Bologna Country Update: Hungary
Hungary’s system of higher education underwent significant changes after Parliament passed a reform package in 1993 (amended 1996) aimed at overhauling education at the tertiary level. The reform package emphasized the principle of institutional autonomy making colleges and universities answerable to a single body, the Ministry of Education. Under the new laws, only institutions offering both undergraduate and postgraduate education are permitted to call themselves universities. Schools that only offer undergraduate degrees are designated as föiskola (colleges). Those that only offer doctoral courses are known as disciplinary-accredited university doctoral schools.
The law of 1993 also approved the establishment of private colleges and universities, which currently enroll approximately 10 percent of all students in Hungary. The law established two institutions to provide professional advice on the development and control of higher education: the Hungarian Accreditation Committee (HAC) and the Higher Education and Scientific Council (HESC).
The 1996 Amendment of the Law on Higher Education integrated post-secondary vocational training into the system of higher education. The amendment defined a four-level structure of higher education: two years for higher vocational training; 3-4 years for college programs; 4-6 years for university programs; and three years for doctoral programs together with other specialized postgraduate programs. Legislation in 1999 on the transformation of the network of higher educational institutions and on the modification of the Act of 1993 sets out the greatest structural transformation in the history of higher education in Hungary. A new network of merged higher education institutions, established in 2000, has resulted in a reduced number of re-named colleges/universities, although the number of faculty continues to rise. There are currently 18 state universities, 1 non-state university, 12 colleges, 26 church-owned institutions and 9 colleges run by foundations.
The Ministry of Education recently stated that a new, comprehensive higher education act is currently under preparation to establish a legal framework to support the provisions of the Bologna declaration. The new act will likely outline the following provisions: 1) the establishment of a clearly defined two-cycle system (three with doctoral studies); 2) a commitment to lifelong learning based on the mutual transfer of credits; 3) the establishment of a new, national qualification framework based on three cycles along with competence-based qualification requirements; 4) a system of accreditation to be modified by separating traditional accreditation and quality assessment. Discussions and studies have already commenced among the various stakeholders such as the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference, the Hungarian Accreditation Committee and several higher education institutions.
1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees
- The Hungarian Equivalence and Information Center (HEIC) was established in 1993 and serves as the Hungarian ENIC/NARIC body.
- HEIC was an active participant in the development of the diploma supplement and contributed to its introduction in Hungary after the publication of a handbook and a pilot project in 2001. In June 2003, Parliament adopted a proposal on the amendment of the Higher Education Act, which regulates the use and issuance of the diploma supplement. The proposal states that institutions of higher education are obliged by law to issue a Hungarian-language diploma supplement upon student request. Upon further request, and at the student’s expense, an English-language supplement must be issued. The diploma supplement, however, is currently being issued on a trial basis at one institution: the Trade, Catering and Tourism College Faculty of the Budapest Business School.
- Hungary signed the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Diplomas in 1997, and ratified it in 2000.
2. Degree Structure
- Hungary currently has a binary higher education system provided by colleges and universities, although the divide is currently somewhat unclear as some colleges act as university faculties and some universities offer college-level courses. The latest ministry Bologna report states that, “…the present dual education system should be gradually dissolved and a sequence of bachelor and master’s degrees built on each other should be created.” Traditional-style universities offer “long” 4- to 5-year degrees in arts and sciences, law, social sciences, economics and education. Föiskola (colleges) offer three- to four-year, professional-oriented programs in areas such as technology, business administration, health services and teacher training.
Stage I: Föiskola (colleges) offer bachelor-level degrees (Föiskolai Oklevél) with the possibility to continue on for a master’s degree at a recognized university. Although most programs take three years to complete, upper primary teaching programs require four years.
Stage I & II: Universities generally follow a one-tier system leading to an integrated master-level degree (Egyetemi Oklevél) that requires a total of five years of study (six years for medicine). Holders of the föiskolai oklevél can continue on for a master’s, which requires an additional two to three years of study. Normally this requires that the student take additional subjects before or during the master’s program that are included in the first three years of the long, one-tier master’s program, but not in the bachelor’s program.
Stage III: The Hungarian doctoral degree corresponds closely to what is known and recognized internationally as a PhD degree.
*Both colleges and universities also offer short-term, post-secondary programs with a two-year duration called Accredited Higher Vocational Courses, which lead to a certificate.
- The current situation is changing with regard to consecutive two-tiered degrees. In 2003, the Higher Education Act was modified to allow for the launch of experimental first-degree programs. Hence, at universities, two-tier (separate bachelor-and-master-level) programs are now being introduced on the 3 + 2 model in certain disciplines.
