The Hungarian version of the Bologna Process

The more I read about the Hungarian version of Bologna the more convinced I am that the problem is not so much with the traditional Anglo-Saxon model of a three-tier education system. It is rather that the Hungarian universities and the faculty refused to move away from their traditional model. And it seems to me that the combination of the old and the new is lethal.

One thing that immediately struck me is that the Hungarian system retained the old system of applying for admission not to the university or college but to something that has no real equivalent in our system. It is called "kar," which the dictionary will tell you means "faculty," but in English when we speak of faculty we think of the faculty of arts and sciences or the faculty of a school or department within the university. Probably the closest approximation is "department" or "field of study."

Although Hungary allegedly adopted the Anglo-Saxon model, students still apply to a given discipline. This is in sharp contrast to the American situation. In an American university, the high school student applies to the college for general admission. It is only at the end of his second year (of a four-year bachelor's degree) that the student has to declare his "major." For a history major at Yale one needs no more than twelve semester courses in history and that includes the senior paper. In order to enter the major one must have already two courses that were taken in the first two years. Within the department diversification is demanded: two terms of United States or Canadian history (courses in the colonial period may fulfill this requirement); two terms of European or British history (courses in Greek and Roman, Byzantine, and Russian history may fulfill this requirement); three terms of African, Asian, Latin American, or Middle Eastern history. No one in his right mind would consider that amount of historical knowledge more than an educated person's basic understanding of the past.

If someone wants to become a historian (very few do), he/she can apply to a graduate school where he/she can obtain an M.A. and a Ph.D. in history. But most people from a B.A. in history move on to law school, business school, medical school, or will go to work in all sorts of fields that have nothing to do with history.

In Hungary a history student is expected to become a specialist by graduation. Therefore, the zealous faculty try to cram the same amount of history into three years as they did before in five. That will not do.

I must say that I heartily dislike the idea of applying to a department (or a kar, if you like) because an eighteen-year-old rarely knows what he wants to study. The real inspiration often comes in college where, if he is lucky, he will find a professor who will open his eyes and make him discover his real calling. One rarely finds such an inspiration in high school.

The new system introduced in 2006 wasn't exactly met with a standing ovation by either the students or the faculty. And I'm not surprised as long as the incoming freshman is still supposed to be a "historian" in three years. And the faculty that was always heavy on course work really went hog wild. Apparently the poor students were attending a dozen courses even in their last semester when they were supposed to write their senior essay. Compare that to a course load of four or five courses a semester in an American university.

And then there was a problem with some of the older faculty. Apparently some of them can hardly wait to retire because they simply cannot cope with the new ways. For instance, many of them couldn't put their grades into the computer system. Oh for the good old days of the little book: the student entered by hand the courses he took and then immediately after an oral exam the professor wrote in the grade. I don't even know whether there was a central depository of grades!

Moreover, some faculty members refuse to teach students studying for their B.A. They find it too degrading.

In any case, Fidesz wasn't keen on the Bologna system, which is not surprising. We know that the party is nationalistic and traditional in its outlook and foreign models are usually suspect. It is enough to read a few Orbán speeches that praise the Hungarian way. Lately Orbán even envisions a Hungary that will lead the lost world to new horizons. Thus, during the first Orbán government the new administration stopped several reforms that had been started under Bálint Magyar's tenure as minister of education. In the summer of 2009 Magyar rather optimistically said that by now "it is not realistic that a Fidesz government will try to bring back the old system." Well, here it is. He was wrong. They are trying. Whether Rózsa Hoffmann will succeed we don't know yet.

Hoffmann is trying to get rid of the hated foreign model that is so different from the one she knew in the 1960s. Consider her plan for teachers' education. The future teacher will apply for a course of study lasting twelve semesters! The student will be required to have a double major (let's say Hungarian and history or mathematics and physics), and in addition 25% of his/her courses will be spent on methodology and teaching techniques. I wonder how many students will be willing to put in six years of university studies to become a badly paid teacher with very little social prestige. As it is, the least qualified students choose teaching as a profession.

