In the face of the extraordinary situation that is happening on a global scale and was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, CoHE acted quickly and our newly-established committees started working on certain scenarios on the possible effects of this process on education. Before the decision to suspend education in higher education, some measures were sent to Turkish universities.

During this one-week period, a model was planned in order to carry out our education and training activities as seamless as possible. The examples in the world were also examined. The decisions taken by the higher education authorities and universities of the countries where the epidemic is present, the USA and European countries in particular, were evaluated.

On March 13, 2020, immediately after this suspension, we urgently asked Turkish universities for information about their distance education infrastructures and the status of their human resources. Advisory Commissions on Pandemic were established at Turkish universities.

This process was planned quickly with the guidance ofour President to prevent the interruption of educational processes and to overcome this period with minimal damage.

The Executive Board of the Council of Higher Education finalized the “Road Map for Distance Education Practices During Pandemic” that was prepared by the “ Commission on Digital Transformation in Higher Education” formed under CoHE today, with members consisting of academics from different universities, who are experts in their fields.

This road map provides a framework for distance learning activities to be carried out to prevent the interruption of the learning processes of our students during the break due to coronavirus measures. The following five basic areas were worked on in the road map:

  • Legislation,
  • Infrastructure,
  • Human Resources,
  • Content,
  • Practices.

With the arrangement of the legislation, we provide universities that already have infrastructures for distance education with distance education in all fields, only for this period, by making significant changes in the Procedures and Principles for Distance Education. For this purpose, a legislative amendment was made about distance education.

We evaluated the feedback we received from our universities on infrastructure. It is gratifying that most Turkish universities have infrastructures for distance education. As is known, 123 Turkish universities have an UZEM (Distance Education Application and Research Center) . The needs of the universities, which are lacking in infrastructure, will also be met in cooperation with other universities under the coordination of CoHE. Our plans will be implemented immediately.

Most universities are quite experienced in the field of human resources. Under the Digital Transformation Project, which we, as the New CoHE, initiated two years ago, over 6 thousand academic staff and over 50 thousand students were trained in the newly-established universities. We have completed all our preparations to offer the course “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education in the Digital Age”, which could be explained as the training of educators who will provide the necessary competence to carry out these processes, with the help of digital tools to all academic staff starting next week. In addition, some universities have started to offer education to their academic staff at their centers.

Content creation is the most important element of distance education. The academic staff at many universities are extremely experienced in content creation. On top of that, we will also share tools and guides on content development with the academic staff who are in need of support. All learning resources prepared by our universities will be made available for use for distance education practices.

In order to meet the need for content, all online courses of Anadolu University, Atatürk University and Istanbul University will be opened for public use under the platform named CoHE-Courses (Courses for Higher Education Institutions) established under CoHE next week and the online course materials of other universities will also be added to this platform. As is known, the CoHE-Courses Project was announced to the public as one of the goals of CoHE for 2020 in previous months. Therefore, the preparations for this platform are also completed.

Common courses taken by a wide array of students will be broadcast on a TV channel that TRT will allocate to CoHE in order to support the contents and increase the diversity. We would like to thank the Presidential Communication Office and TRT for their support.

As for practices, universities may use synchronous or asynchronous distance education methods. Considering the difficulty of synchronous practices in the current situation, it is estimated that universities will focus on asynchronous practices especially in associate degree and undergraduate programs, and CoHE will encourage synchronous practices that provide more interaction.

It is planned to conduct the theoretical parts of applied courses through distance education and to follow a tight schedule for application studies. Our experience in this field gives us the opportunity to manage this process easily.

The assessment and evaluation of distance courses, in other words exams, will be carried out by universities in a period appropriate for them, provided that they comply with the schedule determined at the macro level.

It will be ensured that proficiency exams, thesis monitoring committees and thesis defenses in postgraduate programs could be carried out in digital environment, provided that universities create the necessary infrastructure and “could register and audit them”.

In other words, the Council of Higher Education has determined the necessary road map during the implementation of distance education at universities and allowed universities to implement it in line with the competencies of universities and in the scope of the transfer of authority by drawing a framework . The Council will continue to perform its effective coordination and supervision duties in this process and new arrangements will be made as needed. The fact that CoHE has become an institution that has the high capacity to make quick decisions and perform agile management in recent years is a factor that facilitates this process.

It is not possible to establish all structures that make higher education efficient, effective and valuable in digital environment. Plus, although the academic programs of our universities have a certain partnership in terms of achievements, there is no single curriculum for university education. However, not only our country, but also the whole world is going through extraordinary times. These extraordinary times also necessitate the use of new paths outside of the usual methods, without breaking this process off from reality. We are aware that we have to guide this process, not follow it.

With these steps that focus on partnerships and academic benefit, we aim to share knowledge with various students, to evaluate the capacity and quality of our open and distance education that have been active for many years, and to prevent problems in education as much as possible.

However, the most important gain of this process in terms of the Turkish higher education will be the solidarity and cooperation developed among our universities during this extraordinary period the world and our country are going through.

In conclusion;

- In the face of the pandemic that started a while ago, we analyzed the measures taken in higher education institutions of the countries where the pandemic is present, evaluated our current capacity and finalized our planning.

- Distance education will start through digital facilities at all universities that are capable of offering distance education on Monday, March 23.

- As for the universities that are not capable of offering distance education, the pool of open course materials, which we have created in a short period of time, will be opened to all universities on March 23.

- Digital facilities and distance education methods will be used in the theoretical courses of application-based programs and applied courses will be given at the most appropriate time, including the extension of the schedule determined by our universities.

- The graduate level will also be allowed to follow a practice and approach similar to the ones provided at Associate degree and undergraduate level. Distance education and digital facilities will be used provided that it is auditable and it will be ensured that there will be no interruption during these processes.

The Turkish higher education system stands on a solid ground. As it became evident after the July 15 coup attempt, it has the power to overcome extraordinary situations. CoHE’s pursuit for a certain standard and quality in education at all levels plays a big part in this.

We trust the competencies and abilities of Turkish universities.

As CoHE, we attach great importance to managing this process by taking notice of the facts, not acting rashly and giving weight to the decision-making mechanisms of Turkish universities. We believe that we will overcome this challenging period.

We do not want our dear students and their valuable families to worry. They can rest assured. We want our students to continue their education alongside their families in a safe environment. It is very important for us that they are healthy both physically and spiritually.