The move has been widely criticised by students with some taking to the streets to protest after they were reportedly expelled from dormitories at short notice and left without their belongings. One group of protesters claimed they were detained by police.
Many have also spoken out on social media, using the hashtag #onlineegitimistemiyoruz, which translates to “we do not want online education”.
One student wrote on Twitter, “Please don’t make schools online, extend my school as much as you want, but I don’t want to study the last semester of my last year in a tent in my destroyed city. My student ID is perhaps the happiest thing in this situation. Please don’t take this away from me! #onlineegitimistemiyoruz #uzaktan”
International students in Turkey
An international student in the country told The PIE that while he understood the decision to pivot to distance learning, online classes made it harder for students like him to keep up with lessons, which are conducted in Turkish.
“I don’t want to study the last semester of my last year in a tent in my destroyed city”
On the day of the first earthquake, İrfan Raehan Prawira, an Indonesian student living in the city of Kayseri, which is approximately 200 miles from the epicentre of the disaster, said that he was woken up at around 4am by tremors. It was “very, very scary,” he said.
He and his friends followed government advice and went to a nearby shelter. Around 9am, they returned back to their apartment, only to feel the tremors of the second earthquake in the afternoon.
They have now moved to another city, further away from the earthquake zone. “Praise to God, we are all fine,” he said.
He will now be studying online until April, after which point classes will be hybrid. He said online classes will be “very difficult” as they will make it harder to understand Turkish, the language of instruction.
It is unclear how many international students were directly impacted by the earthquakes, but students from countries including Somalia and Azerbaijan are reported to have died in the disaster.
Some Indonesian students who were in areas damaged by the earthquake have been evacuated by the country’s embassy, but questions remain about whether they will be able to return to Turkey to continue their education.
Turkey is a popular destination among international students, with 260,000 foreign students in the country in 2022. In 2019, the largest cohorts of students came from countries including Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Germany.
Universities support recovery
Universities in Turkey have rallied to support relief efforts, with six institutions launching a fundraiser for students.
The institutions wrote that the earthquakes had been “devastating” for university students with families in the affected regions.
“Some were in the region at the time of the earthquake which happened during holidays and experienced it first-hand,” the universities said. “In addition to the emotional toll, these students are now struggling with the financial consequences. Their families, who normally paid their stipends, are no longer able to support them because they themselves lost everything – homes, businesses, jobs. They need our help, and they need it now.”
Meanwhile, academics from Turkey and Syria living in the UK have called on the wider higher education community to support recovery efforts. Writing for LSE on February 15, Nesrin Alrefaai & Ammar Azzouz said that academia had been “largely silent” in the wake of the disaster.
They called on universities to reach out to Syrian and Turkish staff and students at those institutions, to fundraise, to issue statements of solidarity and to provide support similar to that seen after the invasion of Ukraine.
“We need spaces of collective solidarity,” the academics wrote. “Not only short-term crisis responses, but spaces which move beyond the moment of shock, and help to move towards healing and recovery. Academia has powerful potential to create this space, and we have a responsibility to utilise it.”