Cheating in Hungarian schools and universities

Joel wrote a comment the other day in which he mentioned that in Hungary "university students are allowed to cheat and consequently do so." He seems to be talking from personal experience. Hungarians don't like to talk about this "problem" or, if the topic comes up, they usually make light of it. Because after all cheating is a universal game that is being played by students and teachers all over the country. The teachers are trying to catch the cheaters and the "clever" students do everything in their power to fool them. But there are times when the teacher actually closes his/her eyes to the fact of cheating.

Cheating in school is part and parcel of Hungarian culture, and some people in Hungary simply cannot understand why cheating or plagiarism is taken so seriously in other countries. I can speak only about the situation in Canada and in the United States, but the attitude in these two countries would most likely be incomprehensible to the majority of Hungarians who completed their studies in Hungary. Or at least this was my experience. For years I was a member of an internet Hungarian-language political discussion group where those of us who lived in Canada and the United States made the mistake of expressing our disapproval of student cheating. The discussion between those who had been socialized in the West and those who lived in Hungary became very heated. One member actually left the list in disgust because the "westerners" labelled cheating a crime. Surely, she didn't consider herself a criminal just because she spent hours plotting how she could outfox the teachers. Her leaving didn't change my mind.

Hungarian students who engage in this widespread cheating are generous boys and girls. They are quite ready to help each other out. Individual achievement doesn't seem to play such an important role in Hungarian schools as it does here. Actually there were several studies that tried to measure Hungarians' competitive spirit and the results were disappointing. Individual achievement within the class or the department should matter, but I was astonished to learn that once someone has finished university and has a diploma in hand, future employers don't seem to be terribly interested in the particulars of his or her university career. But it does matter, doesn't it, whether someone received a bachelors degree in three years or in six? Or let's say you want to hire a university graduate to be part of a chemical research team. Wouldn't you prefer someone who got decent grades in chemistry as opposed to one who barely squeaked by?

Sometimes the teachers actually look the other way. I suspect most often when it comes to final examinations at matriculation time. The tests are the same all over the country, and imagine a bad high school somewhere in a small town where the students learned very little math. And now comes a fairly tough test from Budapest. If no help came from the teachers most likely the whole class would flunk. Well, that wouldn't look very good. But whom do they fool? Only themselves and their students.

One of my most shocking experiences during this heated debate was the attitude of a university professor who taught at a well known Hungarian university before he settled in the United States. I was outlining to the members of the group the very severe consequences that ensue when a Yale student is caught cheating or plagiarizing. Upon entrance, the incoming students are warned of the consequences, yet every year a case or two comes to light. And the punishment is severe. If a student is found plagiarizing he/she will have to leave the university, normally for a year. Moreover, it can easily happen that years later, when the student is applying for example to law school, an inquiry will come to the student's undergraduate college asking whether there was any disciplinary action against him. I can speak from personal experience. I received a telephone call from a very prestigious law school years after a former student of mine was found cheating and left Yale for good. They were inquiring whether there was any disciplinary action against the student who was applying for admission. Naturally, I told them the truth. Our Hungarian professor was outraged. According to him I was supposed to lie on behalf of the student. I who at this point was representing Yale College to another academic institution! Unimaginable, isn't it? Absolutely twisted morality. And it doesn't do any good for the standards either. Moreover, how can we demand honesty outside of the school if in school cheating is treated as child's play? Obviously we can't. 

 

 

 

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Ron
Guest

Cheating is always possible and is happening around the world, and whether or not you are caught for cheating in the end it will catch up with you eventually. Either at you job (see what happened with this German minister), or someone find out.
The thing is in the USA it is an honour thing and most of Europe it is considering hurting yourself. It seems in Hungary it is the thing to do. It does not give only an insight in the Hungarian education system, but also how they look at honour.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Because after all cheating is a universal game that is being played by students and teachers all over the country”
The whole country works like this. This is, in part, a legacy from the Kádár regime where you could have your little own businesses as long as you didn’t interfere with the big dogs. Everyone was entitled to their own little playground.
This is not only present in education but also in all areas of Hungarian life. Look at, for example, the policemen who do it as business: many of them applied to be policemen because they thought they can retire at 40 years of age and continue working (black) for private security companies, besides receiving the state pension.
Or look at how complete firms have been formed to exploit the backdoors of car license plate issuances. There is a shady business entirely created for tax evasion.
And these backstairs are now being rightfully closed by the government, much to the dismay of those involved. But this must be carried out.

