Hungarian students demand autonomy of universities

The Orbán government wants to reform higher education so that it will advance the material well-being of the Hungarian nation. Its primary purpose should be to contribute to areas such as manufacturing and agriculture, to the production of physical products.

Last November I wrote about László Palkovics, the latest undersecretary in charge of higher education, who announced early in his career as a member of the government that “the state will not finance useless diplomas.” After reading a long interview with the man, I came to the conclusion that Palkovics was planning to transform Hungarian higher education into one “huge engineering school.”

It seems that the presidents of Hungarian universities had the same misgivings about Palkovics’s “reforms” as I did. The Hungarian Conference of University Presidents (Magyar Rektori Konferencia) pointed out “the flaws of a concept that concentrates exclusively on economic matters.” As usual, the presidents’ objections were ignored. By mid-April rumors circulated that a large number of subjects taught at the bachelor’s level would be eliminated from the course offerings. “Communication” and “international studies” were prime targets; the government wanted to get rid of them as undergraduate majors. Vh.hu seemed to know that the ministry of foreign affairs and trade wasn’t happy about the proposed elimination of the study of international relations, which usually attracts very bright students. After all, some of these young people contemplate a diplomatic career.

On the afternoon of April 17 the government at last made its new plans for higher education public. Isn’t it interesting that momentous decisions that the government suspects will meet with resistance are usually released late on Friday afternoon? The hope, I assume, is that by Monday the outrage will subside. Well, it didn’t work out that way this time, especially since the document indicated that not only would certain social science fields, like international relations, no longer be available for B.A. students but that the very survival of the faculty of social sciences was at stake.

Today students and faculty members of several universities met in “forums” to discuss the government document. First I heard about the forum held by Eötvös Lóránd Tudományegyetem (ELTE) students and professors of the Faculty of Social Sciences. A few minutes later I learned that other universities were joining the “revolt.” The revolt continued on to the Budapest Műszaki Egyetem (MBE/Budapest Engineering School), where László Palkovics was holding the fort against irate students who accused him of not knowing what he was talking about.

Given the centralized nature of Hungarian higher education, I suspect that this decision would affect all universities and colleges, although at the moment the talk is only about ELTE, Corvinus, and the Catholic University. The government’s plans, by the way, are not based on financial considerations. As it now stands, students who want to major in international relations must pay their own way, so the government saves no money whatsoever by getting rid of the discipline. The reason for the decision is most likely political. The Orbán government doesn’t like the way ELTE and other universities teach the subject. Fidesz has no problem with offering a major in international relations at the undergraduate level at the new Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem (NKE/National Civil Service University), where the regime educates its own elite. By the way, some people call NKE “the university for future janissaries.”

Not that I’m keeping fingers crossed for Viktor Orbán and his government, but I thought that perhaps in the last few months they had learned a thing or two, that they would tamp down their zeal for reform and stop annoying people at every turn. I can assure Mr. Orbán that it is dangerous to push students too far. Look at what happened in 1956 when forums were held at ELTE, BME, and Szeged and a few days later Mátyás Rákosi was gone. Orbán’s government is teetering at the moment. In his place I wouldn’t tempt God.

The protest at ELTE’s faculty of social sciences began on Facebook, and thousands signed up to attend a meeting today at 6 p.m. A list of five demands was ready by mid-morning.

1. We demand the autonomy of universities. We demand free choice of university and majors.

2. There is a need for specialists with a knowledge of the social sciences, of the European Union and international relations.

3. In the 21st century it is not the state that decides the future professions of people. It is not the state that decides what specialty exists and what doesn’t. The state cannot forbid any specialty or monopolize it for the university of the government.

4. The impact studies behind the decisions should be made public. We demand transparency, discussion, and professionalism.

5. With the elimination of these majors the government goes against international and European trends, undermines our future, and completely ruins the possibility of Hungary’s success in the world.

At this point the Ministry of Human Resources tried to calm the situation and claimed that nothing has been decided yet, that it was the opposition parties who were responsible for whipping up emotions against the government. The ministry insisted that “before the May introduction of the decisions there will be an opportunity for all affected by the new system to express their opinions.” Unfortunately past experience teaches us that such promises are not worth the paper they are written on. The ministry explained that the changes to be introduced “serve the interest of the students” and “strengthen the effectiveness of teaching.” The students not surprisingly don’t seem to agree.

This morning at ELTE the professors, instead of giving their scheduled lectures, used class time for a discussion of the planned changes. It was during these student-teacher discussions that they came up with their five demands. Moreover, the university administration is on their side. Both the president and the dean of the social science faculty were present and made speeches at the “forum” held this afternoon.

