Yılmaz Büyükerşen: 50 years dedicated to education
This year, Eskişehir Mayor Yılmaz Büyükerşen was recipient of the 17th Vehbi Koç Award.
The speech Büyükerşen delivered at the ceremony last week took us on a journey through our education history.
“For 50 years I have tirelessly worked on the educational problems faced by the Turkish people. I have spent most of my life on this and have no regrets,” he said.
Büyükerşen is the key person behind the “distance learning model,” which aims to provide equality of opportunity in education in Turkey. This model is today employed in many high and secondary schools across the country, changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
In his speech he spoke about how this model emerged.
“Back in the 1970s young people were unhappy because there was no equality of opportunity. In every corner of Anatolia, there were young people dreaming about going to university. So I started looking for a model that could bring universities into houses,” Büyükerşen said.
‘Universities without walls’
At that time Büyükerşen was serving as the dean of department of economics and administrative sciences in Eskişehir. He wrote extensively about the model he envisioned in articles for various newspapers and magazines.
While he was still developing and discussing his concept of “universities without walls,” then Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, who had won the elections in 1974, showed interest in the model. But unfortunately a draft bill on an “Open University” was shelved at the time.
After Turkey’s 1980 military coup, the draft was included in the bill on forming the Council of Higher Education (YÖK).
“The birth of the Open University was not a normal one. It was brought to the world through a caesarian section,” Büyükerşen said.
The model has been such a success that it was also employed to educate workers’ children in Germany and Northern Cyprus.
Open University’s adventure in Germany is certainly a unique story. In Germany distance learning was at first coordinated from the Turkish Consulate in Cologne, with trucks from Turkey shipping in books and other materials to Germany.
German government’s interest
The German government also showed great interest in the model. When the Turkish Foreign Ministry failed to send a request for the extension of Büyükerşen’s stay in Germany in time, the German police stepped in to help.
Turkish children in German prisons also enrolled in the distance learning system. Büyükerşen noted that some of those children have now completed PhDs in German universities.
Büyükerşen is a visionary and distance learning is one of his achievements. Among his other achievements are special computers, developed together with IBM, for the visually impaired, as well as the space camp developed together with NASA at Eskişehir University.
As mayor he has transformed Eskişehir into a city of culture and art. “Cities are a school. They educate people from cradle to grave, they teach the right and beautiful,” he has said.
Meeting with Vehbi Koç
Büyükerşen first met legendary Turkish industrialist Vehbi Koç back in 1965.
At that time, Koç was developing a library and a research center on a plot of land on which the campus of Eskişehir University would later be built. After the center was completed, Vehbi Koç would visit Eskişehir at least once a year.
“Vehbi Koç used to stay at the university’s accomodation and would have conversations with bureaucrats in the city. He always made sure to ask that girls were going to school,” Büyükerşen recalled.