Pokorni is criticizing Hoffmann's plans not because they are conservative but because they are ideologically driven. For her the relation between teacher and student is the old formula according to which the teacher is the "master" to whom the student faithfully "listens". In Hungarian a university student is called a university listener (egyetemi hallgató). She also has some harsh words to say about "profit oriented" teaching. Teaching must not bear any signs of value neutrality; the "master" will tell the listeners what value is and what it is not. All these are dangerous signs which it seems didn't meet with unanimous acceptance by important Fidesz politicians.

Although some people thought that the differences between Hoffmann and Pokorni were only professional and personal, by now it looks as if there are serious cracks in the Fidesz-Christian Democratic coalition. It will be interesting to watch who is going to come out on top from this confrontation.

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pgyzs
Guest
“And it seems to me that the combination of the old and the new is lethal.” I just couldn’t agree more. The hybrid which came to life is just the “golden middle way” to hell. I don’t know if you’ve read http://nol.hu/velemeny/20101104-bologna__torz_kezdet__jo_irany I didn’t really like “Frédi” as a teacher but this article is a very good description. The introduction of the Bologna system was in the good old arrogant SZDSZ way, i.e. we know what’s best for you just and we force that on you in an administrative way and we don’t really care about what you have to say about it because we are smarter. They technically raped the system without any real preparation or any guidelines. I watched very closely how whole faculties very extremely confused about what to do (and there are plenty of very smart men there). There were no careful assessment about what the job market wanted, etc. The result is a disoriented “we teach you some stuff” set of course which is much worse than what the five-years program offered. The master degree is a disaster too at many places. They wanted to keep that open for everyone, so at many places they… Read more »
Pistefka
Guest
A good article, with a valid central thesis – Hungarian universities have largely misunderstood the “Bologna system.” I take issue with the use of the term “Anglo-Saxon”. I hear this all the time in Hungary “Angol-Szász” this, and “Angol-szász” that. It is a lazy shorthand in my view – inaccurate in several ways. First of all, surely the fact that more than half of English vocabulary comes from French should alert us to the fact that the ethnic mix and culture of England is rather more complex than Angles and Saxons. Secondly, once you apply it to America you will find a much smaller percentage of Descendents of Angles and Jutes and so forth. But that is not really the point. To speak of an Anglo-Saxon education model is ridiculuos. Education in England and Wales follows a different system to Scotland, never mind the USA or Canada. In higher education, and in the last two years of school (which we call “sixth form college”) us Brits specialise far more than American high school stoodents, or Hungarian gimnázisták for that matter. We don’t apply to a “faculty” (our faculties are also very broad, and the term rarely has any meaning for… Read more »
GW
Guest

pgyzs,
It should be made clear that those remedial math classes in the US you mentioned are not in the required curriculum for a math, engineering, economics or natural science major but are rather used to satisfy breadth requirements for those majoring in the Humanities, or training for elementary school teaching or technical careers in Junior College, Technical schools or lower level state colleges. The absence of such breadth or “service” courses for non-majors is, as far as I’m concerned, a major weakness in Germany or Austria as well as in Hungary. While not all liberal arts degrees in the US are equal — far from it — the fact is that in Hungary and much of the EU, there is no breadth of education once one enters University (also, for that same reason, there is the faculty-by-faculty admissions procedure and the “University” status given to so many institutions which do not even pretend to offer real universal range of research and teaching. Compare the modesty and accuracy with which a CalTech or MIT describe themselves as institutes rather than Universities.)

Pistefka
Guest

GW also makes a valid point. A “Technical university” or a “Medical university” is not a university – it doesn not teach a wide range of subjects in different fields.
It should be noted that these specialised universities in Hungary are mostly in Budapest – Pécs, Szeged and Debrecen have universites in the traditional sense. It is rather like the situation in the UK, where London has various specialised institutes and colleges, whereas none-London universites have a range of faculties and departments in various fields. The difference is, the London collegs and institutes are co-ordianted by a central “University of London2 – but students apply, and are admitted to the colleges, not to the university.
Capital cites are “special”, you see.