- Only universities are entitled to offer these programs and they may be introduced in all disciplines except medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and veterinary studies.
- According to the ministry’s current plans, by 2006/2007 only new, bachelor- and-master’s-level programs will be introduced at Hungarian institutions of higher education. At the same time, the long, integrated programs will be phased out by that year. Preparations for a new comprehensive higher education act are currently under way and the following principal objectives have been outlined:
- The establishment of a two-tiered, 3 + 2 system, with an undergraduate cycle leading to a degree and a professional qualification in every field of study. The successful completion of the first cycle (bachelor’s-level) of study will be a prerequisite for commencement of the second cycle (master’s-level) and likewise for progression from the second cycle to the existing doctorate cycle.
- Higher vocational studies will lead to a two-year diploma that can be partially transferred to a bachelor program, or used for entry into the labor market.
- The establishment of a new national qualification framework based on a more flexible three-cycle system.
- Increased participation in tertiary education through the promotion of vocational programs and doctoral studies.
3. Credit Transfer
- In 2000, the Hungarian Government issued a decree on the introduction of the credit system stating that all institutions of higher education must offer credit-based graduate courses by September 2002, and a credit system for Ph.D. courses by September 2004.
- The credit system was introduced in approximately 50 percent of state institutions by September 2002 in preparation for the mandatory nation-wide introduction at the undergraduate level for the 2003/04 academic year.
- The system is based on student workload and used as a transfer and accumulation system. It allocates 60 credits per academic year and is fully compatible with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).
- To increase awareness and provide as smooth a transfer as possible to a credit-based system, the National Credit Council and Credit Office have recently been established.
- Hungary participates in the ERASMUS/SOCRATES and Leonardo Da Vinci mobility programs. In the Erasmus and Leonardo programs special preparatory language programs have been organized for incoming students, including one or two month intensive language programs to facilitate the integration of foreign students into Hungary.
- According to the recent Bologna report, published by the Ministry of Education, Hungarians show great interest in pursuing studies abroad particularly if scholarships are provided. Therefore, additional national resources (in addition to EU resources) must be mobilized in addition to community support to assist the increasing number of scholarship holders.
- In 2001/2002 outgoing students outnumbered incoming students through the Erasmus program 1,736 to 769.
- A law on the right of entry and residence for foreign students entered into force in 2002.
5. Quality Assurance
- The Education Law of 1993 established the Hungarian Accreditation Committee (MAB). While quality assurance is maintained by individual institutions the MAB largely functions as the guardian or overseer of quality in higher education. Specifically, it renders opinions on the establishment, abolition or recognition of institutions, fields of study and courses. In addition, the law specified that the MAB must assess the standard of education and research for each higher education institution every eight years (institutional accreditation). The Higher Education and Scientific Council was established to advise on issues not covered by MAB.
- A nation-wide discussion has commenced on the basic characteristics of future higher education programs and joint development programs. The Bologna Committee of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee has already published recommendations on the accreditation of new qualification requirements under a new qualifications framework.
- The Ministry states in its latest Bologna report that “the most important tasks to be implemented include the elaboration of a self-evaluation system for higher education (based on the model of European Quality Award). Elaborating and operating this system makes it possible to spread the practice of self-evaluation in the Hungarian education system.”
6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education
- A national network of 12 European Study Centers involving 14 higher educational institutions was established in 1998 with support from the PHARE program. The primary aim of establishing the centers was to build a wide-ranging and transparent system for European studies and related scientific activities. The centers promote the establishment of cooperation with the authorities, research centers and libraries of smaller regions. Over 100 courses related to the European Union have been launched providing training and in-service training for over 10,000 students and experts. The network has acquired and made available over 50,000 publications in the field.
- The 1993 Higher Education Act states that Hungarian higher education institutions may conduct joint programs at all levels provided that the foreign institution and the degree are recognized. However, in practice, this has to date served as a basis for transnational education rather than for joint degree programs with institutions abroad.
- Survey on Master Degrees and Joint Degrees in Europe, Christian Tauch and Andrejs Rauhvargers, September 2002
- The State of Implementation of ECTS in Europe, European University Association, October 2002
- Diploma Supplement — State of Implementation, European Commission, June 2003
- Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, Aug. 29, 2003
- Country Report Hungary, Ministry of Education, September 2003
- Implementation of the Bologna Declaration, World Education News & Reviews, Oct 2001
- Erasmus Mobility by Country 2001/2002 — ECTS Workshop, Feb. 20-21, 2003, UK Socrates Erasmus Council
- The Information Network on Education in Europe — Eurydice, European Union, 2001/2002
- A Guide to Hungarian Education, Ministry of Education, 2002