Metropolitan University: Expansive Goals Create Formidable Challenges

Interview

Péter Rada, vice-rector for international affairs at Metu.

Photo by Árpád Kurucz.

Budapest’s Metropolitan University, with some 7,000 students, already boasts it is Hungary’s largest and most international private university; yet it aims to expand by 40%, taking the total student numbers to 10,000.

Residents of Budapest’s Zugló district have long been used to negotiating their way through gaggles of young people gathered outside the entrance to number 1-9, Nagy Lajos király útja, the main campus of Budapest Metropolitan University (Metu).

Chatting, laughing, sometimes smoking, sometimes in deep conversation, communication among these knots of youths is as likely to be English as Hungarian.

“Last semester, we had students from 130 countries [.…] When you walk around the campus, you can feel that you are not in Budapest; even the Hungarians talk to each other in English,” Péter Rada, vice-rector for international affairs at Metu, tells the Budapest Business Journal.

A former Fulbright Scholar who joined the university after studying in the United States for his doctorate and serving as a diplomat at the Hungarian embassy in Washington, D.C., Rada is charged with expanding the international intake, currently standing at 1,000 students, to 5,000, and bringing the total student count to 10,000.

Asked if, given that Metu’s website is in Hungarian, English and Chinese, Chinese students form one of the main target groups, Rada says that the target markets, or, as he prefers, “the partner countries,” are “a little bit broader.” He elucidates the university’s three “international strategic goals.”

“The first is to create the global Metropolitan, global Metu, being present globally, so we will not choose [just] one target partner country.”

Indeed, currently, the percentage of Chinese students at Metu is below the average of 30% of “mobile students” worldwide, he says.

Second, Metu aims to be “the most internationally diverse university in central Europe, [...] having students from 100 countries,” with the stress being on nations beyond European Union member states. “We are more present in countries outside the EU. The EU members are important, but rather for exchange programs, for example, like Erasmus,” he says.

Finally, Metu should become “a model, an agenda-setter in Central Europe, through what we achieve.”

These three goals have been formulated to fulfill Metu’s ultimate objective. As the vice-rector states: “Our vision is to be the largest and most prestigious private university in Central Europe; that’s our strong vision.”

Student Sources

But how will this be achieved in practice, and where will all these additional 4,000 international students come from?

With its vast population, China is an “obvious” source for student recruitment, but Rada rattles off a string of other Asian nations with potential, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“Central Asia is booming, so Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, [….] these countries are developing extremely quickly, including higher education, and because of the political changes, they [have] changed their direction, where they want to move,” he argues, adding that Metu has recently signed four strategic partnerships with Central Asian universities.

Then there is Africa, where the university is working hard, from Kenya in the east to Nigeria in the west.

“We are building, and this is also a new program, partnerships with all the regions in Africa. We choose a country in each region as a first step, like Nigeria in West Africa. That’s the biggest, yes, we know. They are extremely big as a sender country in terms of students, towards Europe,” he says.

This is not to forget the continent’s southern states, including Zimbabwe, where the university has built a strong presence, nor the Mediterranean region and the Middle East.

For Rada, the key to expansion is to find partner universities. “We are in the process of signing strategic partnerships with Egyptian universities. Egypt is the largest in that region, and their universities are extremely developed.”

As Rada reels off the various names, including Palestine and Israel, Georgia, the UAE and Latin American nations, it begins to feel like a mini United Nations.

“Our mission is to keep the doors open to provide opportunities to all students globally who would like to create [their own] brand, ‘my brand’ [as the university terms it]. The open-door policy for us means to provide education for those who really want it,” he says.

It is an impressive project, but can the university pull it off? Who will teach this massive influx of international students?

Rada says some 90% of lecturers are Hungarian (some 50% of courses are taught in Hungarian), but those teaching in English are carefully screened for language and teaching skills.

“The professors are trained to fulfill the requirements of the international environment, a multicultural environment, and to be able to teach in English. They are checked; they need to do exams, no matter what they had before,” he says.

Educational Standards

Then there are the students themselves: as with any for-profit educational institution, there is always tension between the recruitment staff, who, being rewarded on results, seek to boost their enrollment numbers, while the academic side is concerned that new students possess the educational standards, including English skills, fit for degree courses.

It is the job of Metu’s international admissions team to screen all prospective students, and the process is thorough, Rada insists.

“They organize interviews with prospective students, and there are several rounds. So, it’s a long process. They check the level of English, obviously, whether they will be able to follow the courses. If not, they are offered a full-year English [preparatory] program.” Moreover, students are asked for feedback on the classes to improve standards. “We listen to them,” he says.

Despite these seemingly stringent recruitment and enrollment processes, students consulted by the BBJ were mixed in their assessments.

One complained about the level of students’ English skills, particularly among some from China. “When we are put into pairs or threes to discuss questions, some of the Chinese students simply can’t contribute. They can’t speak English,” a 2022 Metu graduate told us.

Another related an incident in class when the lecturer, quizzed on his poor use of English, retorted: “The communication language of this university is bad English.”

“We are paying attention to that, so it’s changing. So, our professors, lecturers, colleagues, they are also ambassadors of the university, so they need to understand our vision and mission, and they need to work accordingly. It could have been a joke, which seemed to be harmless to the professor, [though] of course, it’s not very useful,” Rada said.

It is clear that, for some students, Metu is an overall positive experience. Rimsha Arooj, a Pakistani student about to graduate in Business Administration, and one of a gaggle outside the gate on Nagy Lajos király útja early in May, described the university as “awesome.”

“I am fully satisfied with my university. The professors are very educated, with Ph.D.s. They go an extra mile to help the students,” she said.

George Ashraf, an Egyptian in his second semester of the Business Administration course, agreed.

“It’s actually pretty good. It has a lot of internationals, actually. Also, the university is not hard; actually, it’s pretty easy. My like, expectations was very high, that it would be so hard, like in my home country, but actually, it’s not that pretty hard. That’s good, actually,” he says.

“All the teachers are very good. Some of them don’t speak the great English, but it’s good [because] I could understand from them.”

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of May 19, 2023.

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