Rózsa Hoffmann

How much is how much when it comes to teachers’ salaries in Hungary

As we know only too well, teachers’ salaries are extremely low in Hungary and teachers haven’t had a raise since the 2008 financial crisis. Given the fairly high inflation rate, at least until recently, the already very low living standards of teachers have further deteriorated in the last five years.

For some time it looked as if the Orbán government had no intention of raising salaries this year. Undersecretary Rózsa Hoffmann kept promising the raise, but the date kept getting pushed out. Eventually, it seems, the Fidesz politicos came to the conclusion that something must give, especially since the election is less than a year away.

The Orbán government had already mandated an increase in teacher work loads. They raised the number of classes teachers have to give each week. When not actually teaching, teachers from here on will have to remain within the walls of the schools for at kleast 32 hours and do whatever the principal asks them to do. And, in addition, the government insisted that if there is a salary raise the practice of paying extra for teaching classes over and above the compulsory work load must come to an end.

Source: qalapwu.com

Source: qalapwu.com

The long, complicated negotiations over salaries split the two teachers’ unions. But now even the more pliant Mrs. István Galló concedes that, although some teachers will do better than before, the majority will see mighty few benefits from the promised salary raise. Mrs. Galló, however, felt that her union had no choice but to reach an agreement with the government because otherwise even those few benefits wouldn’t have materialized. She was convinced that she couldn’t credibly threaten the government with a general teachers’ strike. Teachers are so worried about their jobs that they will settle for very little as opposed to nothing.

According to the final settlement, the raise will be given out gradually between September 1 of this year and 2017. Zoltán Balog promised that come September the teachers will receive 60% of the full amount. That would mean, he claimed, a 34% raise on average.

But then some investigative reporters began scrutinizing leaked documents and came to the conclusion that the numbers didn’t add up, that another 7 billion forints was necessary to reach the 60% figure in September. They concluded that the most the government is planning to give in September is only 50% of the total amount promised.

A few days later Népszava received a leaked document in which they found an 11 billion forint gap between the ostensibly negotiated raise and the actual figures that will appear as a budget item. They came to the conclusion that the government is planning to let several thousand teachers go over and above those who have already been barred from teaching because they either reached or are over the compulsory retirement age of 65. Naturally, the Ministry of Human Resources announced today that not a word of this speculation is true and that “the government counts on the work of teachers who are employees of the state at the moment.”

I myself have no idea how much more money teachers will get from September 1 on. One thing the teachers are already sure of–there will be great disparities in pay. As for the children, they will spend a lot more time in school. So will the teachers. From here on they will have to spend 32 hours in the school itself, during which they will be obliged to teach if necessary. Without additional compensation. So, in the end the salaries might be higher but the amount of work will also be greater. If a teacher until now had to teach only 22 hours and will have to teach 26 hours (and possibly 32), the raise, viewed as forints per hour, might not be much of a raise at all.

Admittedly, there’s a fair amount of fat in the Hungarian educational system. It’s inefficient, and deleterious to educational attainment, to have a school in every village instead of busing kids to regional schools. And having an average class size of 13-14 students in Budapest schools is a real luxury. For instance, in Westport, CT, which is one of the wealthiest communities in the state with a median family income of around $200,000 and a school system to match, the average class size is 21. Admittedly, not all Hungarian schools have such a high teacher: student ratio as the ones in Budapest. I checked out Viktor Orbán’s old high school in Székesfehérvár and found that the average class size there is about 35. Apparently, class size can be adjusted “according to need.”

But not properly compensating teachers may be counterproductive. Thanks to Rózsa Hoffmann, teacher education falls outside of the by now generally accepted Bologna system. It is a six-year course of study. How many bright 18-year-olds would want to commit themselves to paying high tuition fees for six years only to end up in a career that pays miserably and carries little prestige? And that, by the by, doesn’t port well if they decide to leave the country.

The new guiding light of Hungarian higher education: István Klinghammer

Since my less than flattering comment about László Gy. Tóth aroused so much interest in the quality of Hungarian education, I thought it might be a good idea to devote a post to the nonexistent Ministry of Education and its newly appointed undersecretary in charge of higher education, István Klinghammer.

Let’s start with the very structure of the second Orbán government that deprived certain key ministries of their independent existence. To list only the three most obvious, finance, education and culture, and health were all demoted. Viktor Orbán demonstrated the “frugality” of his government by having only eight ministries–as many as the first Hungarian government in 1848. Naturally, nowadays a central government has a few more tasks than the Hungarian government did in 1848. Moreover, even Lajos Batthyány’s government had a minister of finance. Moreover, not just anybody but Lajos Kossuth himself.

