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Hungary’s higher education: shutting down or opening up?

There is currently an  intensive debate going on now between two groups of academics in Hungary. Both groups agree on the existence of a problem, however, the solutions of the two are different and conflicting. The problem is simple to understand, but difficult to address: due to the demographic change in aging Europe, Hungary is among the countries where the ratio of youth in the total population has been decreasing for a number of years. While the total number of enrolled students is slightly increasing every academic season, by 2020 the number of high school graduates in Hungary will only be 70 percent of its current level. For comparison, the percentage of high-school graduates entering tertiary education has dropped from 75 percent to 64 percent between 2004 and 2008.

In pursuit of a solution, taking also into account the current financial circumstances, two possible solutions seem to take shape. One group of academics supports the closure of smaller educational institutions and facilities in the countryside. The other group - mainly representing affected institutions - sees internationalisation as a way out. The aim of the latter group is to attract more international students from other continents in order to survive. The smaller institutions do believe in their competitive advantage: flexibility, small classes and a service-oriented approach. Yet the proponents of closure argue that if these institutions cannot attract Hungarians this already signals an extremely weak potential in attracting students from other parts of the world.

As a result of these conflicting approaches, the Hungarian education system faces enormous challenges. As a precursor to internationalisation Hungarian universities and colleges should significantly widen their educational scope and increase the number of their English-taught programmes should develop their campuses and improve the student services offered. They should also better position themselves through direct marketing on the international map of education. However, at the end of the day rationalisation and internationalisation shall go hand in hand, as complementary prerequisites to effective higher education.

Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture