Turkey’s top education body plans to repeal the aptitude exams that govern entrance to the country’s art and design schools, a decision – apparently made due to government pressure – that has angered students and experts who argue the move will damage the quality of education available.
Turkey’s Council of Higher Education (YOK) decided at a general assembly session in October to replace the tests that have been prerequisites for entry into the graphic design, fashion design and animation departments of the country’s universities for the last 50 years. Instead, central placement, through test scores in compulsory subjects like mathematics, history and literature, will determine whether students can study these disciplines.
The move is likely to expand the pool of students applying to join the affected departments, including those who lack artistic skills. Critics say this will damage the quality of training and the calibre of the graduates from numerous elite institutions.
“Arts and sports are just a matter of talent,” said Sevda Erdan Kilic, a Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP, who called on the education minister to repeal the new rules. “They can’t be measured by exam scores.”
The YOK decision – still under review – will affect 14 university departments, which will have to accept students under the new rules starting after the 2020 Higher Education Institutions Exam. The departments include animation, graphic illustration, printing and design, fashion and textile design, sports sciences, sports management, textile design and development.
The move prompted criticism from current students, graduates and experts, who say it will lower the quality of instruction in artistic departments and waste resources on students who aren’t qualified to join. A Change.org petition protesting the move, and calling on the Higher Education Council to reverse its decision before it is finalized, has been signed by more than 62,000 people.
Responding to this criticism, YOK president Yekta Sarac announced that aptitude tests had only been revoked for a small subset of university programs, but would remain in force for disciplines like painting, music, physical education, ballet, piano and ceramics.
But experts say the aptitude tests helped determine whether students would thrive in many other artistic departments, such as by determining their visual and spatial reasoning abilities and allowing in only students who have the skillset to succeed in those disciplines.
“If central placement is applied, new students will have trouble in practice sessions,” said Baris Sarhan, a graduate of the graphic design department at Marmara University and a lecturer at the college of fine arts there, who works with first-year students. “They can’t efficiently benefit from their education. Academics, meanwhile, can’t educate students who don’t have the required skills to practice.”
“I don’t think those who made this decision have any idea how a graphic design department runs,” he added.
Pelin Oya Kockal, an interior designer with nearly two decades of experience, said repealing the system did not make sense because creativity was a key aspect of the discipline, one that was as necessary as technical skills.
“Interior design is not just about placement of furniture,” she said. “Designing a place requires imagination, and hand skills are required to reflect your imagination on paper. It is art to employ all these components in harmony together with psychology, ergonomics, mathematics, statics and philosophy.”
“Imagination is a must in this industry,” she added.
Burak Eldek, a trainer who prepares students for the aptitude exams, said the trend of repealing the tests for college departments has been gaining traction for some time. He said that perhaps the tests ought to be reformed, but that cancelling them altogether would spell trouble for fine arts departments all over the country.
“I don’t understand what many untalented graphic and fashion designers would offer the sector. This decision means that the quality of the fine arts faculties will erode,” he said.
“Fine arts faculties may even face the threat of shutdown,” Eldek added.
Many of the country’s artistic institutions are traditionally seen as secular strongholds, raising concerns in some quarters that the government is attempting to transform their character as part of its broader cultural strategy.
İsmail Sağdıç, an official from the Education and Science Labourers Union, said that this latest move amounted to an AKP attempt to interfere in the sphere of arts and culture.
He noted recent comments by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in which the president lamented that, despite his government’s achievements over the last 17 years in power, “it has been unable to cover the distance we desired in education and culture policies”.
“I believe that this case is linked with this statement,” Sağdıç said. “[The President] could not dictate his ideology to the field of arts and culture. He could not interfere with the field of art as he wanted to. Now he is trying to achieve what he wants by interfering with the art faculties… This also means the control of the future of arts [in Turkey]”.