In early 2016, 1128 academics signed a statement condemning the violation of human rights and the attacks by the Turkish military on cities mainly populated by Kurds. Within a month, the number of people that joined in with their call for the continuation of peace talks had risen to 2212.
As a result, hundreds of the so-called “Academics for Peace” in Turkey were purged from their universities, banned from working in public institutions, and had their passports revoked on the grounds of terrorist propaganda charges. By July 2019, 200 petition signatories were sentenced to up to 36 months of imprisonment.
In response to this crackdown on academic freedom in Turkey, a group of persecuted academics leaving for Germany founded the Off-University initiative in 2017.
Off-University primarily aims to provide persecuted academics who can no longer work at a university or public institution in Turkey with the opportunity to teach online and earn an income. Through its online learning platform Off-University brings together students and scholars at risk across borders. It allows for knowledge exchange and research collaboration without censorship.
In collaboration with partner universities, Off-University provides certificates of achievement and the equivalence in ECTS points for those who successfully complete the course. Participation in the online courses does not depend on formal academic degrees and is free of tuition. Off-University protects learners and does not collect data of participants, to guard their identities from surveillance.
This winter semester Off-University willhost eight online courses taught by persecuted academics in Turkey, organised in cooperation with universities in Germany and North America including; the New University in Exile Consortium at the New School, the Free University of Berlin, Kassel University, Potsdam University, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Gottingen University and Humboldt University Berlin.
Courses, which Off-University will be hosting this winter semester:
- (Dr. Yüksel Taşkın)
- (Prof. Dr. Andrea Pető and Dr. İclal Ayşe Küçükkırca)
- (Dr. Nazan Bedirhanoğlu and Dr. Elçin Aktoprak)
- (Dr. Ülkü Doğanay)
- (Dr. Ali Rıza Güngen)
- (Dr. Ahmet Murat Aytaç)
- (Dr. Onur Can Taştan)
- (Dr. Ulaş Şener and Dr. Benan Eres)
Off-University’s online platform ‘Coworkingsquares’ offers a virtual classroom including chat options, video livestream, a virtual blackboard and a shared file management system designed for participative and horizontal co-learning. Students can access the course materials and video lectures on the platform and join online discussions with the lecturer once a week.
Despite the recent court acquittals of some Academics for Peace in Turkey, hundreds of academics are still banned from working in public institutions and universities, and the struggle for academic freedom and against right-wing populism is far from over. Only recently, Dr. Bülent Şık was sentenced to 15 month in jail for “disclosing classified information” after sharing his research, which exposes toxic pollution that was a risk to public health.
It is Off-University’s mission to continue to provide opportunities for scholars at risk to produce and share critical knowledge despite the repression they face in their countries, and for students and lecturers to come together and exchange in a non-hierarchical and inclusive online space. We are thankful to Rosa-Luxemburg foundation and all our other supporters to help us making this possible.
This winter semester’s classes will start next week. Off-University is excited to be welcoming students from around the world who have already enrolled in our courses this year, and encourages anyone to check out the fantastic classes on offer.
For more information and course registration see here: www.off-university.de
 Amnesty International. 2019. “Turkey charges against whistleblower who exposed public health dangers must be dropped”.Amnesty International, 28th September 2019