The engineering students also gathered for a discussion, and again they seem to be backed by the faculty and the administration. The government, though generally pro-engineering, wants to abolish the teaching of design engineering. László Palkovics, who is an engineer and who actually taught at BME, was present and the students gave him a hard time. One student point blank asked him whether he has any idea what design engineering is all about. The students wanted to know why he thinks that the work of design engineers is superfluous. The best he could come up with was that design engineers earn 100,000 a month less than other engineers. As usual, the claim is not true, or at least a company manager who was present said that in fact on average they are more highly paid than their colleagues.

MTI / Photo: Zsolt Szigetvári

MTI / Photo: Zsolt Szigetvári

After the forums were over the ELTE students marched to BME, and from there a fairly large crowd proceeded to the building of the ministry of human resources with the promise of returning if the ministry doesn’t withdraw the plans by Wednesday. I have the feeling that in the interim other universities will join the ELTE and BME crowd, but I doubt that a complete withdrawal of the “concept” is in the offing. In his speech at the forum the president of ELTE expressed a modest expectation. He said that he is hopeful that the international relations major might be saved. But, let’s face it, this is not enough. Indeed, the autonomy of the universities should be restored. That will not happen as long as the Orbán regime is in power, but I very much hope that a total overhaul of Hungarian higher education will take place after the fall of Viktor Orbán.

Yesterday there was an interview with Péter Tölgyessy, a jurist and political scientist who with László Solyóm, former chief justice of the constitutional court and president of the republic, crafted the constitution that functioned well until in 2012 the second Orbán government replaced it with its own. In the interview Tölgyessy said something that caught my imagination. The Hungarian people are rarely aroused to revolt. They are fine with practically any regime so long as it leaves their private spheres alone. But when the government forces itself upon them by wanting to change their lives, then Hungarians stand up and say no to their overlords. János Kádár knew that. Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, wants to change everything, including his subjects. Tölgyessy is sure that in the long run Orbán’s plans will fail.

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Member

Unfortunately no other demonstrations are such succesful like this. There is a high degee of apathy in adults, as it was conceived in an ATV talk show last night – by one of the participants. University studens had been let alone during mass demonstation buy their professors so far, now they joined to their students demonstration. If one had not heard in before, the proportion of jobbik voters is the highest in this young cohort. I still hope that they give at least a good “saller or koky” to those assholes in the government. A doubt they are much mor clever, intelligent jobbik voters than the oters in small villages. Unfortunately Jobbik is the same: a schisis within this party has not taken place yet.

exTor
Guest

A demonstration has been planned for Kossuth tér in front of the Parliament building. Thursday, 30 April, 5 PM.

I hope to see some Hungarian Spectrum posters there.

MAGYARKOZÓ

exTor
Guest

Generally (where capitalism reigns) students manifest a petitbourgeois mentality. So, their protests often are selfserving.

Students, their selfinterests notwithstanding, can catalyze wider swaths of society. In the US, it was the student movement (in concert with leftists and others) that galvanized a sizable segment of the American population to turn against the US involvement in the Vietnam War. It took a decade for the US to admit defeat in Vietnam.

In the complex that was France in May 1968, students and socialists [read: communists and other leftists] almost brought down the government of the day. That upheaval was a major pivot in French history.

Students often are the first to act. There is a lesson there that needs to be absorbed and utilized.

MAGYARKOZÓ

exTor
Guest

Finally, Hrossagaukur, how do we know that a greater percentage of Jobbik support exists amongs youth than exists in the general population?

That, if it be a truth, is disconcerting.

I would suggest that the mindset of students exists considerably to the left of the general youth population, which (as Marx would have determined) likely manifests a lumpen outlook, where the enemies are the ‘others’, the ones who look different [the Roma] and the ones who are different [the Jews and the (liberal) intellectuals].

MAGYARKOZÓ

boogienights
Guest

Or as somebody else said: Hungarians like dictatorships only soft dictatorships (in which the private sphere is free). People will not revolt but Orban will fall.

Having said that as a second best outcome Orban will be extremely happy with Jobbik’s victory since it will mean the distress of the leftists and liberals and that is worth every penny.

Lutra lutra
Guest

I’m sure Orbán will feel that a victory for Jobbik will be the next best thing to a Fidesz victory but that’s only because of his primitive tribal instincts.

Governments in civilised Europe work as much as possible on building cross-party consensus and formulating policies on the basis of economic and social cost-benefit, not according to ideology.Governments in Europe have to justify their policies in Parliament, not only to the opposition but also to their own MPs under the principle of freedom of speech. If you think marching boldly into yesterday under the Jobbik flag is worth it just to piss off decmorats in Hungary and the rest of Europe then I feel very sorry for you.

