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Impact of Higher Education bill unclear

January 26th, 2012

A linguist welcomes the government’s proposal to restructure Higher Education in order to reduce the number of graduates who end up unemployed. He is, however, concerned about the probable but unintended consequences of the reforms, which he finds untimely and disproportionate.

The government decided to reduce the number of state-financed full university scholarships for freshers by 37 percent to 27,150 from the next academic year. In addition to the full package, another 15,500 half tuition waivers will also be announced. The scholarships are distributed by the government, which results in uneven cuts. While Agricultural studies will be subjected to few or no cuts at all, the government has significantly reduced the number of funded places for Law schools, Humanities and Economics departments. The government also intends to make sure that the smaller and less competitive universities in smaller towns will have enough students to survive.  Opposition parties have criticized the bill, noting that with these measures, Fidesz effectively introduces tuition-fees, which it fiercely opposed while in opposition. According to critics, these tuition-fees will make Higher Education unaffordable for gifted young Hungarians from poor families.

Linguist Milán Constantinovits in Heti Válasz agrees, by and large, with the primary aim of the government, which is to reduce the number of unnecessary degrees which do not help graduates into proper jobs. The reforms, Constantinovits notes, will strengthen the market-oriented approach in higher education.

He considers however the 95 per cent cut in state-financed places in Economics far too drastic. He also believes that reducing the number of scholarship to 100 in Law and the significant cuts in Computer Sciences are also problematic, since graduates with such degrees can easily find employment. The allocation seems particularly unbalanced if ones takes into account that the number of places reserved for Art students has increased.

Constantinovits fears that while the prestigious universities will have enough fee paying students, talented young Hungarians will not be able to afford the higher tuition fees of the best institutions. (Full tuition fees will usually range between 150,000 and 600,000 Forints per semester.) The top universities and degree programs will have extremely diverse student bodies: a mix of talented students with scholarships and mediocre fee-paying students from better-off families, Constantinovits notes.

It is also likely that many young Hungarians will apply for universities in the EU countries where places are free, including Austria, Germany and the UK. Although living costs are higher abroad, the overall costs may not be significantly higher if one has to pay for tuition in Hungary, Constantinovits reckons. He fears that such trends will increase brain drain, because those who graduate abroad may never come back.

It is, however, too early to tell whether such fears are substantiated. Constantinovits hopes that the government will fine-tune the arrangements and that the system will become more fair and proportionate.