Simten Coşar, Elifcan Çelebi, Gülden Özcan and Emine Sevim, members of the Feminist Queer Researchers Network (FQA) (1), have published the Distant Education Studying Group report.
The report refers to the experiences of university students and staff during the pandemic. By giving the recent historical background of the Council of Higher Education (YÖK), it highlights the relationship that the higher education academy has established with neoliberal policies. By doing so, the report refers to many important issues such as; academic purges (dating back earlier than the Covid-19 pandemic but which are now much more visible), loss of wages and rights, unsafe working environments, disregard of personal data protection, the efforts to uniformize education, and how the freedom of expression has been reduced.
The report describes the historical background as follows: In the period 1980-2000, with the creation of the YÖK Law, the following period of YÖK centralization, the establishment of the current dominant meaning of university autonomy within financial autonomy and the free marketization of higher education through the commodification of education, campuses came to offer a space for the synthesis between the field of the state and the free market […] [This] has been a transformation that can be characterized by the oscillation of students between consumers, customers and outputs as well as identification in the targeted entrepreneur-workforce profile for the free market. (p.6)
Based on this framework, the report shows how the pandemic has deepened this picture, it also aims to develop solidarity by examining the existing YÖK decisions, analyzing the processes of YÖK management and is based on one-on-one testimonies. In this sense, it has a characteristic that invites development, improvement and solidarity of existing YÖK practices.
About the confusion of the concepts
The report also touches on the conceptual discussions and historical processes of the “online” and “distant” education models that we have started to use more regularly in daily life under the Covid-19 pandemic. Although these educational models and methods can be designed in a way that is either student-centered, interactive, does not restrict freedom of expression, can provide the reliability of personal data or able provide economic assurances, the report emphasizes that these educational technologies and models cannot be separated from the political motives and neoliberal policies of the period: “… It is important to be skeptical of the statement that new technologies make spontaneous education more accessible, more student-focused, more critical, more creative. Likewise it is useful to consider all of these in the context of existing intersectional inequalities and the benefits of global capital” (p.12).
The following pages of the report define concepts such as online education, distant education, online co-ed education, synchronous and asynchronous distant education one by one; relating to the reader exactly where and how the terms differ (p. 11-12 ).
YÖK Regulations under the Pandemic and Their Impact on Students
The report also includes an analysis of how YÖK manages this process and how students respond to its regulations. The effectiveness of the Academy was examined through the inability to manage the process, the decisions of YÖK and the applications of these decisions. “All these arrangements were made with a technician approach and it was shown that they could have been operated without any problems with the available resources, regardless of their quality.” (p.19)
What about Freedom of Expression “On Campus”?
Another important part of the report consists of the experiences shared at the “FQA Online Solidarity Meetings” where academics, researchers and students doing studies in feminist and queer fields came together. Academics and students have a common concern about the protection of personal data and the restriction of freedom of expression in the classroom: “It was revealed that recording online courses and seminars and keeping these records at the university can pose a threat to the environment of freedom and academic freedom in the classroom as well as encouraging self-censorship on the part of the teacher.”
In the last section, the report lists suggestions for steps to be taken by YÖK.
(1) Feminist and Queer Researchers Network (FQA) has a sensitive approach to heteronormativity, homo/trans negativity, discrimination against queer and disabled bodies, racism, class/ethnicity/religion-based discrimination, speciesism and other power relations and social problems deriving from all of these. It was founded in 2018 as a network that brings researchers together and aims to contribute to the production of critical knowledge.
(2) You can also access the comprehensive interview of Evrim Kepenek with the Distant Education Studying Group here: https://bit.ly/2ZYmur6
Image taken from https://feministqueerarastirmacilar.wordpress.com
Translations done by Ayşegül Çura