As a result of Orbán’s consolidation, some previously separate ministries were subordinated to mega-ministries, the largest of which is the Ministry of Human Resources under Zoltán Balog. He is supposed to take care of health, education, culture, and who knows what else. Mind you, he as a former Hungarian reformed minister knows mighty little about any of these fields.

Education was given to the Christian Democrats, who chose a middle-aged schoolmarm to be in charge. Although on paper Rózsa Hoffmann has all sorts of qualifications, she is basically a small-minded high school teacher. I wrote earlier about the nationalization of schools and her plans to turn the clock back to the 1970s when she finished her studies as a Russian-French major. Eventually it became patently clear that  this woman just doesn’t have what it takes to “reform” Hungarian education. Moreover, she was an irritant to the country’s university professors and students. By February of this year Orbán at last confronted the Christian Democratic leaders with the sad news that “Rózsa didn’t quite work out” and that, since she is so busy with education on the lower level, higher education should be handled by someone else. So came István Klinghammer, former president of ELTE.

Klinghammer was a controversial choice, although Fidesz politicians felt that “he must be better than his predecessor.” He was described by others as a tough guy who grew up in the worst section of District VIII. At the time of his appointment I noted that he began his studies at the Budapest  University of Technology but two years later transferred to ELTE to become a geography teacher. Well, for me that meant that the young Klinghammer couldn’t quite handle the work in this very tough technical college. After getting a teacher’s certificate in geography he became a cartographer and received a “university doctorate,” not to be mixed up with the Ph.D. As far as I can ascertain, this is the highest degree he received, but he made quite a career for himself at ELTE. In 2000 he became president of the university and in 2010 became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Klinghammer Istvan magyarhirlap.hu

István Klinghammer / Magyar Hírlap

Klinghammer likes to talk and is considered to be a good communicator, but perhaps it would be better if he talked less. Ever since he became undersecretary in charge of higher education he has been giving one interview after the other, often saying things he shouldn’t. Not long ago he made great pronouncements about the nature of the university. There is a consensus in the U.S. that a university is, to quote my favorite definition (Random House), “an institution of learning of the highest level, comprising a college of liberal arts, a program of graduate studies, and several professional schools, and authorized to confer both undergraduate and graduate degrees.” The Hungarian word for university, “egyetem,” also gives a clue about the universality of disciplines taught in universities. But then comes our Klinghammer who announces that “engineering and music” shouldn’t be taught at the same university. So, an engineer should know nothing about music, art, or literature. In Hungarian there is a good word for such a person: “professional barbarian” (szakbarbár). Moreover, Klinghammer has little appreciation of any fields outside of natural sciences and engineering because they “don’t produce any value, they only please people and give them happiness.”

So, busy bloggers–I suspect students–did some research on Klinghammer’s own scientific accomplishments. He was prolific, writing according to one account 15 books and 30 chapters in different publications, primarily in Hungarian. But his work attracted little interest abroad; foreign academics referred to his works only twice. Details of his academic activities can be found here.

And how does he come across as a person? Badly. In a lengthy interview he gave to Népszabadság he gave the impression–to use the description of György C. Kálmán (literary historian and former professor at ELTE)–of a man “who finds his titles terribly important, who is a puffed-up academic with narrow views, someone who doesn’t understand the first thing about democracy, someone whose views on learning and erudition are hopelessly wrong; in brief, he is an old fogey.”‘

Another blogger, after looking through Klinghammer’s scientific accomplishments, discovered that among his many publications he even listed articles in Magyar Nemzet and in a popular science magazine, Élet és Tudomány. This blogger summarizes Klinghammer’s impact on the world: “He wrote seven books in Hungarian that inspired ten references. After forty years of work his impact is zero.” Whatever the precise number of publications and references, foreign and domestic, we can definitely conclude that Klinghammer, despite his own inflated self-image, is not a renowned scholar. Perhaps if he had bragged less he wouldn’t have elicited so many antagonistic responses. And this is the man who is supposed to make Hungarian higher education world-class.

The new Hungarian education system: The model was France

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. Rózsa Hoffmann, the Francophile, most likely turned to the French system when under her stewardship the whole Hungarian primary and secondary education system was turned upside down. Among other things, she wanted children to start their language education with a romance language (clearly she had French in mind) and wanted to discourage the study of English because it was too easy. At least it was very easy according to Viktor Orbán, who greatly regretted having focused on English as a student. I wonder what would have happened to him as a politician on the world stage if he had learned only Russian.

