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Government concessions on tuition seen as playing for the gallery

December 20th, 2012

An independent columnist believes the higher education reform has been improvised and ill-prepared, but by withdrawing it the government would just sweep the dust under the carpet. He believes politicians on both sides tend to chase cheap popularity and thereby progressively weaken Hungary’s competitiveness.

On Komment.hu, Csaba Gaál believes a propensity towards populism among Hungarian politicians, is the common factor behind both the government’s economic policy and what is happening around the higher education reform.

He finds it understandable that the government makes banks and multinationals pay their share of the crisis, and that it presses for wage increases and utility tariff cuts, but warns of the negative side-effects: “Someone should explain why investments are at a standstill and why there are no new jobs.” Similarly, it is sensible for the government to back down in the face of the student unrest and withdraw the cap on free admissions to the universities. But in fact, Gaál argues, the authorities are “sweeping the dust under the carpet, in exchange for political peace,” although he also believes that it would be wise to introduce some form of co-payment in higher education.

So far, the elections have always been won by the side which was more convincing in making unrealistic promises, Gaál remarks, and believes that the left-wing opposition is in no better shape in this respect than the governing conservatives. He thinks not even Gordon Bajnai could reverse that trend, although he proved to be a good crisis manager in 2009-2010. Fidesz’s recent policy mistakes may bring Bajnai nearer to becoming prime minister, Gaál admits, but “the disparate left-wing forces whom he intends to lead are almost too heterogeneous – and anti-capitalist – to make growth-friendly and market-friendly governance possible.”

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