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Universities face slimming cure

August 6th, 2011

A conservative economist suggests more concentrated public spending on higher education. His ideas seem to be partly reflected in a draft reform document leaked from the Ministry of Human Resources.

Népszabadság has got hold of a draft which proposes a reduction in the number of universities to be financed by the state, reduced autonomy for institutions which avail themselves of public funding, and the withdrawal of 36 billion forints a year from higher education. According to the latest reports in Magyar Nemzet, the ministry decided to postpone the discussion of the draft until September, because some of the proposed reforms “require a political decision”. Meanwhile, Heti Válasz carries a column by professor Tamás Mellár, former chairman of the National Statistical Office that provides strong arguments in favour of such changes.

Mellár describes the present system of higher education as extremely wasteful and inefficient, based on the full autonomy of individual institutions, while most of the cost is paid for from the national budget. The result is that 70 universities enjoy public funding, and Economics, for example, is taught in over 40, although “competitive academic staff are not available in more than five.” The present state of affairs is based on the assumption that students know best what they need to study. In reality there is an obvious surplus of graduates in many fields, including tourism and communication. Public money should be spent to support the best possible training, the professor suggests. The government should decide what exactly it is prepared to pay for, and if “there still remains a high number of young people wanting to study catering and tourism or communication and media studies, let them take the risk and pay for it themselves.