The Hungarian government reduced the budget of higher education to its half during the last 5 years and failed to elaborate a stable and predictable financing system. In 2013, the Hungarian national budget spent only 0,43 % of the GDP to higher education – instead of 1% according to the recommendations of EU. The government strongly restricts academic autonomy and obliges financially vulnerable university managements to background bargaining and lobbying. The Prime Minister personally appoints chancellors beside rectors and thus can directly interfere with the management of universities. The government also threatens the independent functioning of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee thus discrediting quality assessment and hampering the international recognition of our universities. The teaching staff suffered essential losses due to forced retirement and dismissal caused by financial restrictions: as a result, the workload of the remaining active academic staff has greatly increased while their salaries remain extremely low compared to European standards.
The Hungarian government failed to elaborate a well-founded and legally accepted strategy for higher education, and the distribution of authorities and responsibilities in the management of higher education is opaque. The government arbitrarily allocates resources and provides undue advantages to loyal institutions. E.g. the government plans to spend 90 % of the budget allocated for education in the Horizon2020 programme on the National University of Public Service, a newly founded university close to the government.
The government is building a parallel network of research institutes and universities in order to serve its own goals while the existing recognised educational institutions are struggling for their residual autonomy. As part of this strategy, the government founded and finances – by-passing the existing normative criteria – the National University of Public Service and the University of Physical Education. In order to create this latter institution, the parliamentary majority made an ad hoc modification of the established law of nominating university professors, thus devaluating the title. Recently it became public that the Hungarian National Bank transferred assets of 650 million Euros to its own foundations, (an equivalent of 150 % of the total annual budget of higher education), in order to use the return on investment to create educational programmes of its ’unorthodox’ economic policy. This way, they finance public tasks with public funds circumventing the national budget in an uncontrollable way, pursuing ideological objectives.
You, as an engaged believer in European values should be aware of the fact that the actual Hungarian government instead of promoting social mobility, inhibits it. The Hungarian government aims to exclusively reinforce the middle class at the expense of the poor; the lower social strata are marginalised and abandoned. Compulsory schooling has been lowered to the age of 16; instead of real gap-closing programmes, family allowances and a good grant system, the government’s policy penalises the poor population and encourages the segregation of the Roma population. These measures hamper the possibilities of further education of socially handicapped students. As a consequence of the educational policy of the government, the number of freshmen in higher education declined by 30%, worsening, above all, the chances of the underprivileged youth. It is especially important to emphasise that by restricting access to legal, economic and social scientific programmes, the government reserves the exclusive possibility to those coming from privileged backgrounds to be recruited to the economic and political elite.
The Hungarian government devaluates knowledge and professional expertise both in words and in deeds, it takes decisions without wide consultations with experts, and excluding the public. Europe must be aware that the Hungarian government is consciously, deliberately and systematically moving away from European values and the declared goals of the EU.“
Excerpts of our letter sent to President Barroso on 11 September 2014.
The authors are members of the Hungarian Network of Academics, a civil society group of 500 researchers and university lecturers would like to share with you our concerns about the critical situation of the Hungarian higher education and would like to draw your attention to our ’shadow’ report analysing the educational policy of the Hungarian government.