Dirk
Guest
Did anyone read the article of Viktor Szigetvári http://nol.hu/velemeny/merjunk-nem-hazudni-1529039 It is about the “Courage not to lie”. How to break from the past of two and a half decades of modus operandi : “A mai magyar progresszió legnagyobb kihívása az, hogyan lehet szakítani a választókat hülyének néző, értelmiségi osztálygőgtől bűzlő, két és fél évtizedes gyáva társadalmi játszmákkal.” And telling the truth is ever more important. Just yesterday it was proven that either Ferenc Gyurcsány lied, or April Foley the fmr. US ambassador lied. There is no other alternative. It is hard to imagine a reason for Foley to lie or trying to deceive. In any case one of them lied that we know for sure. Either Gyurcsány, or Foley. The truth always wins out at the end. Magyarország korrupt, és ez tényszerű “Nem gondolom, hogy Magyarország megérett az átláthatóságra. Nem gondolom, hogy Magyarország megérett a piaci versenyre.” – Foley állítása szerint egy percnyi gondolkodás után ezt mondta Magyarország miniszterelnöke egy magas rangú amerikai kormánytisztviselőnek, amikor az megkérdezte tőle, hogy ő úgy egyébként mit gondol az átláthatóságról. …Foley alatt számos korrupcióellenes eseményt szervezett a nagykövetség, ezek közül a legnagyobb visszhangot a 2009. január 13-14-i konferencia kapta. Mivel Foley megbízatása 2009. április… Read more »
Guest

You know after all the disconcerting news on current Hungarian politics here it is evident that the Orban regime continually shows that it always poses great questions rather than perhaps showing good success in solving the problems of the country.

Now it looks like the bull in the china shop is onto the function of universities. No doubt emanating from the orientation of building a ‘new’ Hungary not only in politics but also in the directing the course of thought and values to be what one wants to be in the country.

As Andras Simonyi commented recently on Hungary it is not simply enough to be a producer of ‘finished goods’ it must also be cognizant of developing its people to invent and make new art, products and new social models’. Something tells me Mr. Orban has an inimical attitude to that. His game simply looks to be control.

qaz
Guest
A small comment on what may be a side point raised by Ms Balogh about “the new Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem (NKE/National Civil Service University), where the regime educates its own elite. By the way, some people call NKE ‘the university for future janissaries’.” The French have been doing just that with the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) created after the end of WW2 by Charles de Gaulle, albeit to address clearly identified shortcomings in public service and to educate and train “the best” to serve the State for the public good. The ENA emphasizes, in principle, the republican meritocracy spirit to which France aspires (at least in theory). The result however, intended or not, is arguably a deficit in intellectual diversity in the higher spheres of French public service (including politicians) as they all come out of the same mold, limited creative thinking and no appetite for challenging “common wisdom” (part of what the French call “la pensée unique”). As is often the case, an institution in itself is not necessarily a bad thing; it is its unprincipled or abusive use that could be questionable. One question is whether Hungary has the intellectual resources to train and educate those students in… Read more »
Jon Van Til
Guest

According to index.hu, the government has completely withdrawn its proposal to restrict the academic departments slated for restriction or elimination. Once again, the Hungarian government shows itself to be entirely willing to abandon apparently serious policy initiatives when faced by any substantial organized opposition. The egg remains on their face, but they remain in power.

Webber
Guest

NKE/The University of Public Service is a State Party School, pure and simple. If a student argues in a paper or class that a government policy – or even a Fidesz party statement – is faulty, the grade will not be a good one. If a member of the teaching staff makes a similar argument s/he will be fired. (this is inside information from a friend involved there).
The twisted, but openly stated reasoning behind this is that the staff is meant to serve the state and is to teach students to serve the state. The state is Fidesz.
Those who read Hungarian will be interested in the Rector’s greeting, which gives the underlying reasoning – here:
http://uni-nke.hu/egyetem/rektori-koszonto

topher
Guest

The rector used to be a permanent advisor (a long -term, full time law clerk) at the constitutional court to various conservative judges. I hear he wasn’t especially liked for his personality.

Fidesz always had a pretty good HR policy at the constitutional court (and other important branches of government such as the prosecution and the general courts) even when it was opposition, the leftists didn’t have a clue.

