Hungarian higher education and the question of “tuition”

It is a very old story with the usual ups and downs. If you ask economists who specialize in matters connected to education, they will tell you that the introduction of tuition would be a good thing and not only for financial reasons. For example, they point out that the value of a college degree carries a certain monetary value for the recipients which puts them above those who didn't have the privilege of attending college. And yet the burden of educating the college grads falls on all taxpayers. And, they add, this isn't fair. If you ask college professors, most of them will argue for the introduction of tuition. They claim that the lack of fees makes students irresponsible. They would appreciate their education more if they were asked to contribute to it.

The whole issue has been dragged around for sixteen years without a satisfactory outcome, and it seems to me that what the Orbán government is contemplating at the moment will not be any better. Perhaps it is even worse than the others.

It all started with the "Bokros reforms" of 1995. Hungary was close to bankruptcy. Drastic steps had to be taken and Lajos Bokros, the newly appointed minister of finance, managed to convince the very reluctant Gyula Horn to go along. Among the austerity measures was the introduction of a very small tuition fee. If I recall properly after so many years, it was something like 2,000 ft a month, which was naturally worth more then than it is now, but the burden on the student was minimal. As Bokros said: the cost of a few packs of cigarettes.

The exceptions to paying even this minimal fee were numerous. I remember that a young relative of mine was a student at the time and her father proudly announced that she didn't have to pay tuition because of her grade point average. Upon closer scrutiny it turned out that she had a double major and her grade point average reached the required number in one of them but not in the other. But, never mind, she didn't have to pay tuition. An interesting way of calculating a grade point average.

Fidesz naturally was dead set against tuition, just as it was against the whole "Bokros package." In fact, the party's objection to tuition endeared it to college students. That was the beginning of a love affair. Fidesz promised that if they win the elections they will abolish tuition. They did and they didn't. They fiddled with the totally unjust system of dividing the student population into two groups: those who didn't have to pay a penny because of the number of points they amassed at their entrance exam and those who had to pony up because they didn't reach that magic number. That was bad enough, but what was even more outrageous was that after this initial placement the student was safe for four or five years regardless of his/her grade point average. These students could do anything, have D's in all subjects, but they never had to pay anything. By contrast, the unfortunate fellow who didn't get enough points on the entrance exam could receive straight A's but he would have to pay and pay. As time went by, Fidesz raised the number of "paying" students at the expense of the "non-paying" ones.

Fidesz lost the elections and SZDSZ received the post of minister of education in the coalition government. Bálint Magyar, the new minister, had another, in my opinion, bad idea. Graduates should pay back the cost of their education after they enter the workforce. MSZP was not at all happy with Magyar as minister and in 2006 István Hiller replaced him. Hiller served during the second Gyurcsány and the Bajnai governments. Hiller had another idea, but naturally it couldn't be called "tuition." In his plan it was called "partial contribution for development" (fejlesztési részhozzájárulás). Before anything could come of it, Fidesz organized the infamous referendum on co-pay and on tuition. And millions of people voted "no" to both.

Thus, two years later, Fidesz can't possibly introduce tuition. Unfortunately, it is clear that there isn't enough money to adequately finance the numerous institutions of higher learning. So, instead, Rózsa Hoffmann and her assistant undersecretary in charge of higher education are trying to come up with solutions. The first brainstorm was to reduce the overall number of students. Hoffmann, who is convinced that only brilliant students should go to college, expressed her hope that by lowering the number of students the quality would go up. Somewhat similarly, the Orbán government decided to lower the minimum age for compulsory secondary education. It will save some money. But this is a very bad tack to take in a country where there is a very thin stratum of the highly educated and where a very large portion of the population is undereducated.

However, it seems that lowering the overall numbers might not be enough given the sorry state of the Hungarian economy. They also want to lower the number of students who can attend university without paying tuition. At present this number is 53,000, but by 2014 it would be only 25,000. What would happen to the rest? They would have to bear the entire cost of their education.

According to a leaked document, the idea is that only those students getting degrees in subjects that would lead to civil service jobs (for instance, future doctors and teachers) would be exempt from paying for the cost of their education. The rest would be on their own. It seems that the Orbán government especially dislikes lawyers and economists. They wouldn't get a cent.

This new "tuition" is called "önköltség," which in English is "cost," "price." This "cost" would be very high. It would be based on the real cost of educating a student from entrance to graduation. Hiller yesterday severely criticized the new plan and claimed that "cost" is simply called "tuition" in all languages. But I think Hiller is wrong. The situation in Hungary is worse, because even the very high tuition in the United States don't cover the whole "cost" of the student's education. In the case of state universities the individual states spend hefty sums to maintain them. In the case of private institutions alumni contributions and investments cover tuition shortfalls.