So, after all, it seems, Viktor Orbán was not the prime architect of the new system although most likely he and Hoffmann saw eye-to-eye. Surely, a highly centralized educational system must have appealed to Orbán who thinks that all problems, economic or otherwise, can be remedied by increasing centralization. Both might have recalled their youth when life was simple: the central government imposed a national standard so everybody was taught the same thing. And perhaps Rózsa Hoffmann sang the praises of French education, which is highly centralized. Whatever the precise scenario, Hungary will now imitate the basically nineteenth-century French educational system.

All educati0n programs in France are regulated by the Ministère de l’Éducation nationale, de la Jeunesse et de la Vie associative. The ministry is huge and the minister of education is “one of the highest-ranking officials in the cabinet.” The budget of the ministry is  €64.6 billion. The ministry is responsible for 15 million students, and the 1.5 million teachers and university professors are civil servants. The idea of enrolling all children in kindergarten at the age of 3 is most likely also borrowed from France where between the ages of 3 and 6 children attend “maternelle” classes which are normally attached to the regular schools that children attend between the ages of 6 and 11.


Apparently, the French system hasn’t changed much since the 1880s when Jules Ferry, the minister of public instruction, created it. The curriculum is determined by the ministry. Classes are large and students have to take far too many subjects.  The question is whether this old-fashioned system is effective in the twenty-first century. If we look at international statistics, France is not exactly in the forefront of educational achievement.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes an annual report called “Education at a Glance” in which they use such metrics as educational performance, class size, and teachers’ salaries to rank countries. According to the 2012 report France and Hungary are neck to neck in the middle of the pack that includes countries like Thailand, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan. In Europe Finland leads in reading comprehension, mathematics, and science. In reading comprehension France is #21 while Hungary is #25. In mathematics France is #22 while Hungary is #29. In science Hungary is #22 and France #27. Well, if I had a two-thirds majority and if I were willing to turn the whole education system upside down, I wouldn’t imitate France. I would try to learn from the Finns. But Viktor Orbán would never turn to Finland because the Finns’ egalitarian attitude toward education would not align with the interests of his constituency, the upper middle class.

The Hungarian system may end up even worse than the French because while in France there are 26 districts in Hungary there will be 175. And to make matters worse, in Hungary a new administrative unit was established to serve as an intermediary between the schools and the ministry, the so-called Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (Klebelsberg Center). Yet another layer of bureaucracy.

A few days ago a reporter from a Hungarian Internet newspaper talked to Nelly Guet, who has extensive experience with the educational systems of France, Germany, and Switzerland. She had little positive to say about the French system, and she emphasized that the European Union’s recommendations go against the kind of centralization characteristic of French education and just introduced in Hungary. Guet pointed out that the centralized system introduced in the 1880s served a kind of “nation-building mechanism” that would make a child from Bretagne the same as one from Paris. Moreover, at least that French reform was secular as opposed to what the Orbán government is doing by bringing religious education into the public school system and encouraging the churches to take over more and more schools.

Guet quoted a few “achievements” of the French system. Thirteen percent of students don’t finish high school because compulsory education ends at the age of 15. In Hungary the dropout rate is actually lower: 11%.  French children, just like the Hungarians, leave school without learning a foreign language. Although a European Union goal is that at least 50% of all students who finish high school get a college degree, that figure in France is only 27% while in Hungary last year it was 35%. (Hoffmann and Orbán are doing everything in their power to lower that number!) Interestingly enough, the best French students leave France to study, and they often work abroad. In France, just like in Hungary, life-long learning is an unknown concept.

A typical Hungarian story. The efforts of the last twenty years to make the Hungarian educational system more flexible and to prepare youngsters for the modern world have been overturned. The country is going back more than a century to find a model that will make its students less competitive both academically and professionally. Madness!

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I would like to call readers’ attention to a new Internet publication entitled The Hungarian Historical Review (http://www.hunghist.org/). The first double issue includes some studies dealing with urban history. I especially enjoyed “In the Web of Political Language. Verbal Warfare and the 1945 Change of Regime in a Residential Building in Budapest” by Ágnes Nagy. It describes the tensions between “the genteel” and gentile Aranka Richter and her Jewish neighbors before and after the liberation. A fascinating read.