Let me state at the very beginning that I’m not against tightening requirements for college diplomas and introducing tuition fees accompanied by scholarships based on financial need. However, I’m against what the Fidesz government is doing to Hungarian higher education and the manner in which it is doing it.
As usual Fidesz politicians use the double talk that is so typical of Viktor Orbán and his entourage. The word “tuition” cannot be uttered. After all, earlier Fidesz forced a referendum to defeat a proposal to introduce a modest tuition fee at Hungarian colleges and universities. But then they were in opposition. Now that they are running the show it is obvious to them just as it was to their predecessors that there is not enough money for entirely free education. Moreover, let’s face it, half of the student population pays tuition already. What they are planning to do now is to widen the circles of those who must pay and to increase tuition fees. Naturally, these fees will not be called “tandíj” (tuition) but “önköltség” (cost of services rendered).
More injurious to Hungary is the government plan to reduce the number of entering university students. In the European Union the aim is to increase the number of university graduates but in Hungary the Orbán government is bucking the trend. Well, after all, we know that Hungarians have a “peculiar” way of doing things, as we often hear from the prime minister. I guess that’s why Hungary is doing so splendidly lately.
Another proposal which will be law very soon is that those lucky students who do not have to pay very high tuition fees must sign a “contract” in which they promise not to leave the country for a certain number of years. Not surprisingly Hungarian students are not exactly thrilled. Although the majority of students used to be Fidesz supporters, the love affair between them and the party is rapidly coming to an end.
The student leaders have been negotiating with Rózsa Hoffmann for a year and have gotten nowhere. A few days ago they decided to organize a nationwide demonstration. Students came to Budapest from all over the country until there were about 10,000 of them squeezed into a fairly narrow street where the offices of Rózsa Hoffmann and her staff are cooking up their latest ideas about educating the new “Hungarian men”–ideas that will be shaped by the principles close to this right-wing government’s heart.
A day before the demonstration the government decided to intervene in the hope of averting a large demonstration of young people whose support is really vital for the party. Orbán sent his honey-tongued deputy, Tibor Navracsics, to negotiate with the student leaders. And indeed the students liked Navracsics a great deal better than the sourpuss Rózsa Hoffmann. Their chief negotiator announced after the meeting that in a couple of hours they had achieved more than they had in over a year. But they were not impressed enough to give up the idea of the demonstration.
As far as I can see from the description and the videos that are available the students mistakenly think that the sole culprit is Ms Hoffmann. The typical misconception about the good king and his evil minister. As Hoffmann rightly pointed out after the students demanded her resignation, the students are mistaken. She is just the arm of the government. Whatever she is doing is at the behest of the prime minister. And indeed, how often did we hear that Hoffmann reported to the cabinet and that she was bawled out by Orbán and sent back to rework the plan until he could approve it. Two days ago Orbán gave his blessing to the new law on higher education. After that the students can demonstrate till doomsday and curse or make fun of Rózsa Hoffmann. She is not the real culprit. Sure, she is an old, humorless, and far too pious lady whom one can make fun of easily, but she is only the messenger.
Here is a fairly typical picture of the demonstration that says a lot about the atmosphere:
Those who were burying Hungarian higher education were much more on target. Yesterday I wrote about a minister in the 1920s who spent incredible amounts of money on education. Although the ideology of his program is not to my liking, at least he realized the importance of education to Hungary’s future. The Orbán government’s attempt to save money on education is a grave mistake that will be an impediment to Hungary’s economic growth. Here is the coffin symbolizing higher education the students dragged out:
It’s unlikely that Rózsa Hoffmann will leave any time soon, but at this point whether she stays or not is really immaterial. The core problem is that this right-wing government is ruining Hungarian education. I’m just hoping that the Hungarian students will come to understand that and will do more than demand Rózsa’s departure.