Member

This is certainly a huge problem in Hungary, but until the standards are lifted hire at many levels at the government, there will be no improvement. Hungary’s president elected by Fidesz (National Assembly of course) cannot spell or use proper Hungarian grammar, even if his life would depend on. HIs famous “writings” supposedly were written by someone else, but not really. Cheats and lies on the highest level.Nepotism and political affiliation is what currently matters in order to achieve anything in Hungary, not how well you did in school, so I do not think the attitude will change. The fish stinks from the head. Unqualified people are appointed left and right to make decisions on issues that are more qualified people are involved in.

Jano
Guest
As I was a physics major in Hungary and I can only speak for my experiences. Most of my exams were oral exams which might sound highly unusual but it has its advantages (along with it’s disadvantages) and I’ve heard many professors discussing the possibility of that while in gradschool here in the US. Anyway, it is true that most of the professors were not very strict during the preparation time to make sure no one cheats. But they did not have to. I’ve seen many times that someone who “berántotta” (dragged in-slang), it’s when you have the topic prepared on a sheet of paper and you slide it among the papers you are given to prepare on) got confused at the second equation and then the professor destroyed him/her in a second. (That’s one of the huge plusses in favor of oral exams). When occasionally we had written exams, there were two types. Good courses, on which the exam actually made sense, solving problems, if you didn’t know it, no cheating could save you. On the other hand, not proudly, but I admit that there were courses on which for the exam you had to memorize a bunch of… Read more »
Member
I think Jano raises a very good point. What they teach and what the expectations are very important. In Hungary where the knowing of dates and factual data are more important then analytical skills or debate with data, people just “recite”. In Canada I had a very few open book exams, and first I thought, it will be a piece of cake. Open book exams were way harder, then closed book exams, and many people failed them. So, it goes back to the core idea of what should be taught in schools and who teaches it from what books has a lot to do with this. Also, I am not sure if it still the “one book” philosophy that rules the education system in Hungary, that is that there is one published book that all same grade students use on the same subject across the country. In Canada there are least a dozen of different books on the same subject that teachers/students can use, so the material can be altered to the teaching style of a teacher and a whole class, and that makes things more interesting. The standardized testing is just like that, everyone writes the same test, but… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

someone: “I am not sure if it still the “one book” philosophy that rules the education system in Hungary, that is that there is one published book that all same grade students use on the same subject across the country.”
No, not anymore, but just wait! Rózsa Hoffmann wants to bring back the one-book system and if Viktor Orbán thinks that he needs the Christian Democrats’ votes she will be allowed to turn the clock back. Her ideas on education are outright frightening.

Ron
Guest

JohnnyBoy: Or look at how complete firms have been formed to exploit the backdoors of car license plate issuances. There is a shady business entirely created for tax evasion.
And these backstairs are now being rightfully closed by the government, much to the dismay of those involved. But this must be carried out.
JohnnyBoy I like and agree with your reasoning and arguments, but I disagree with your conclusions.
Up to now the law stated that if you meet certain requirements you would be able to/must go on pension. Most these officers whether they like to retire or not were forced into retirement and because they could not meet ends meet started a business or work somewhere else, which they have to give up now, because they go back to their old profession. I think this is wrong.
As to the licence plate business, if there is a loophole in the law then people try to fill it. Same happened here. I am not certain if Hungary can close this loophole. Other countries, such as the Netherlands try this and failed. Main obstacle the EU law on free movement of people and goods.

