Notes from Turkey Economic Congress of Independent University Students

Onat Barın Turan

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

The free-thinking atmosphere is suppressed by the state itself, the media under the control of the state or collaborating with it, by political pressure, by the capital holders and religious communities, or directly by the judiciary, forcibly and, if necessary, violently. The rectors of the universities, appointed directly by the head of the state, prevent the students from coming together to generate knowledge and organize in a collective way by restricting the activities of the communities, by imposing various administrative obstacles, and by closing the student societies as we have witnessed before, intimidating the students with disciplinary punishments.

While our country experience one of the biggest economic and political crises in its history, students from universities all over the country, especially Middle East Technical University (METU), Marmara University, Istanbul University, Yıldız Technical University and Ankara University, brings a critical perspective to both current issues and the general constituents of economics under the umbrella of Turkey Economic Congress of Independent University Students (TÜOBİK) by benefiting from the science of economy as well as other social sciences such as psychology, sociology and history, used for interpreting the economy better.

The participants and speakers of the congress is composed of students from all departments of all universities, who sustain that it would not be possible to understand the science of economics allowing us to understand how people interact with other people, their communities and nature both collectively and individually, only through the positivist and materialist perspective taught in universities and who want to encounter different perspectives.

As METU Economics Society members, we think the most important feature of our congress is that it does not accept any sponsors. We believe that only in this way can we ensure that the themes are selected freely and that the speakers speak as comfortably as possible. Because we know that if we get sponsors for our event, a company or association that will provide us with money and sign our posters will intend to interfere with the topics and contents of the congress, and the presentation titles criticizing the policies of today’s government will either be removed completely, or their content will be emptied. The core element promised by our congress is the free discussion platform and we try to protect it.

Our friend, who is a member of the METU Economics Society and participated in this event for the first time in their freshman year, explains the free-thinking platform as follows:

“Because TÜÖBİK is a platform open to participants from every university, it has a structure where multiple perspectives are presented. The presentations made without being exposed to any censorship allowed me to reevaluate the subjects of which I got an idea already, from different perspectives. In addition to this, it was important for me to be informed about the issues that I was not aware of previously.”

How is content determined?

Each year, the city where the congress will be held, then the host university, and finally the host student committee are selected. Students from participating universities join in this committee, so the workload is not entirely left to the student communities of the organizing university. The 20th TÜOBİK, organized within the body of METU, was hosted by the Economics Society, and received great help from the students at Ankara University. Although our department caused us some troubles in administrative procedures, 2 classrooms were allocated to us in FEAS A building at METU this year and the sessions were held here.

This year, the main theme of the congress was “The Future of Economics in a World of Crises”. Sub-topics such as “Governments’ quest for a way out of the pandemic”, “International migration distribution policies”, “Accessibility in monopolized health”, “War economy and weapon industry” were determined by the committee formed by the students. In addition, a forum was held to diversify the topics and create an environment for free discussion, and in this forum, there was also a session where subjects such as sports economics, easier to understand for participants who do not study in economics, were discussed.

After the venue and themes of the congress are finalized, students who want to prepare presentations in accordance with these themes first submit the draft version and then the full version of their presentation to a board formed by the students. The presentations, which are approved in full, are distinguished into days according to the contexts, divided into sessions with two or three people presenting, and a session takes approximately one and a half hours. At the end of the presentations, a facilitator who is next to the speakers gives the floor to the audience who want to speak and moderates the discussion. As I have personally experienced, the questions and answers at the end of the sessions are never enough for us, we continue to talk with the presenters during breaks and at the end of the day. This lies at the heart of the places where free mutual discussion environments are born.

A friend of ours, a member of METU Economics Society, who graduated this year and has been involved in the organization of this congress for many years, explained this issue as follows:

“I have been playing an active role in the organization of this congress for a long time and through this labor, I found friends with students from various universities and cities that I would never have encountered without this congress. I learned a lot from these friendship bonds and improved myself and perhaps made friendships that will last a lifetime.”

A friend of ours from Ankara University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, who attended the congress, also said:

“I heard about the congress thanks to a close friend of mine who is one of the organizers of TÜOBİK. Although my department is not related to the topics discussed here, I think economics is a subject, about which everyone should know a little bit, because it influences all our lives in some way. Before I came here, I used to think of economics as a field that had a special terminology and that people who did not have an economics degree would not be able to express their opinions. But here in the congress, some of my prejudices were eliminated and I learned about the social foundations of economics. Even if I did not take the floor in the sessions, I am planning to attend again next year and this time I am going to learn more through reading the source materials and participating in the discussions.”

Apart from the general operation of the congress, the most challenging issue for us while preparing for the 20th TÜOBİK was finding the money necessary for the organization. So where does the money come from for the event, to which more than two hundred people attended and one hundred and fifty participants are accommodated for two days? We collected the money required for the process from the members of METU Economics Society, the assistants in our department – some of the assistants who supported us were former members of the society – and lecturers. At the same time, we turned to associations and unions, talked about what we wanted to do and asked for donations. Although METU Alumni Association did not support us financially, they gave us tea and coffee to offer participants between sessions. We reached out to our university’s former alumni via LinkedIn and received support from two anonymous donors. Later, we held a kermis in our university’s library, sold the cakes made by our members’ families, and added the pastries we made and the coffee we brewed to our table. At the times when the congress was held, we carried tables with our members to the classrooms where presentations are made, we brewed tea and coffee in cauldrons to serve in between sessions, we cleaned to help the workers who helped us in our department.

The administrative obstacle was that our written event application was put on hold and therefore the congress hall was determined later than usual. So, we had a limited time to arrange accommodation for our friends from out of town. During this period, we talked to the municipality guesthouses and union hotels, and then the places that fit our budget were found as soon as possible with our hard efforts. These were a union hotel and a small private business. The buses that took our friends from their hotels and brought them to the university every day were provided by the municipality.

While the effects of the economic crisis that swept the world for the first time in the early 2000s, the congress, which was formed by the students who are members of METU Economics Society to discuss current issues in Ankara, grew and developed by including the student societies of other universities and independent students. The Congress continues to sustain itself and grow through the efforts of students who have no other purpose than to improve their world of thought. As university students, we will face all kinds of pressure and coercion together; we will continue to organize our congress every year without hesitation to come together and create an environment of free thought, discuss and criticize, and without accepting any sponsor.

*July 2022

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