Moreover, in the United States relatively few students pay full tuition because the parents' financial situation is taken into consideration. But in the Hoffmann plan I don't see anything resembling a reduction of tuition based either on financial need or scholarly achievement. Moreover, they are talking about the whole cost of these students' education. It seems that the state doesn't kick in anything. This is really outrageous and unheard of. But perhaps this is not the end of the story. Just yesterday Zoltán Pokorni, minister of education in the first Orbán government, announced that he will make sure that his own plans will quash those of the Christian Democratic Rózsa Hoffmann. The struggle over education is far from settled. But I'm almost sure that no sane solution will emerge as far as tuition is concerned. They will just continue an unjust and untenable situation.

 

 

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Paul
Guest
Not a specific reply to the Hungarian situation, but this whole issue of tuition fees (as we call it/them in the UK) puzzles me. Why is the university bit of education seen as so different to the rest? Why should we have to pay for the last three years and not the preceding 13? Because university is so important, maybe? But then, if it’s that important (for the good of the country/economy, as we are always being told), shouldn’t the government encourage it by making it free? On the other hand, we are often told that the first few years education are the most important, so why not charge fees for primary school? When I was university age in the UK, not only was tuition free, but we were given a grant, which was more than enough to live on. Britain then was a much poorer country than it is now, and yet these days we apparently can’t afford ‘free’ university education. And strangely it was Tony Blair who started all this, and he is almost exactly the same age as me, so got his degree entirely free of charge – with ‘beer money’ on top! If education shouldn’t be… Read more »
An
Guest

@Paul: The usual argument for paying (some) tuition for higher education (and none in the primary and secondary schools) is that while the latter is compulsory and provides the “basic” education that is indispensable in today’s world, higher education is seen as investment for the individual as university graduates usually enter jobs that pay better than jobs one can get without a university degree.
I don’t necessary agree with this line of reasoning, just wanted to illustrate the point. I was also one of those lucky ones who got their university degree free (in Hungary).

Jano
Guest

I see nothing wrong in hard working talented students getting a degree for free. But it’s indeed outrageous that someone can be in the system with minimal performance for 6.5 years. I used to know a guy who tried a course four times with four exams this time. It was clear from the beginning that he was never going to graduate as a fully functioning professional, but the Hungarian state spent many millions of Forints on his higher education. That was a clear waste of taxpayer money and it was also a lie to him. I’m sure that thousands of students in the system are like him. A tuition system is indeed necessary but that doesn’t exclude the possibility that the most apt students could get exemption. I don’t think that it’d require a giant effort to come up with a just and clever system.

Member

Paul: “And strangely it was Tony Blair who started all this, and he is almost exactly the same age as me, so got his degree entirely free of charge – with ‘beer money’ on top!” Just like Orban. he earned his degree under Kadar, and above all it is a law degree. Not that he ever worked in law. Maybe he should pay back the cost Hungary. lol
I think education should be free or subsidized for those who are willing to put effort in to their studies. I am not sure how it can be made fair although. I do not think everyone should be going to university just because they can.
In Canada, there is a loan you can take out for university, and some people are using those loans. Other kids are working full time to put themselves through to university. I do not think university should be a free ride, but it should be free for those who cannot afford it and have the aptitude.

kormos
Guest

Off topic from Kormos, who is in Hungary, actually visited Debrecen and found an orderly, nicely developed City core, well dressed people, excellent market etc. I am totally puzzled by the anti-Kosa statements by Paul.
To show you how Hungarians are different in the US, please take a look at the following links.
Hungarian president Pál Schmitt meets Cleveland people



Hungarian president Pál Schmitt in Cleveland Ohio



Cleveland Hungarian Scouts sing for President Pál Schmitt


Pusztaranger
Guest

@Kormos: Last year, the Cleveland Community invited Jobbik chairman Gábor Vona to celebrate the 1956 anniversary with them.


Guest

Well, I also live in Hungary (at least half of the time) but regarding Cleveland:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/02/18/us-cities-miserable-idUSTRE61H5WN20100218
I hope this is just a coincidence …
Back to the main point:
Normally someone who earned a degree pays back his tuition by making lots of money – and paying taxes!
But of course there are “freeloaders” who just have a good time while at university – I remember because I aslo spent two or three semesters just organising demonstrations and rock concerte – but then I got my diploma in mathematics and had to start working for a living, not just doing jobs on the side …