Matt_L
Guest

I think that Jano is right. While there might be a pervasive culture of cheating in Hungary, and a toleration of cheating, its pointing out a structural problem with the university system and the teacher’s approach to pedagogy, rather than some great moral failing.
It is fairly easy to detect and deter plagiarism on papers and cheating in exams so long as you write the questions well and explain the learning objectives the students are supposed to accomplish. Treating it as a moral failure only leads to endless wailing and gnashing of teeth, pronouncements about the end of Civilization, etc. And that generally does not stop cheating on exams.
There maybe a lot of corruption in Hungarian politics and in the business world, but this is not a result of students cheating on their exams.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “There maybe a lot of corruption in Hungarian politics and in the business world, but this is not a result of students cheating on their exams.”
Not the result. The part of the whole.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
Professor you write ** “There may be a lot of corruption in Hungarian politics and in the business world, but this is not a result of students cheating on their exams. Not the result. It is part of the whole.” ** Indeed it is! A nation in which, the government can break its own laws, with impunity. A nation whose government regards legally binding treaties and conventions, which were signed up to in its name (as Hitler once described a convention he signed) as “A mere scraps of paper”. That meant that they are worthless. You want proof Johnny Boy? Try this one a few years ago Hungary and the EU agreed (for subsidies) that ALL Citizens of the EU who are over the age of 65 years old (I am one such) may ride on the motor busses free of charge. It does not seem to apply to Outram cars –Trams- in U.S. Trolley cars- (I am not certain about the electric ‘Trolly’ Busses we do not have any around here). The law has not changed! But now only those who speak Hungarian can do this. The Tajekoztato displayed on busses from 1st January 2011 no longer mentions this… Read more »
Johnny Boy
Guest

I frankly don’t understand why you are speaking to me and what I should do with this.

Kirsten
Guest

Johnny indeed was fully supportive of the observation of widespread cheating. First I was surprised at this self-criticism but the end of your post reassured me that this is still Johnny. But now that you said Fidesz is going to change this, wow I am eager to see results.
I heard some cases too that made me think why this is so widespread (which, Jano, does not mean that people cannot otherwise, simply they do no consider it to be the route of choice). I even thought whether this is related to the obsession with “lies”. How do I know whether the other persons are cheating or lying or not. And then it can be used as a universal hypothesis for any situation. But there certainly are rules when cheating is not socially acceptable. Just for an outsider these are very difficult to figure out.

Jano
Guest

Kirsten: I read it thrice, but I’m still not sure I follow what you wanted to tell me in your remark.

Johnny Boy
Guest

“Johnny indeed was fully supportive of the observation of widespread cheating. First I was surprised at this self-criticism”
I’m always open to self-criticism, but what goes on here is usually malevolent slander with the intention of doing damage, not repairing anything.
Most of the times even the observation of problems is completely malicious and untrue.
This time it is an obvious truth that widespread cheating is going on here, no point in denying this.
But you should also take into account that changing this requires a lot of time, decades at least, as this behavior is embedded in the Hungarian society.
Fidesz is clearly campaigning against this behavior, as they always have, with their communication that everybody has to work for a living, there is no free meal, and those who work and pay their taxes should be supported. Every action of theirs is working in this direction.
And most people who vilify them for these actions support the cheaters, but not just as an exclusionary logic, but with ‘heart’. That is, with a complete lack of morale.

hettie
Guest

“While there might be a pervasive culture of cheating in Hungary, and a toleration of cheating, its pointing out a structural problem with the university system and the teacher’s approach to pedagogy, rather than some great moral failing.”
It is a moral failure which cannot be justified by no outdated system in my opinion. this is what happens in hungary all the time: yeah we know tax evasion/fare dodging etc are morally wrong but we will always come up with a brilliant excuse as to why we carry on doin them…
thing is you got to have a backbone otherwise you end up one of the unhappiest nations… (as reported in a recent OECD poll)

Betti
Guest

If anyone is interested in the cultural aspects of academic writing, including plagiarism, check out research conducted by Bojana Petric. She is from Serbia, got her PhD from ELTE in Budapest, and currently works in the UK. Her dissertation was entitled “Citation Practices in Student Academic Writing”.

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