholarship, but the room was uninhabitable. She was very upset. I am taking advice (from university students) to avoid such experiences.” Data on foundation universities confirm Beril’s concerns. Foundation universities allocate the largest share of their budget to advertising. How do students in the selection process find university students to seek advice from? In order to meet this need, youth organizations, student organizations, university clubs and university students made many open calls on social media.
Leyla participated in a campaign which was organized to help answer the students’ questions. Leyla explains what the students pay attention to: “Mostly the students ask about the academic staff. Are the professors in universities well-equipped and are they accessible during their office hours? Is there a solidarity among students, for example, do the students share notes with each other or is there competition among students? Can I spend time on campus, what are the facilities of the campus?”
Uğur, a university student who took part in campaigns to answer such questions, summarizes the common pattern as follows: “The common point among the students is that they want to find out if there are opportunities to socialize at the universities. This includes access to teachers, the presence of clubs on campus, the location and environment of the dormitories. But as far as I can tell, high school students see university more like being part of a network. Of course, education is also a point of inquiry, but they really wonder how ‘being a university student’ will contribute to their lives.”
Another issue that Leyla and Uğur observed is the students’ financial and safety concerns. Leyla states: “Female students, in particular, have safety concerns regarding the universities in big cities. They ask how they can deal with the big city, the crowd, and the problems that may arise in such an environment. Even talking about well-established universities such as Istanbul University, they first ask if (the district) is safe. “Uğur, on the other hand, draws attention to the financial concerns: “How much are the rents, can I find furniture, are the book fees high… Especially for law or medicine departments, there are many questions about whether the class material is affordable. But I see that they are very worried about something that I am worried about too: ‘Will I be able to make a living in this city (Istanbul)?’”
This year, students mostly wonder if universities will be opened. Everyone is confused about the dates and all students are waiting for the news. “On the other hand,” says Leyla, “we cannot plan for the future either. Where will we stay, will we return to our families?” Beril also states: “We are university students, but it is as if we are not. I don’t know if any generation has ever lived through what we experienced this year… They call us Generation Z, I don’t know about that, but what our generation went through has been really difficult.”
As the student networks develop under Covid-19, they choose to refer to each other while selecting their prospective universities. As The Civic Space Studies Association, we underline once again that we will be in solidarity with all the students.
Here are some calls for providing help with selection processes: Student News, Youth Committees, University Solidarity Network, Student Union, UniBilgi, Ask The University To Me.