John T
Guest
My view is that it is right for the taxpayer to pay for someone’s education until the age of 18, including vocational training for those who do not want to continue studying between 16 – 18 at school. But then I think there is a debate to be had about further taxpayer involvement and it is one that has been going on in the UK for many years. In the UK, many more people are going to University, which is good. But some of the subjects offered for degree courses are a joke to be honest and shouldn’t be supported by the taxpayer. I think tuition fees are acceptable, providing that the individual doesn’t start repaying until their income has reached a certain level. I also think that there should be support (subsidy from say 50% -100%) for people who go into work that benefits the wider community e.g. doctors, engineers etc. There is probably a bigger role for companies to offer scholarships / grants, where they will get the benefits from the graduates. Saying that though, I’m conscious that some important subjects which are not supported will have very few people choosing them. A key issue though, which will… Read more »
Hongormaa
Guest
Firstly, it seems to me that Orban’s plan is nothing less than part of Fidesz’s overall strategy of shrinking the middle class in Hungary. In this he is more than a bit inspired by the American right. Eva, you are correct in stating that the state university system in the US comes to the rescue of many students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford college. Having said that, I personally feel the exorbinant fees charged by the vast majority of private universities are nothing less than outrageous. And most state universities are not exactly cheap, putting them out of reach of any but the (rapidly dwindling) middle class. The example of Britain, though, shows us that politicians cannot be trusted when they introduce tuition fees and claim they will not rise unduly. I have had experience in both the US system and tuition-free systems in Europe, and actually, I prefer the latter (not just because it’s free lol), but because I have personally seen that even higher institutions charging tens of thousands of dollars in the US may leave you with a nice-looking name on your resume, but that these institutions are essentially obsessed with a single issue, the… Read more »
Member
Tuition is essentially a tax. In a sense, that the members of the society contributing to the expenses. We can just say, hey, let’s pay more taxes and let the smart people in the government take of it. We make the students pay for it because … well they can, from their supposedly higher wages after graduation. But as JohnT pointed out, tuition shouldn’t be introduced without a functioning system of student loans. And the state should pitch in with subsidized loans based on income. These loans will defer the payments to after graduation. Those who say free higher education is better, because it’s the interest of the society on the long run, are certainly right. But the piggy bank is empty. My fear is that the government will do the easy thing again as usual, totally insensitive as always. Tuition without loans. Same pattern – carefully avoiding anything that is work, in this case creating the infrastructure for a student loan system, rules, allocating funds, etc. This horrible “M” word strikes again (munka = work). Just a bit of a bitter word about the smart students don’t pay idea. When I was in college in the 80s I supported… Read more »
Paul
Guest
Kormos, Debrecen is indeed a lovely place, as I have said so many times on here. In fact, for many years, my regard for Hungary and my desire to live there was mostly based on the experience of living in Debrecen. But gradually my eyes were opened as I learned and understood more about Hungary and the Hungarians. I still think that Debrecen is by far the most attractive city and most civilised place to live in Hungary, but it is ironic indeed that such a place should be in the middle of eastern Hungary. As to how much of this is down to Kósa – I simply don’t know. He certainly didn’t lay the city out, or build its many fine buildings, and he isn’t responsible for its ambiance as a university city and centre of Hungarian Calvanism, not to mention its wealth and culture based on a history of land ownership, trade and commerce. But, if some of it is his doing (the beautiful restoration of many buildings, the excellent design of the pedestrianised areas, etc), then I am grateful for the fine job he has done. But I don’t know the full story. Did being one of… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: “Debrecen is indeed a lovely place,”
Just today another report appeared about more juicy WikiLeaks documents. It was about Kósa. The deputy mayor of Debrecen went to the Americans and told all sorts of nasty things about Kósa who rules Debrecen as a medieval lord of the manor. It was mentioned that instead of Mr. 10% he is really Mr. 20% by now. I don’t understand exactly what Mr. 10% and 20% means unless perhaps it is about corruption. Perhaps someone could enlighten us on the subject.

Jano
Guest

According to kuruc.info:
“Értsd: korábban tíz százalékot kellett visszajuttatni feketén a különféle kiszervezett, pályázatokon elnyert munkák díjából a közpénztolvaj Kósának, ez viszont időközben húsz százalékra emelkedett “

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

to Jano! I had the feeling that it is about corruption.

John T
Guest

“I still think that Debrecen is by far the most attractive city and most civilised place to live in Hungary”.
Nah, relocate to Szombathely :-). A fair bit smaller of course, but the people are very friendly and the countryside around the city is lovely. And having Austria a few miles down the road has been very beneficial too in a number of ways.

Paul
Guest

John – much as I like living in Debrecen, I wouldn’t choose to live there now if we were just starting. I’d pick somewhere in the West or maybe near Budapest, the east is practically another country.
But most of my wife’s familly are in the east or the neighbouring countries, so we’re stuck where we are.
Having said all that, it’s not a bad place to be stuck in – although a river and some hills would be nice…

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Hongormaa: In many cases, professors with six-figure salaries show up once a semester to teach a class or two and non-unionized, underpaid PhD students do the rest.
I can only tell you that this is not so at Yale. Every full professor also teaches in Yale College. As for the endowment, I think you are unfair. It cost an incredible amount money to run a university. The endowment is necessary in order to finance the running of the institution. The tuition is a small part of the total cost, believe me.

hawk
Guest

please tell me the fees os master degree in euros and tell me which is the cheapest university who ofeershumaities and social science

Mariannel
Guest

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Jamie
Guest

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