Hungary's government on Thursday unveiled a broad-reaching plan that aims to make higher education accessible to more students while creating disincentives for dropping out.
The main points of the plan, approved by the government at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, were outlined by government spokesman András Giró-Szósz and deputy state secretary for higher education Zoltán Maruzsa at a press conference. Giró-Szász said the plan aims to level the playing field and allow more Hungarians to enter college or university. The merit-based system will allow as many people as possible to enter university, not just the ones with money, he said. State-sponsored student loans, under the aegis of the Diákhitel 2.0 programme, will serve as a disincentive for leaving university before graduating, he said, adding that the dropout rate is almost 50% at present. Giró-Szász announced measures designed to encourage students to take out the loans through helping loan repayment. State organisations will take over the student loans from their employees, he said, and private sector employers who take over the loans will be offered "significant tax write-offs". He noted that repayments for graduates start at just 4% of earnings. Giró-Szász did not reveal the exact number of state scholarships to be available next year at the press conference but confirmed that they were the same as numbers in a proposal reported in the press. The proposal, obtained by MTI, shows a total of 74,100 full and partial state scholarships in the next academic year. They include 10,480 full and 46,330 partial scholarships for undergraduates, as well as 16,000 scholarships for master's programmes and 1,300 for doctoral programmes. The number of students on full state scholarship fell to 39,087 this academic year from 53,450 in 2011/12, Econews reported earlier. Maruzsa said full scholarships would now be available for the best 15-20% of students. In 2011, 66,810 of 101,835 applicants were accepted into undergraduate and master's programmes in Hungary, data from the Central Statistics Office (KSH) show. Under the plan, three commissions will be established to review the financial situation and debt of colleges and universities. A commission to tackle the problem of debt will be headed by National Economy Ministry state secretary Győrgy Naszvadi. Another, to deal with the takeover of co-financing for European Union-supported projects, will be led by state secretary János Lázár. The third, to negotiate phasing out Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), will be headed by minister without portfolio Mihály Varga, who is the chief negotiator on an financial backstop Hungary is seeking from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Giró-Szász said the government believes the debt of Hungary's higher education institutions can be consolidated in the near future. He added that most of the debt was related to PPPs and the medical clinics of universities in Szeged and Pécs. The plan will change the management structure at institutions of higher education to separate financing from professional tasks: government-appointed chancellors will handle financing and rectors will oversee professional tasks. The plan will establish an independent system, with separate scholarships, for teacher training, and it will introduce sports scholarships. Maruzsa said money allocated for higher education in the central budget would not be reduced but spending would be restructured. Giró-Szász said HUF 1,000 billion would be allocated for higher education from European Union funding available to Hungary in the 2014-2020 budget period. Hungary's National Conference of Student Governments (HÖOK) on Thursday announced they would initiate a referendum on quality, tuition-free higher education. HÖOK chairman Dávid Nagy said the organisation could plan big demonstrations and smaller university sit-ins.