In Hungary, universities are in a special situation right now, unfortunately not in a positive sense. Since the change of the government in 2010, there have been a couple of transformations in politics. The government wants Hungary’s economy to flourish again. The plan implicates savings in many areas and higher education is one of them. These cuts affect students and teachers likewise.
How are people affected by these savings? Do they have to pay the tuition by themselves? Well, in many cases they don´t have to but the government had another idea to regulate the payment system. In the end of 2011 they set up a new contract for students. They are forced to sign if they want to be subsidized for their study. So when you enter higher education in Hungary, you have 2 possibilities. One is to pay your tuition by yourself (which is around 500-1000 euros per semester, so most families can’t afford to pay it) or the state subsidizes your tuition. In this last case, you have to sign a contract, that after your graduation you stay and work in Hungary twice as long as your studies were (so if someone is attending a BA which is 3.5 years, he/she has to stay home for 7 years). They still get financial support you could say… but has the government the right to force people to stay in their home country- especially if they are living in the EU and have the ability to try one´s luck in another country? Well, they do.
But this is why students are protesting, saying it’s prevention of free movement inside the EU. Practically, there is the possibility to work abroad. In that case, students have to pay the fee back to the government. Furthermore, the salary in Hungary is lower than in other EU countries, so many people are reliant on financial help from the government for their studies.
Ok, you could say the new contract contains financial help for students, but this is not the case for every study program. There are a lot of graduates who can´t find jobs and for this reason in many study programs there are only a few places financed by the state or none. People who don´t get into funded programs have to pay tuition by themselves. In many cases they probably can´t afford to do so. So the only possibility is to choose a different study program. In total the government in 2012 funded about 34.000 places, in 2011 it was 54.000, which means a 40 % drop.
There are more and more student protests coming up since the end of 2012. Furthermore a couple of students are occupying a lecture room of ELTE, because they are unsatisfied with the situation of the students. The conservative Orbán-cabinet is not just cutting money but also restricting cultural institutions. It wants facilities to orientate towards a more national and traditional direction when they got financial support from the state. In 2012 there were dramatic cuttings for theaters, museums and the film-industry. Since there are less and less money for higher education, ELTE had to take a step and save money by forced retirements of professors of the University. Students from the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) formed a live chain through the University building to demonstrate against this form of cost reduction. Students in Hungary seem to have enough reasons to complain. Hopefully they will be heard.
Eszter Beleznai, a master student of ELTE was interviewed. She completed her BA also at ELTE, so we can say she knows quite a lot about this university. She participated in the live chain.
What did you protest against 2 weeks ago?
I protested against the teachers’ dismissal which was completely unfair and unreasonable in some cases.
Could you mention an example which was unfair?
Everyone comes up with the example of Professor Nádasdy but I don’t think that firing him was the most unfair. I think if someone wants to release a worker, they should talk it over, not just hand an envelope with the message ‘you’re fired’, which was more or less the case, if not so black and white.
Why is everyone sorry the most for Prof. Nádasdy?
Because he, as some people think, the ‘commercial figure’ of ELTE. He’s interesting, colorful, active in many fields and that pulls students to go to his class. Firing him stirs angry emotions, because everyone knew him and he is, without doubt, a completely indispensable employee.
What was his reaction to the dismissal?
He took it very calmly. I read an interview in Magyar Narancs and he commented that if that was god’s plan then so be it. He also added he will be faithful to the university and even without a salary will keep teaching students, if not as many as he used to.
Do you have any suggestions, how the university could do it without causing as much trouble?
I think this ship has already sailed away because, as Prof. Nádasdy pointed out, ‘they should have made fire precautions’. Maybe the university had it coming, but I think it’s also shameful that the other universities didn’t help ELTE out, even though ELTE used to help them out in hard times. I think what the university can do now is cutting on charges, but firing employees in this way is not the solution.
Have you ever participated in a live chain?
Before the one 2 weeks ago, I haven’t.
How was it like?
It was not as enthusiastic as we thought it would be, but I was touched to see how many people came and how many signed the petition, too. We walked around the whole University (Múzeum krt, Rákóczi út, Puskin u.) and when the last two chain links held each other’s hand, it was over. Couple of organizers ran around yelling ‘we want our teachers!’ and ‘we won’t let them go!’, and we saw many reporters with cameras from different commercial TV channels. It was no more than 40 minutes.
Do you see further measures coming?
Shortage of the scholarship, maybe. I hope we will start to recover soon.
By Andrea Bohár and Ann-Kathrin Hennig