Hungarian government breaks ties with university in radical reform

In what could become a model for the rest of the country, Corvinus University of Budapest will have to rely on tuition fees and endowment interest

November 13, 2018
Corvinus University
Source: Getty
Corvinus University of Budapest will from July be overseen by a foundation, drawing on a new endowment gifted by the state rather than the ­government

Hungary’s government is to cut regular teaching funding from one of the country’s leading universities in a major governance shake-up that could be extended across the country.

Corvinus University of Budapest will from July be overseen by a foundation, drawing on a new endowment gifted by the state rather than the government.

The move away from government oversight is supposed to give the university more autonomy and make it easier to raise academic salaries. But critics in Hungary fear that the changes could lead to cuts in student aid and a drop in student numbers.

According to Kata Orosz, a higher education expert at the Central European University in Budapest, the overhaul means that the new foundation backing Corvinus will likely have to rely largely on interest returns from the endowment, plus tuition fees, to fund the university.

A Hungarian government spokesman said that the new foundation will be given “major assets”, but did not specify how much.

The changes will mean that from 2020, there will be no more state-funded places at the university, although a new scholarship system will be introduced so that “the current ratio of paying to non-paying students will not shift in an unfavourable manner”, the spokesman continued.

As part of the reforms, Corvinus also plans to increase the number of foreign students, grow the proportion of English-language courses from 15 to 45 per cent, and boost the number of doctoral and postgraduate students, according to a spokesman for the university. But he insisted that the “academic/disciplinary profile” of the institution would not change.

Research funding at the university is expected to be unaffected, with the institution still able to draw on government and European Union sources, according to the university spokesman.

One question is whether the changes will mean that the university will no longer have a chancellor appointed by the prime minister to oversee its financial decisions. Critics have argued that powerful new chancellor positions at Hungarian universities have eroded institutional autonomy, although the government insists that they are essential to keep finances in order. The government spokesman did not clarify whether Corvinus’ chancellor would stay.

Hungarian ministers have indicated that the changes at Corvinus could be rolled out to other universities, according to local reports. Péter Hack, head of the department of criminal procedure and correction at Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University, said that while the reforms could bring some benefits, he had “serious doubt” about whether they could be rolled out to his own university. He said that this is because while some universities offer degrees that lead to financially lucrative jobs, in some faculties “it is difficult to find enough students even with state scholarships, like pedagogy or engineering”.

Corvinus hopes that the reforms will propel it into “the top 200 universities of the world”, and allow it to “increase the number of internationally known and well-reputed foreign professors and researchers”, according to the spokesman.

However, Hungary’s most internationally renowned university, Central European University, is currently set to leave the country for Vienna, forced out by legislative changes seen as part of an attack by the country’s authoritarian government on the institution’s liberal philanthropist founder, George Soros.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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