01 - Hungary - Historical overview

Hungarian tertiary education looks back on a past of eight decades. Its evolution has been an integral part of global heritage and our national heritage.

The establishment of medieval Hungarian universities ( egyetem) – Pécs 1367, Buda 1395, Pozsony 1467 – coincided with that of the universities of Prague, Krakow, and Vienna, and the education they offered matched the practice of European universities, and their activities were governed by the spirit of the universitas.

The basic institutions of our present-day universities ( egyetem) and főiskola were founded in the 16-17th centuries. The predecessors of our főiskola education were the Academias of the Jesuits, Reformist Collegia, and Lutheran Lycea. The university ( egyetem) in Nagyszombat operated until 1635.

In the 18th century Collegiaand Academias provided education in tertiary level in the fields of mining, engineering, agriculture, and economics, thereby laying the foundations of specialisation during centuries to follow.

The 19th and the 20th centuries saw the system of tertiary education reaching its state of completion regarding basic branches of study, even if major events of our national history re-designed the full set of institutions.

Institutions of tertiary education recognised after 1947 could only be run by the state. Institutions run by churches were nationalised; education, and research were separated, and the university ( egyetem) did not get the right to award academic degrees.

In the early 50s the traditional European university structure was divided into professional (sectoral) groups. Besides universities of scienceuniversities ( egyetem) , ‘specialised’ in medicine, agriculture, economy, and technical education were established. In response to the needs of economy, főiskolabecame likewise differentiated, a process bringing about főiskola level institutions of teacher training for lower secondary education, for primary education, and pre-primary education. All ( egyetem) and főiskola belonged to the authority of several ministries.

In tertiary education the reform process was inaugurated by the Act I of 1985 and its 1990 amendment. The legislation partly re-regulated the main issues of tertiary education. It labelled universities ( egyetem) and főiskolauniversitas,and improving the quality of tertiary education.

In 1993 a new, separate Act was passed on tertiary education. The Act enabled the establishment of non-state, i.e. church and private tertiary education institutions and guaranteed the recognition of the qualifications.

Universities ( egyetem) were allowed to offer university training ( egyetemi képzés )as well as főiskola training ( főiskolai képzés ), and similarly, főiskolamay also launch courses of university ( egyetemi képzés )level following accreditation. Tertiary education institutions run by churches are increasingly engaging in education that is not related to their religious profile, i.e. in secular courses recognised by the state.

Today there are 72 independent institutions of tertiary education (listed in the section on institutions and legislation). State maintained institutions of tertiary education number 31. There are 18 universities ( egyetem), and 13 főiskola. Non-state maintained tertiary education institutions equal 4137, of which 276 are church maintained, 5 universities ( egyetem), and 22 főiskola. Of 14 private institutions of tertiary education there 2 are universities ( egyetem), and the rest are főiskola.

The separate Act LXXX of 1993 on Higher Education laid the foundations of tertiary education, and defined the legal and organisational conditions of the system operating up to the present time. The Act on Higher Education
as institutions of tertiary education. Progress was also made to achieve the freedom of education, through limitation merely by curricular guidelines. In that same period, the need arose for creating uniform Hungarian tertiary education, and restoring the

1. established the maintenance of the dual set of institutions in tertiary education: university ( egyetem) and főiskola,
2. defined the criteria of freedom of education, learning, scientific research, and artistic creation,
3. restored scientific qualifications, organised PhD courses were returned to the universities’ competency,
4. created the legal predecessor of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee ( Magyar Akkreditációs Bizottság), responsible for academic quality accreditation in tertiary education, the Tertiary Education and Scientific Council ( Felsőoktatási és Tudományos Tanács) serving the purpose of expressing, and coordinating the interests of the academic, governmental, and economic branches,
5. terminated the fragmentation
6. of institutions of tertiary education under several competent ministries by making the legal predecessor of the present Ministry of Education and Culture ( Oktatási és Kulturális Minisztérium), then the Ministry of Culture and Public Education responsible for performing the state’s general tasks in that area, and various duties arising from operating tertiary education,
7. specified the levels of training: ( egyetemi képzés ), and ( főiskolai képzés )at basic level and specialisation, plus higher academic degree (doctoral, ~PhD)
8. regulated the status of state and non-state (church and private) institutions.

The 1996 amendment of the Act on Higher Education:

1. integrated the two-year higher vocational training in the system of tertiary education,
2. regulated the financial and subsidy arrangements of tertiary education, ordering that tertiary education should be funded on a per-capita basis,
3. in accordance with the new option of fee-paying training (költségtérítéses képzés ), and new higher vocational training, it regulated the legal status of students, the tuition fee, and students’ allowances,
4. it supplemented the applicable regulations with the tasks of ministries involved in education with their related responsibilities.

