The state of votes
A rational educational system for a secure future
Tóth Szilvia|translated by: Tóth Szilvia
Are fetters the key to prosperity?
Tóth Zoltán| translated by: Tóth Zoltán
Tóth Szilvia | translated by: Tóth Szilvia | 2012. May 26. 17:17
The Parliament passed the new law on higher education on 23th of December 2011. The purpose of the law according to the government is to raise the standards of higher education and the creation of a system which enables the acquisition of competitive knowledge.
The Parliament passed a new law on higher education on 23th of December 2011. The purpose of the law, according to the government, is to raise the standards of higher education and the creation of a system which enables the acquisition of competitive knowledge. Some steps of the re-organization of the higher educational system raised controversy; among them the decrease in the number of state-financed places, the “language-exam amnesty” and the transformation of universities.
According to the new regulations in higher education, anyone who has successfully graduated from high school can apply to university. University studies can be financed completely or partially by the state (both state and student paying 50% of fees, respectively), or entirely be paid for by the student. For those who will be paying for their study fees themselves, a new student loan has been created. With the new type of loan the office in charge, the Center for Student Loans (Diák Hitel Központ), pays for the university directly and students only have to pay a 2% interest rate on it. For those who, after the acquisition of their degrees, find employment in the public sphere, the state takes over the duty of paying back the loan.
It could be a problem that the number of state-financed places from September 2012 on will drop or grow in certain fields, compared to previous years. For example there will be a decrease of state-financed places of 95% in the field of economy, of 87% in law, and of 35% in liberal arts. At the same time, the free places in computer engineering will increase by 22% and those in engineering by 36%.
The government claims to have adjusted the number of places to the real needs of the labor market. They for example took into consideration that while there was excessive training in the fields of law, economy and liberal arts – in other words, there were far more graduates than demands for their qualification on the labor market – there were not enough qualified experts in the fields of computer sciences, engineering and natural sciences.
If the market cannot take the fresh graduates, they either receive social aid from the taxes of active workers or they take work of less qualified people, a work which they will be overqualified for. Thus the support they received from the government during their studies was wasted. From this perspective, the restructuration of the government-supported places was well planned.
What could however incite further controversy is that, according to the regulations on language exams, the universities can decide whether they still require a language exam before handing out a degree or whether they organize an “internal language exam” for their graduate students. This condition can only be used the latest for the graduates of the 2012/2013 school year. With this measure the government tries to provide an easier way for ex-students “trapped” at their university after not passing a language exam and thus not receiving a degree, to fulfill the requirements and to get a job in their field.
In order to harmonize the activities of higher educational institutions there will be an opportunity to merge institutions. With the new regional division of the 29 universities in the country and the creation of centers for given fields, the strong centralization (Budapest being both the capital and educational center of Hungary) of education could also be ended.
Tóth Zoltán | translated by: Tóth Zoltán | 2012. May 26. 17:17
“Everyone should be able to study, regardless of their financial situation” said Rózsa Hoffmann, Secretary of State, regarding the new law on higher education, even though the bill will rather take chances from future students than widen their opportunities.
The Hungarian Parliament passed a new act on tertiary education on 23th of December 2011. The new law divides both the higher educational institutions concerned and society. Many Student Associations and the Trade Union of Higher Educational Workers sided to lament the results of previous two-sided negotiations. The most important changes enforced by the new act are the obligation to sign a contract for those who study on full or partially state-financed scholarships and the drastic decrease of state-financed (free) places in universities. The latter will, according to the optimistic guess of Rector Zsolt Rostoványi, reduce university applications by 20%, leaving the majority of society without a degree and further deepening social gaps.
