study abroad

Exodus from Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

It was sometime in May that a research institute attached to the Central Statistical Office (KSH) working on a project sponsored by the European Union came to the conclusion that at least 230,000 Hungarians live outside of the country. Since these are only the ones who officially announced their departure, I suspect that the 500,000 figure that’s bandied about is a more accurate estimate.

According to the official figures today, two and a half times more Hungarians now live abroad than in 2001, and in the last few years the numbers have been trending upward. In 2011 58,000 people left the country; in 2012, 72,000. The favorite destinations are Germany (35%), the United Kingdom (25%), and Austria (14%).

According to most analysts, Hungary has been losing its best and brightest in this new wave of emigration. They think that there are at least two reasons for the emigration. First, the sluggish Hungarian economy and high unemployment and, second, Hungary’s authoritarian turn. According to an IPS report, a lot of couples who are not officially married leave because they and their children are not considered to be a “genuine” family according to the Orbán government. Lesbians and gays also have a hard time in Hungary, and when they hear that by now even Austria allows gay marriages, they pack up and leave.

Until recently one heard mostly about the large number of doctors and nurses who were seeking employment abroad. In fact, there is a shortage of doctors and highly qualified nurses in several countries, including Great Britain, Germany, and Sweden, and they welcome skilled Hungarians. But by now other skilled professionals are also sought after, for example computer scientists in Germany.

Then there are those whose political views are such that they find Orbán’s Hungary suffocating. Not so long ago there was a report based on interviews with Hungarians living in Berlin (Oppositionelle Ungarn in Deutschland. Jenseits von Orbanistan). The Hungarians in that article complained about anti-Semitism, anti-Roma feelings, homophobia, and hate campaigns. They wanted out. A lot of writers and intellectuals have already left or are planning to leave, especially if Orbán wins the election next year.

Hungarian papers noted today that the German Statistical Office reported a 4.1% growth in immigration, which is something of a record in recent years.  The number of Poles grew by 13.6% in one year, but that is nothing in comparison to the Hungarian figures. Just last year 24,638 Hungarians settled in Germany, a whopping 30% increase over 2011.

emigrationIn addition to those who leave Hungary in search of work, greater opportunities, or a freer life, there is an increasing number of university students who study abroad. Their numbers will most likely grow substantially in the future as a result of the Orbán government’s introduction of very high tuition fees coupled with the government’s intention to force graduates who received a tuition-free education to remain in Hungary for a number of years. As it stands now, 29% of those who finished high school this or last year definitely want to continue their education abroad, and 60% of them would rather study abroad than at home. Only 11% definitely want to study at home. When these students were asked where they would like to go, most of them mentioned the United Kingdom, Austria, and Germany. Many would like to study in the United States, but that is problematic due to the very high tuition fees and lack of scholarships.

The best qualified students from elite schools with excellent language skills are the ones who are heading abroad to continue their education. And there is a good likelihood that they will not return after spending four or five years in western countries. Getting into one of the really competitive British or American universities is not easy, but there now exists a business venture in Budapest, the Milestone Institute, that preps applicants for entrance exams or the American SATs.

In five years the number of Hungarian students in the United Kingdom doubled. In 2008 only 310 students applied from Hungary and 192 were admitted. In 2012 there were 519 applicants; 329 began their studies in October 2012. There is a new record for 2013: 719 applicants and 433 Hungarian first-year students.

But students have other less expensive options that require no coaching in test taking. In Austria there are no tuition fees and no entrance exams. Mind you, more than half of the students enrolled in Austrian universities don’t graduate. In some of the more rigorous institutions the graduation rate is even lower. For example, in the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, out of the 7,000 enrolled in the first year only 2,500 students actually finished their course of study. According to estimates, there are at least 2,000 Hungarian students just in Vienna. Based on interviews I read, they find Vienna and life there to their liking. Bureaucracy is practically nonexistent in comparison to the Hungarian universities. In Vienna it is easy to find part-time jobs and with a little luck they even manage to find modest and relatively inexpensive apartments they can share with others.

From the point of view of Hungary’s future, this exodus is not encouraging news. It is really ironic that this accelerated emigration, especially of young people, is occurring during the most nationalistic Hungarian government since 1944. The government has been trying to lure back the emigrants with little success. Even the liberal ATV television station, not exactly a favorite of the Orbán government, has a daily program that has the odd title Hazahuzó, literally meaning “drawing back home.” It is a kind of travelogue showcasing the beauties of various cities and regions of the country.

On the whole, people who decide to start a new life elsewhere belong to the younger generation and therefore, if this trend continues, the demographic problems of the country will be even greater in the future than they are now. The Orbán government’s methods aimed at encouraging people to have more babies are primitive and ineffectual. Their latest is that if a married university student decides to have a baby while still in school that student will not have to pay back his/her staggeringly high students loans.

In Hungary, for the time being, there are more immigrants than emigrants, contrary to the situation in Poland, Romania, or Albania. But a few more outrageous political and economic decisions by this government and the balance may tilt. By contrast, in Germany not only is immigration up but there is also a natural increase in the population. Alas, Viktor is no Angela.