The institutional structure of tertiary education continued to be fragmented, consisting of numerous institutions of small numbers of students, and of a narrow scientific profile. In spite of high educational, and research standards, it resulted in rigidity in the process of education, and slow response to changes in society, and a relatively costly institution structure.

The Assembly ( Magyar Köztársaság Országgyűlése) set the development targets for the tertiary education reform several times. Following the Parliament resolution of 1995, financial incentive was offered on the basis of the government decree through publishing a call for applications for central, and other education related funding. The target for the development was to modernise the institution structure of tertiary education in a reasonable manner in line with the network development plan. Additional objectives were to create a more efficient use of training facilities, and also of the educational and research infrastructure, eliminate duplication, design a uniform management and financial system, operate institutions more economically, and more effectively, reform the structure, and improve the standards of education, create the conditions of cross-over by employing a credit-system, and further diversify offer. Between 1997 and 1999 more than 12 billion HUF was spent on upgrading education and research, and improving quality.

The new tertiary education development programme related to our EU accession includes increasing admission levels, supporting life-long-learning, modernising the tertiary education institution network, further developing knowledge and forms of training answering labour market needs, establishing regional centres of knowledge and innovation, developing IT culture, expand kollégium capacities, and in conjunction with that programme, the infrastructure development programme supporting the medium term development plan of institutions got underway.

Eventually, in 1999 the government made a proposal to the Parliament concerning the reform of the fragmented structure of tertiary education, and integrated institutions of tertiary education. Legislation was passed to ensure ongoing operation of tertiary education, and the fundamental rules of transformation.

In its resolution the government decided to go ahead with a reform plan of regionalising the tertiary education institution structure, merging the institutions operating in the same city, and bringing under one umbrella/uniting institutions of tertiary education of similar or identical profiles in Budapest into one. In the course of its reform efforts the government took into account the commitment of the institutions toward integration.

In upgrading the institution system, the main objective is to arrive at a more effective institution structure, i.e. create institutions of tertiary education that are better sized for their professional and economic purpose and content, have multifaceted profile, and respond more flexibly to the needs of society.

The institutions created on 1st January 2000, listed in legislation were made to write down their medium-term institutional development plans applicable to the improvement of the structure of training, and reflecting a uniform organisation. Under the infrastructure development programme the Ministry of Education ( Oktatási Minisztérium) signed development agreements with 11 institutions in order to implement a total of 50 billion HUF until 2002.

Preparations to introduce the credit system in Hungarian tertiary education were undertaken in 1998. The system was eventually launched in several institutions on the basis of the relevant decree and the experience of institutions of tertiary education. In 2001 40% of students in institutions of tertiary education studied in an institution that introduced the credit-based system in an upward arrangement. As from September 2003 the amended credit legislation requires the credit system to be introduced on a compulsory basis in the entire Hungarian tertiary education structure, thus previous studies will be accounted for in accordance with their credit value and on a life-longbasis.

From the mid-80s onward there have been an increasing number of students in tertiary education. The rate of the increase has accelerated from 1991, and tripled over a decade. In response to rising needs, the government committed itself to raise state funded admission rates in a differentiated manner in accordance with areas and levels of education. Extensive development -triggered by demographic growth- and the rising value of education resulted in mass education, and in parallel new types of demand.

Conditions of entry in tertiary education changed considerably in 2000. An important requirement of Hungarian tertiary education is that output should be in line with the country’s real social and economic needs, and with labour market forecasts, so that meanwhile all young gifted people should be given a chance to embark on tertiary studies.

Two levels of admission planning have been elaborated:

1 distributing the total state funded admission quota determined by the government to be admissible for grade 1 among levels of education, and areas of education, and creating the regulation ensuring the operation of institutions, and making the required central decisions on possible further rises in admission levels;
2 designing the local admissions-planning strategy of the institutions of tertiary education in the light of all relevant information.

The number of students was raised mainly in shorter practice-oriented főiskola level initial training ( főiskolai képzés )and in post secondary vocational training. The regulation gives an opportunity for tertiary institutions to determine accesses requirements for persons with disabilities, and to do the entrance examination for nationalities in their mother tongue.