Member

I notice that the Bologna process is supposedly “Anglo-Saxon”, yet nowadays in the UK most Masters degrees are only of one year duration, not 2. Also in the UK it is possible to go from a 3 year degree to a 3 year PhD without getting a Masters degree in between. It doesn’t really match the British system.
My own background is in law and I am glad that I trained under the British system (3 year undergraduate LLB + 1 year postgrad legal training course + 1 year pupillage = 5 years) instead of the US system (4 year BA degree + 3 year JD = 7 years) or the Hungarian one (5 year Jogasz diploma + 3 years traineeship + final state exam = 8 years).
For people without wealthy parents it is difficult to afford protracted periods of time at university or in low paid/unpaid training.

An
Guest
@Pistefka: “Setting an essay on something they haven’t been taught yet – not fair! Anyway, they will be wondering why the hell they have to write an essay- surely a good old fashioned test, or better still an oral exam would be a more appropriately stiff necked Prussian way of testing the students’ “acquisition” (elsajátítás – which has always sounded like a rather sinister form of brainwashing.)” During my university years in Hungary, (which was about 20 years ago, so I really do not know much about the current system) we did have to write essays (papers) for a couple of courses… mostly in the later years (3th-5th year). We did not have many of these assignments, yes, most of the tests were written and oral exams, especially in the first and second years. But we were not thrown off by them at all. In retrospect, it seems to me that the first two years were like an undergrad education: large lecture hall with teacher lecturing and then the students being tested in a written or oral exam. In the 3rd-5th years then it started to resemble a bit more like grad school here in the US: small seminars, reading… Read more »
School Scholarships
Guest

Is the job market is only softening for law school grads looking for specific, high-paying jobs at the top law firms, or if it means that the United States has too many lawyers in general? However, a report earlier this year by the National Association of Law Placement indicated that even though the majority of law school graduates can still find jobs, a far higher percentage of those grads are now taking jobs that are temporary.

An
Guest

I am not a big fan of the US system, now that I had the chance to see it from the inside. It seems to me that kids are lingering in college way too long. Because of the credit system, they end up with a patchwork of courses, not a carefully built up course plan that actually leads somewhere. It does seem like High School 2.0 to me.
Though there are different assignments (group projects, papers), tests seem to dominate, as most courses will have midterms and finals.. and these are multiple choice test! The most meaningless type of all tests.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An:”Because of the credit system, they end up with a patchwork of courses, not a carefully built up course plan that actually leads somewhere.”
I don’t think that the credit system per se is the culprit. Counting in credits is just a convenience. There are two kinds of requirements in a university: overall requirements for graduation and departmental requirements.
Because there seems to be quite a bit of interest in the subject, this afternoon I will collect my thoughts on the American system which is actually more structured than it looks from the outside. Of course, every university is different and I can only speak with some authority on the one I’m familiar with. But because for many years I was responsible for making sure that our student fulfilled the requirements I really know the whole system from the inside. I will try to share with you my experiences.

