Tuition fees get mixed reception

March 8, 1996

Six months after Hungarian universities introduced tuition fees, students still have mixed feelings about the mandatory 2,000 forints (Pounds 10) monthly charges, writes Nick Holdsworth.

In a society where cherished notions of heavily subsidised or free public services have been assaulted by six years of market forces, many students are beginning to accept the idea that only by paying for something will you get good service.

Before last September's introduction of the fee the Hungarian national union of students argued for its postponement until an agreed system of student loans had been established - a realistic strategy in the face of a tough round of public spending cuts under a national austerity programme.

Measures to soften the blow for poorer students through scholarships for the brightest are in the pipeline and most students appear to have accepted that Hungary's acute financial crisis demands a response from all its citizens.

A common reaction among students is that if they must contribute toward their education then the money, which currently goes into central government coffers, should be directed specifically towards supporting their university or college.

Daniel Bart, a second-year student of English and Turkish at ELTE University, Budapest, said: "At the normal everyday level I object to having to pay this tuition fee. I would, of course, rather drink this money. But in the wider context it is fair that we should support our education."

The move toward a tuition fee-based system of higher education seems inevitable in Hungary. The law which introduced the 2,000 forint fee allowed universities to charge an additional 8,000 forints that would go directly into their own coffers.

Most resisted this, but from September students returning to college are likely to face monthly tuition bills of 10,000 forints. University leaders are discussing to what extent they will increase fees. But faced with shedding staff or charging students more, most are likely to opt for the latter.

Commercialisation of the state sector is growing apace alongside a small, but active private sector where some colleges are charging as much as Pounds 400 a month - a huge sum in Hungary.

Students on the international business studies courses at the state-run College for Foreign Trade in Budapest have been paying tuition fees of up to Pounds 50 a month since 1992 when Hungary's only binational college degree programme was introduced with KnowHow Fund backing.

Student Orsolya Lepres said: "It seems quite reasonable that if you get something you should have to pay for it. The traditional way of thinking that we get free tuition is quite outdated now."

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