Students protest, universities welcome government tuition fee plan in Hungary

Photo: European Commission

Hungary's Parliament this week passed legislation bringing in higher education tuition fees. From next year it could cost students hundreds of euros each year. Understandably students are upset and are threatening demonstrations. But the rectors and deans at universities support the move. Although the bill has already passed through Parliament negotiations continue between the Education Minister Istvan Hiller and student representatives on how to help students who can't afford the fees. Gyorgyi Jakobi reports:

Most students at Corvinus University of Economics in downtown Budapest will probably be able to afford the tuition fee of between 370-540 euros in the 2007/2008 school year. Istvan Kerekes, Corvinus University Dean, welcomes the planned introduction of the fees:

"In order to improve the quality of the education we need additional resources. We have to do something and I think the introduction of some kind of a tuition fee could be a solution."

Does that mean that the extra money will be for the use of the universities?

"If we get the necessary freedom to use it then it will have a good impact on the education that we provide. I am afraid that we would lose our best students if we fail to offer them a very good quality education. They can go abroad and instead of us they can choose the German, Austrian, or Dutch institutions. So, there is a brain drain for the best students and it means that we have to improve our services and we have to offer something extra.

"Less than 20 percent of students can participate in exchange programmes nowadays. While we should send them abroad for at least one semester, we have no means to finance it? If we send them, we also have to accept those students coming from the European Union. This means we have to develop courses in English, German and in French but we cannot do that without the extra money. At least some of the professors should be native speakers and we need to develop a so-called international faculty. But I cannot hire anyone from abroad because we cannot offer a normal salary. We are aiming to have ten percent of the professors foreigners by 2010. I have hired a young man from the UK, who fell in love here and is therefore ready to work for a Hungarian salary. But he is an exception."

The planned tuition fee is lower than in the UK...

"Yes it is much lower. The problem is that the university basically depends on the quality of its students and everybody wants to attract the best students with good programmes. Certainly, it is also related to the quality of the professors but if we attract the best students then we are the best university."

Photo: European Commission
But what will happen to talented students who will not be able to afford the tuition fee?

"We have to develop a system for them. We used to have a system in which we could offer different kinds of scholarships to those students who were capable but in an unfortunate family situation. But now, the ten percent of the young population that used to enter higher education has now moved up to 50 percent. This reduces the quality of the entire education system because the average student is much weaker today than fifteen years ago."

108,000 students visited universities in Hungary in 1990. Today, that number has reached 430,000.