Hungarian academics want 50 per cent public university pay rise

Thousands of employees of few remaining non-foundation institutions say earnings have been heavily eroded by inflation

March 30, 2024
Budapest, Hungary: University of Technology and Economics Building in City Centre
Source: iStock/Baloncici

Thousands of academics at three of Hungary’s remaining public universities have signed a series of open letters to the higher education minister, demanding an immediate pay rise.

Almost 3,000 employees of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) and the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music have called on Balázs Hankó, the minister of state for innovation and higher education, to raise salaries governed by state wage scales by 50 per cent. The government has disputed the baseline figures quoted in the letters.

Only two other Hungarian higher education institutions – the National University of Public Service, which is run by the prime minister’s office, and the Hungarian University of Fine Arts – remain public after the country’s 2021 switch to a foundation funding model, which saw the assets of most public universities transferred to foundations and prompted a European Union funding freeze due to concerns about the autonomy of these bodies from the administration of Viktor Orbán.

Earlier protests led to the introduction of an institutional minimum wage for junior academic roles at Eötvös Loránd. Now support staff earn a minimum of 362,000 forints (£783) a month, teaching assistants get at least 380,000 forints and assistant professors are guaranteed 420,000 forints, according to the open letter signed by its employees.

At BME, according to the open letter signed by its employees, assistant professors get at least 366,600 forints, rising to 535,200 forints for senior associate professors. Doctoral students are paid a stipend of 140,000 forints in the first two years of their courses, rising to 180,000 forints for the second halves. This stipend is “impossible to live on in Hungary today”, the open letter claims.

Staff say that inflation has continued to erode the value of their pay. Laszlo Matyas, an economics professor at the Central European University, told Times Higher Education that recent pay reform across the school system meant that “in some cases, assistant professors are paid worse than high school teachers”.

“It is not possible to live on these salaries, so many people take on second or third jobs,” ELTE academics Gregor Anikó, Katalin Teller and Eszter Berényi told THE in a joint statement. “It takes energy away from quality teaching and research work. These salaries are simply humiliating.”

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Hungary’s Ministry of Culture and Innovation said that the typical salary of Eötvös Loránd and BME academics lecturers was higher than the figures quoted in the open letters, putting the average at 710,000 forints. She said the government had “doubled the amount spent on higher education funding in the last six years” and that support for universities, “which can also be spent on raising wages and improving research infrastructure”, stood at 2 per cent of gross domestic product.

“The government, in order to make the Hungarian economy even more dynamic, has renewed the Hungarian higher education ecosystem in recent years,” the spokeswoman added.

The protesting academics are calling for a 30 per cent wage supplement included in the current pay figures to be made permanent, and for the resulting wage to then be increased by 50 per cent. They say that the gross monthly salary for assistant professors should be raised to match the national average salary, which stood at 655,600 forints in December, while doctoral stipends should be doubled.

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