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The government of Hungary, which currently holds the EU Presidency, announced in October 2010 a plan for a new higher education law, the details of which have generated a highly critical response from the Hungarian national students’ union, Hallgatói Önkormányzatok Országos Konferenciája (HÖOK). The draft plan was put forward in November 2010 by the Ministry of National Resources, which is responsible for education, and then passed along to key stakeholders in the country. HÖOK, a member union of the European Students’ Union (ESU), is not pleased with a number of the plan’s provisions, claiming most crucially that the proposed act contradicts stated EU policies.
Specifically, HÖOK maintains that the restrictions the plan places on a student’s ability to re-take failed exams are not in harmony with European Union’s stated goal of increasing the higher education attainment rate among people aged 30 to 35 to 40% by 2020. The new Hungarian proposal stipulates a limit (no more than four) to the number of times a student may attempt to pass an exam. Students failing to pass an exam after four attempts will be expelled from the university. HÖOK has proposed instead a credit-based solution, whereby students must accumulate at least 30 credits after every two semesters in order to be allowed to continue to study. The students feel this is a more pragmatic approach to encouraging students to make meaningful progress in their studies. Another of the plan’s proposals – to decrease the quota of student representatives in university decision-making processes to 15%, from a current norm of 25%-33% - is another point of contention for the students. HÖOK is also concerned about the lack of attention afforded to quality considerations in the new proposal. From the students’ perspective quality assurance efforts should include performance-based evaluation of professors.
In early February 2011, representatives from the Ministry of National Resources, the rectors’ conference, HÖOK and DOSZ (the Hungarian PhD students’ association) will meet in an attempt to resolve the impasse. If all proceeds smoothly, a vote on the new plan could come in Parliament as early as April. The students are adamant, however, that further negotiations result in acceptable compromise solutions in the problem areas outlined above. According to HÖOK, failure to reach an acceptable agreement on the new plan will result in student demonstrations.