By signing the Bologna Declaration in 1999, Hungary also joined the European Higher Education Area to participate in discussing issues. The 1993 Act on Higher Education was amended several times. In 2003 the aim of the amendments was to harmonise the Acts on Vocational Education and Training and Adult Education and Training. Decrees introduced guaranteed legal remedy to ensure students’ right in mass education, and pre-prepared the new system of entrance procedure that builds on the maturity examination ( érettségi vizsga) from 2005.

In 2002 along with the revision of wages concerning higher education sector, the status of public servants.were regulated, and higher education institutions were authorized to launch Bachelor programmes in line with the multi-cycle system by the permission of the Minister of Education and Culture. It was in 2004 when a work on large scale was started in order to revise the 1993 Act on Higher Education, and the preparation of a new HE Act began. The Government adopted the Hungarian Universitas Programme, whose main objective became the comprehensive development of tertiary education.

Organization and operation of tertiary education is ensured by a newly developed set of regulations. The higher education system affected by social and economic changes has greatly been influenced by the labour market. The new Act on Higher education accepted by the Parliament in November 2005 entered into force on 1 March 2006, it follows the principles of the Community and its agreements.

Key elements of the 2005 Act on Higher Education are the following: it introduces the new multi-cycle system, it defines the new education and training structure and the institutional system (establishment, operational conditions), it widens the circle of maintainers, and determines in a unified way all the rights and duties that are given to every higher education institution irrespective of its maintainer. The new regulation separates the roles of state in the way that duties of the state as maintainer be separate from duties exercised by the state as a public authority.

The new act also sets a new framework of higher education governance. The Financial Board (Economic Board) established within the higher education institutions is the body that delivers opinions, contributes to the preparation of strategic decisions (made by the senate) and cooperates in the monitoring of implementation. Members of the board are delegated by the senate. By the reformation of the governing system of the HEIs, the act has established the conditions for a renewed financial and economic operation.

In accordance with the community policies it regulates the working conditions of higher education students, the services provided by HEIs, the possible financial support of higher education studies at home and abroad, the operation of foreign HEIs in Hungary, and the cooperation of Hungarian and foreign HEIs in respect of joint programmes and joint degrees as well.

According to the Act on Higher Education 2005, the framework of tertiary education has changed since 1 September 2006. The multi-cycle education has been introduced.

The convergence programme of the Hungarian State made necessary the revision and transformation of budgetary support of tertiary education (the Act CIV of 2007 on the 2005 modification of higher education).

Non-university tertiary education

 Higher vocational training

Higher vocational training (ISCED 5B) was made to form part of the duties of institutions of tertiary education through the Act on Higher Education, and the related government decrees. One third of the knowledge (up to 60 credit points) acquired during the courses of higher vocational education may be converted into credited at the bachelor level of tertiary studies.

Mainstream vocational training undertaken following the érettségi vizsga

This form of training, as a side-product of mass-education, is spreading fast also in comparison with other European countries, lead by demand for diversification. A special characteristic of higher vocational training is that students may have legal relationship with a higher education institution if the training is organised by a HEI, or they may have legal relationship with szakközépiskola if the training is organized by an upper-secondary vocational institution in cooperation with a higher education institution.

Vocational training courses may be launched in an institution’s individual competency as soon as the professional standards and examination requirements have been announced in a ministerial decree. An institution of tertiary education may launch a course of higher vocational training – following ministerial approval of professional standards and examination requirements – only if it has the conditions in place in its basic courses of the same area.

The legislation that modifies the rules of higher vocational training (Act LX. Of 2004 on amendment of certain educational legislations to promote the implementation of educational rights and to improve the higher education and training system and institutional network) defines the possibility of a contractual relationship between the student and a business firm for professional practical training. Although this piece of legislation was repealed by the Act LXXXII of 2007, some lements of it had been built into the Act on Vocational Training.

According to the 2005 Act on Higher Education the higher education institution may cooperate with the Chamber of Economics and Vocation in the preparation and implementation of the vocational and examination requirements. State recognition of a vocational qualification may be jointly claimed (through an accreditation procedure) by the chamber and the higher education institution. Agreements may be established with economic organizations in order to provide practical training.

As a result of the revised vocational training system a new register of vocational qualifications was published. ( 2006/1. ministerial decree).

The new register lists 21 study fields of vocational qualifications, including the higher vocational training qualifications. Owning to the new register new professional and examination criteria have been introduced.

Today, together with the branches, there are more than 70 vocational training programmes. It has overall 20 066 participants. Out of which 15 224 study in vocational schools ( szakközépiskola), 10 842 in tertiary educational institutions.

General further training

Institutions of tertiary education provide various kinds of training in order to. update or expand participants’ knowledge, and also offer programmes related to particular field of sector (e.g. the health, social, or agricultural sector).

