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.