pgyzs
Guest
“GW:It should be made clear that those remedial math classes in the US you mentioned are not in the required curriculum for a math, engineering, economics or natural science major but are rather used to satisfy breadth requirements for those majoring in the Humanities, or training for elementary school teaching or technical careers in Junior College, Technical schools or lower level state colleges. The absence of such breadth or “service” courses for non-majors is, as far as I’m concerned, a major weakness in Germany or Austria as well as in Hungary.” It is a major weakness because universities rely on a knowledge supposedly acquired in High School, that e.g. in Hungary (I don’t know what’s going on in Germany) may not even exist any more. Back in Hungary, lots and lots of complaints were like, o my god these kids are getting dumber and dumber every year. Of course, it’s not the students themselves who are dumber, it’s just a clear indication of the deterioration of the High School education. Also, the quality of the education varies highly from high school to high school. Sumed up, you can omit having these “kidergarten algebra” (from a US professor) courses, but only… Read more »
Matt L
Guest
Eva, I found this piece very informative. Please do write up something on the US Higher ed system. I have to take issue with the High School 2.0 description of American universities. Given the fact that there are a wide variety of Colleges and Universities in the Unites States and Canada, serving a wide variety of students, it comes off as a cheap shot, not a criticism. I teach at an RII University in the Midwest (it grants primarily BAs and a few MAs in specialized fields). Our students come from a wide variety of high schools. Some of them are up to speed in Math and writing, but many of them are not well prepared for college work. As a result they need remedial training. That said, after two years, once they have mastered the relevant skills, and selected a major, they do very well. I teach both 100 level history classes and upper level classes for seniors and juniors in the major. By the time the students reach the upper level courses they are demonstrating a mastery of the material and writing skills appropriate to a third year student. Our history majors write senior thesis papers, using primary… Read more »
An
Guest

@Matt: ” I have to take issue with the High School 2.0 description of American universities. Given the fact that there are a wide variety of Colleges and Universities in the Unites States and Canada, serving a wide variety of students, it comes off as a cheap shot, not a criticism.”
You are right, I have to apologize for that. I do realize that there is a huge variety of schools and the experience and the quality of work done at different universities, and even withing a university, at different colleges, can be very very different.
I also realize that some majors are more specialized than others, for example an engineering major is more specialized and is usually a longer program. It strikes me as very similar as the “specialist” higher ed. in Hungary.
My experience with undergrad education is limited, and I may have generalized based on some bad but perhaps not so typical experience.
All that said,I still have the feeling that some of the things generally taught in colleges in the US, especially in the first year(should or could somehow be part of the high school curriculum (basic math, basic writing skills, basic analytical skills).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Matt: “Please do write up something on the US Higher ed system.”
All done, I just have to take a final look at it.
I agree with everything you said in the rest of your note. Even at Yale, students come from different backgrounds, but in a year or two they catch up. I especially remember a boy from South Dakota who struggled a bit in the first year and at the end graduated magna cum laude.
Or a black girl who attended the local community college. She graduated summa cum laude. It was great watching these people to blossom in four years at college. Because college is not just learning subject matters but learning so many other things that cannot be learned elsewhere.

Paul
Guest
I’m finding this series or articles by Éva (and the replies) fascinating. I had no idea universities and post-school education varied so much, even just in the few countries under discussion. By a strange chance I was watching Educating Rita tonight, before turning to Éva’s blog. And watching that film, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the ‘old’ university approach of my youth (pre-Thatcher). In those days university was (or seemed to us to be) about discovering the world (and ourselves), broadening our minds, learning how to research, analyse and think. Education in its broadest sense. It didn’t cost you anything, in fact the government gave you a grant that was sufficient not only to live on, but to go out and drink as well. There was never any thought of working your way through college (in fact there wasn’t much thought of ‘working’ at all in the first year!), and few of us thought in terms of a degree getting you a specific job. Going to university was an end in itself. It was assumed that having a degree (still a relatively rare thing then) would get you a better job, but not a specific one. The company… Read more »
Matt L
Guest

Thanks Eva! This is a great post. I would say that your description of the Yale curriculum is broadly representative of an American student’s undergraduate experience. It certainly matches up with the requirements for graduation here at Lake Woebegone State University (Student population 10,000).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Matt L: “I would say that your description of the Yale curriculum is broadly representative of an American student’s undergraduate experience.”
I’m so glad that you agree. After my post appeared the discussion went off in the direction of elite versus non-elite schools. I simply used the university whose workings I am familiar with, but I know that the curriculum and structure of an American college is very similar to the one I described.

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