Mind you, Fidesz figured that Péter Pázmány Catholic University will also be a school for loyal fideszniks, but that wasn’t enough, Fidesz needed NKE too (Matthias Corvinus College headed by some ‘former’ spooks loyal to Orban is also such a school for college age kids). Did the leftists ever had a plan to educate the future? Well, I guess it’s now too late.

TopTop
Guest

The rector used to be a permanent advisor (a long -term, full time law clerk) at the constitutional court to various conservative judges. I hear he wasn’t especially liked for his personality.

Fidesz always had a pretty good HR policy at the constitutional court (and other important branches of government such as the prosecution and the general courts) even when it was opposition, the leftists didn’t have a clue.

Mind you, Fidesz figured that Péter Pázmány Catholic University will also be a school for loyal fideszniks, but that wasn’t enough, Fidesz needed NKE too (Matthia Corvinus College headed by some ‘former’ spooks loyal to Orban is also such a school). Did the leftists ever had a plan to educate the future? Well, I guess it’s now too late.

Jon Van Til
Guest

Addendum: Two undergraduate programs will be eliminated: Social Science, and Technological Management. But the four major programs (including International Studies, and Communication) proposed for restriction will not be touched. The regime will claim a compromise victory. But will the university movement accept this as a victory and abandon its promising efforts to secure university autonomy? The student protesters have issued a facebook statement that they will not accept this “victory”–and will continue to press for university autonomy.

petofi
Guest

I don’t see what the big mystery is with Fidesz plans/intentions: they want universities
to serve as training ground for needed tasks/jobs.

Simply, the university (in Fidesz/Orban thinking) is not a place to educate the young and make
of them serious, self-sufficient, clear-thinking, responsible, human beings–the traditional role of a liberal education. No. They want the young to possess basic skills and the mindset of traditional Hungarians…that is, to do what they are told without question.

Sounds like the dream citizenry of Hitler, doesn’t it?

Guest

Re: that ‘dream citizenry of Hitler’…

Probably can add Stalin to that as well. They both thought alike in a number of ways.

And qaz’s point on the NKE would seem to refer to making sure everyone is simply ‘on the same page’ in advancing certain Hungarian ‘values’. Getting everybody in one line is admirable if you want uniform and robotic thinking in the face of problems to be solved.

But arguably that mode of operation rejects the flexibility and incisiveness of free and critical thinking that is need in our increasingly globally competitive , complicated and indeed dangerous world. Hungary might pay dearly for her one-size fits all approach in believing that ‘thinking’ has to be so narrow- minded and restrictive in when pushing her ideological interests.

Member
I am always suspicious of Ms. Foley actions. Second class politicians and loose cannons are always dangerous. With the end of Bush era her political carrier was over. She has lost most of her influence in DC and elsewhere else. Only Fidas’s Hungary showed interest in her personality as a showcase of a biased supporter. They use her blindness when it comes to anti-communism and conservative values. She is playing April’s fool on the basic law (constitution) and she is absolutely hooked on the Jobbik’s lure. So whatever she had to say (in a retired MA club, for God’s sake!) it has little or no credibility to me. Before anyone misunderstands me Gyurcsany could be and should be criticized of many tragic misdeeds but he has done a great deal to make corruption more difficult in Hungary (think of uvegzseb law, 2003/ XXIV, etc). I don’t know the truth but I believe that leading (former) MSZP politicians undermined him exactly in revenge for more transparency in business dealings. Fooley’s campaign was the last nail in Gyurcsany’s political coffin and by doing so she has influenced the elections thus violated a don’t do policy that was valid even in the Bush… Read more »
Webber
Guest
Let’s be clear on one thing: American ambassadors to Budapest get the job because of some service they did to the President or the President’s party, or because the President likes them for some reason. Most of them have absolutely no “influence” as such in Washington, and never did. They give lots of money to the party, and get an ambassadorship as a reward. These ambassadors are figureheads, meant to smile and shake hands, and nothing more. They do not make policy, and generally don’t even influence it. Rather like the Queen of England. That is the American system, like it or not. Only ambassadors to sensitive or important countries are proper diplomats. People sent to insignificant, irrelevant places are nonentities. Like it or not, what happens in Budapest is generally both insignificant and irrelevant to world politics. If something important happens in Budapest, Washington sends instructions – and Washington is always kept apprised of things by the (usually) little-known career diplomats who do the real work in the embassy (Goodfriend became an exception to the general rule of anonymity and importance). This is not meant as an insult to (former) Ambassador Foley, but to make her relevance clear –… Read more »
Webber
Guest

In the above, I should not have suggested that ambassadors to Budapest do not do real work because glad-handing Hungarian politicians certainly is work, and work of the sort most of us could not bear.

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