In several branches it is compulsory for employees to go into further training after obtaining a degree/qualification, or having spent some period in a given profession. In the field, the institutions of tertiary education play a decisive role concerning some specific areas of particular regions.

Tertiary education - Initial training

The ISCED system categorises both ( egyetemi képzés )and ( főiskolai képzés )of the former system and bachelor courses and master courses of the multi-cycle system from a qualification point of view as 5A.

The levels of education of főiskola and university do not build directly on each other ( egyetem) in accordance with the Act LXXX of 1993 on Higher Education. Inception of university ( egyetem) studies is not conditional on graduation from főiskola. The institutions of tertiary education decide themselves what prior knowledge of a candidate they recognise.

Requirements of főiskola level education may be fulfilled with the same conditions at both university ( egyetem) and főiskola.

Főiskolalevel education is an independent qualification, but may count as a separate level of education when a university course is built on a főiskola

The ‘university’ feature in university level education ( egyetemi képzés)traditionally derives from the scientific orientation of the training. University education today constitutes a separate level of education. In most cases the same course is available in the education system at főiskolaegyetem) level.

University education ( egyetemi képzés )normally lasts for a minimum of 4 years (8 terms), usually 5 years, and exceptionally 6 years. The basic level of főiskola level education ( főiskolai képzéslasts for a minimum of 3-4 years.

Following the decentralisation process in education in the early 1980s new regulation of education came on the agenda ensuring the domestic and international equivalence of degrees, and promoting the freedom of education using an output oriented approach in harmony with international practice. 

When designing qualification criteria with the cooperation of experts, the structure of initial training was reviewed area by area, the structure of courses in certain branches of training were defined, and as the relevant legislation gradually rose in the legislation hierarchy, the initial training courses of tertiary education were legitimised by government decrees.

Concerning tertiary education it was the governmental scope of authority to determine the qualification criteria for each study programme, which it performed in 2001 by officially stating the criteria for each course in the area of humanities.

Hungary agreed to implement the multi-cycle system in higher education and training by 2006 at the Berlin Summit of the countries where the country signed the Bologna Declaration in 1999. The amendment of the Higher Education Act (1993/LXXX.) authorized the set up of three BSc (Bachelor of Science) courses; two of them were launched in 2004.

The conferences of institution managers representing the professional interests of Hungarian tertiary education i.e. the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference, the Conference of Rectors of főiskola together with the Hungarian Accreditation Board of Higher Education ( Magyar Akkreditációs Bizottság) made a proposal concerning the structure of the first cycle of the multi-cycle training structure. The Government Decree on the multi cycle training structure (2004/258. on certain rules of the implementation of the multi-cycle, linear training in higher education and on the rules of launching the first training cycle) defined 12 educational areas with 102 BSc (bachelor) degree courses, and 7 MA (master) courses that remain long courses, courses with no exit possibility in the first cycle. Higher education institutions may launch new courses based on the opinion of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee and the approval of the Minister of Education and Culture.

The new education and training structure is regulated by the 2005 Act on Higher Education.

The first cycle of the multi-cycle structure ends in a Bachelor’s degree and enables its holder to enter positions that require this level of qualification. Education and training period lasts at least 6 and maximum 8 semesters. In bachelor courses where practical training is required it should be at least one semester long.

On completion of Master courses candidates receive a Master’s degree (magister) which enables them to fulfil positions requiring Master’s qualification. Master courses require minimum 2 and maximum 4 semesters of education and training. Both in multi-cycle structure and in long cycle courses the full training period that a Master’s qualification requires is minimum 10 and maximum 12 semesters.

On 1 September 2006 following the structural changes in the Hungarian higher education system, the first cycle was complete with 101 bachelor courses and by 7 long cycle master courses that all fulfil the requirements set by Bologna process. In the field of arts education the first cycle began in 2007, and bachelor courses increased to 133, and the number of courses ending in a Master’s degree in one long cycle increased to 17.

Post gradual level
PhD training

A traditional function of a university ( egyetem) is to run PhD courses to prepare for the highest level of academic qualification (ISCED 6), and to award doctoral grades. Hungarian universities ( egyetem) were deprived of that right in 1950. The network, the structure, and the governance of tertiary education were completely transformed. The universal teaching and training research universities were divided; certain faculties, the scientific and academic activities and academic qualification were separated from their rights. 1992 was the year when an agreement was signed again between the Hungarian Conference of Rectors and the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences representing and operating the Committee of Scientific and Academic Qualifications. This agreement allocated the right of academic and scientific courses and qualifications to universities ( egyetem).