After the reform of the Constitution and institutions, Hungary’s democratic system has been renewed. The educational system was no exception to this rule either, for the future economic health of a country depends on the chances of qualified young workers on the labor market, structural and frictional unemployment being the burden of the social system and the taxpayers. The unfavorable employment conditions push, above all, the younger generations to migrate. This, however, is not a Hungarian phenomenon; it is well present in other Eastern European countries with low nominal GDP. In Romania for example there are ongoing manifestations because of low wages and high unemployment and just like in Poland, hundreds of thousands of youngsters decided to go to Western countries for seasonal or permanent employment. The new act on higher education aims to overcome the emigrational problem by contracting future students studying on state-financed scholarships (aka exempted from paying study fees) to stay in the country or to pay back the expenses of their university studies if they want to leave. For young graduates whose priorities are the acquisition of an own home or even the foundation of a family, this condition can be a real burden.
That was the slogan of high school, university and college students on the annual Education exhibition, who, representing the Student Network (Hallgatói Hálózat), held a speech before the president of the Bureau of Education. In October 2011, when the first draft of the law became public, they organized a popular protest too; at the time thousands went on the streets. In Szeged there was also a hunger strike. Some students, eager to protect their freedom of speech and freedom of expression, together with other student associations, went as far as occupying one of the classrooms of Eötvös Loránd University in order to protest against the new law endangering their future.
Governments with drastic reformatory agendas, in democracies with rotating mandates, have to act quickly in order to consecrate the last 1-2 years of their mandate to increase their popularity, thus the number of their voters. The bill on higher education was a bolt from the blue and the prolongation of the application period to universities (by a few days) did not prove to be substantive help. The entry into force of the law would have required a transition period of minimum of two years to enable the high school students to rethink their university of choice and their preparation strategy according to the new circumstances. This would have been important, for the year-end grade report of the pre-graduation year and the half-term grade report of the graduation year are taken into consideration for university applications. Moreover, high school students apply for university preparatory classes during their graduation year. Regarding the tendencies of the last few years, talented students from less privileged backgrounds would have had high chances of getting into the state-financed places at universities, but the decrease of places in social science faculties is going to make higher education difficult for them. It is well possible that the human capital will turn towards shorter and less expensive vocational trainings which result in lower wages and limited opportunities for progress, compared to those with a university degree. That tendency solidifies social classes, decrease the chances of mobilization and the formation of a wider middle-class.
Neoliberal economic policies – such as the retreat of the State to a role of regulation and national cohesion, the safeguarding of the national sovereignty, the highest possible independence from the IMF and the European Union – shape the steps of the government wishing to end paternalistic politics.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán promotes the end of a welfare state and the beginning of a “work-based society”. The main reason for this approach is the 82.6% national debt of Hungary. The government, focusing on the repayment of the debt and the empowerment of the economy, is forced to extract some resources to increase its income. The bill on higher education is the perfect example for these measures. However, while governments often only look at numbers of GDP, there are more useful indicators in which the amounts of money invested in high education are not defined as expenses but are considered to be long-term investments ( MEW, HDI, GPI, NEW are such indicators).
The self-financing of one’s university studies is quite difficult because of the increased VAT (27% at present), low average of the wages (approx. 210 000 HUF, 725 €) and the uneven distribution of high and low incomes. The decrease of employment only makes the situation worse. Among the ten million Hungarian citizens, only 2.6 million people are actively employed. The rest depend on the black market or on governmental support. Hungarian wages, compared to the average in the European Union, are three to four times lower. Because of this, many students are forced to take student loans since their families are unable to finance their studies. However, the well-off families will be able to pay the study fees for their children, so the upper middle-class and the elite can avoid circulation and keep their positions in society. This will ultimately result in the less wealthy only being able to move up the social scale at the price of great sacrifices, if they succeed at all.
Only, the lagging sectors of society should be helped to catch up in order to avoid the creation of ghettos and wide-spread dissatisfaction, since those could even lead to problems of national security. Finally, the new bill on higher education does not by itself transform the vision of future, which does largely depend on the economic potential and political action plans as well.
Tóth Szilvia|translated by: Tóth Szilvia
Tóth Zoltán| translated by: Tóth Zoltán
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