Universities ( egyetem) given back that right after the political changes through a statutory provision passed in 1993 began a new type of Doctoral training and awarding of scientific degrees. That right of universities ( egyetem) is established in a legal standard laid down in the Constitution. That historic process reached its conclusion when universities ( egyetem) as already autonomous entities in exercising their rights recognised that when given back the authority of providing the highest level of training, and awarding scientific grades, their services must be subject to quality standards established by the scientific elite of the respective sciences.

Universities ( egyetem) have the exclusive right of awarding scientific grades.

Legislation was also passed to enable the replacement of art teachers in tertiary art education, and gaining international recognition to the doctoral grade (Doctor of Liberal Arts) in arts.

A doctoral course is a post-graduate course provided by a university ( egyetem) for three years (36 months) to enable participants to obtain the PhD grade. A doctoral course requires continuous studies, research, and reviewing achievement including the performance of requirements laid down in the doctoral regulations of the university ( egyetem), and similarly the successful passing of all doctoral examinations except for the final complex doctoral examination.

Acquiring PhD grade is functionally built on the doctoral course, but its procedure is independent both legally and in its progress. The PhD candidate has to write a doctoral thesis.

Doctoral courses until the academic year of 2001/2002 were run in accredited programmes, and the comprehensive accreditation following the first eight years took place simultaneously with the creation of the organisational framework of doctoral training, and of doctoral schools. The integration of institutions of tertiary education provided favourable conditions to the establishment of doctoral schools.

The present system of Hungarian doctoral training and awarding of grades is a modern structure modelled on the pattern of Anglo-Saxon traditions. 24 universities ( egyetem) operate 165 doctoral schools. With nearly 8000 PhD students and professors already possessing the grade, university ( egyetem) is the greatest innovative research base of Hungary.

The doctoral course (PhD) is the next scientific level following master course, and preparatory training for obtaining the doctoral grade in arts (DLA). The standard regulation from a sectoral science-political point of view in doctoral education and at obtaining the PhD grade is ensured by law (The Act CXXXIX of 2005 on Higher Education) and a governmental decree (2007/30. governmental decree; on the rules of procedure in doctoral school and on the conditions of obtaining a doctoral grade).

The system of further training

 Specialised further training

The distinction of initial training and further training as consecutive phases in the education system, and the differentiation of objectives in education as a whole played a major role in upgrading the structure of tertiary education. The initial training phase aiming to provide a broader knowledge base more in line with labour market needs was supplemented by a further training system; equipping students with more profound knowledge, and issuing a special qualification.

Specialised further training following the obtainment of a university ( egyetem) or a főiskola qualification is meant to satisfy the rapidly changing demand for expertise in society and in the economy. Its primary objective is to train people to fill a specific position or do a specific job.

In the last decade further training courses were launched under the instructions of certain authorities arranged under the auspices of individual institutions. Such courses included training of specialised engineers, economists, lawyers, etc. As the Act on Higher Education took effect, the specialised further training courses needed recognition by the state, and so the qualification requirements of the courses of further training became necessary. Institutions of tertiary education initiated the establishment of 343 specialised further training courses over the past years.

Establishing specialised further training courses built on initial training belongs to the competency of the Minister of Education and Culture. Launching a course has been the right of institutions of tertiary education since 1999.

In the higher education system regulated by the 2005 Act on Higher education launching of a further training course, professional higher education training programme is still the right of the institution of tertiary education. It can follow any degrees both Bachelor’s and Master’s. It involves a specialization in or acquiring supplementing knowledge in a field of study that ends in awarding a certificate on completion, but do not lead to another degree.


Földművelésügyi és Vidékfejlesztési Minisztérium
1055 Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér 11
Tel.:(36 1) 301-4000
Website:  http://www.fvm.hu


Magyar Felsőoktatási Akkreditációs Bizottság
1065 Budapest, Király u. 16.
Tel.:(36 1) 344-0314
Website:  http://www.mab.hu


Magyar Köztársaság Országgyűlése
1055 Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3
Tel.:(36 1) 441 4000
Website:  http://www.mkogy.hu


Oktatási és Kulturális Minisztérium
1055 Budapest, Szalay u. 10-14.
Tel.:(36 1) 473-7000
Website: http://www.okm.gov.hu


Szociális és Munkaügyi Minisztérium
1054 Budapest, Alkotmány u. 3.
Website:  http://www.szmm.gov.hu

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Date: 2009
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