Hungarians Studying Abroad Will Return if Conditions are Right


Martin Pászti, HYA director

A study reveals only one in four Hungarian students studying abroad intends to return home to work: However, twice that number are undecided on their future residence.

Only 26% of Hungarian students at universities outside Hungary “definitely intend” to return to their homeland to work after graduation, with 48% yet to decide their future country of residence, according to the Youth Affluent Finance Survey 2022, undertaken by Blochamps Private Banking Advisory and the Hungarian Youth Association (HYA), an independent student advocacy body.

The study, which HYA believes is unique within Central Europe, quizzed some 300 Hungarian students in 11 European countries, plus the United States, via face-to-face interviews. It also revealed 26% of respondents intended to work abroad, either in their country of study (14%) or elsewhere (12%) upon graduation.

“We have these myths lingering in the public sphere,” Martin Pászti, a director of HYA and co-organizer of the survey, told the Budapest Business Journal in an interview. “Decision makers generally think in terms of brain-gain and brain-drain, and they believe that the students who leave never want to return to Hungary, [but] 26% said they will return in the five to 10 years after they finish their studies. There is also 48% who are undecided, but they are absolutely open to coming back.”

Indeed, since the survey revealed that 94% of respondents believe that holding a degree from a Western university is more advantageous than a domestic qualification in the Hungarian job market, it is likely that a good proportion of the 48% currently undecided will return home after graduation.

This is important, given that those gaining degrees abroad are likely to acquire a broader set of skills, including entrepreneurial nous, plus better knowledge of a foreign language than their compatriots at domestic universities, says Bálint Karagich, executive director of HYA and also a survey co-organizer.

Moreover, the number of Hungarians studying abroad has more than tripled, from 6,300 to some 20,000, since Hungary joined the European Union in 2004, HYA estimates.

Bálint Karagich, NYA executive director

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Nonetheless, the question remains: What are the principal factors influencing these students’ final decision to return?

For some, remuneration is key: when asked about minimum salary expectations immediately after graduation, the average response for jobs abroad was the equivalent of HUF 1.1 million, more than double the HUF 510,000 expected in Hungary. (This compares to the HUF 330,000 starting salary hopes of students at Hungarian universities.)

Five years into a career, the difference in expectations is even more stark, with a foreign-based graduate expecting a minimum salary equivalent to HUF 2.47 mln, almost triple the HUF 860,000 for those who return to Hungary.

“There is a correlation between students’ willingness to return to Hungary and their starting-salary expectations. Those who would not return even if they were offered a job immediately after graduation tend to have higher average salary expectations,” says Karagich.

He also notes that the possibility of being zero-rated for personal income tax (dependent on age) made Hungary’s seemingly low starting salary rates more attractive than first meets the eye.

Yet the survey found salary hopes were far from the only factor as students ponder their futures.

Inevitably, family and friends play a role, but the study revealed that the individual’s “potential professional impact” is another major factor.

The Risk Takers

Students who study abroad tend to be more risk-taking and entrepreneurial: 54% of respondents stated that they intend to start a business (6% already had).

Similarly, 54% of those seeking to start their own businesses are specifically targeting a market gap, a result which energizes Pászti.

“It means these students do not want to build their enterprises just to be their own boss and avoid taking orders or to get rich. It’s because they see a gap in the market, an opportunity. They see that there is something to be built, and they want to build it,” he enthuses.

“Looking at the statistics on building enterprises, if we do the maths, with 20,000 students abroad, if 54% want to start a business, we’re talking about 10,000 [new companies], 5,000 of which specifically aim to fill a market gap. This means real market growth,” he argues.

Karagich agrees, stressing the responses to questions in the survey highlighted an intense desire among many students to fulfill a longing for achievement.

“I’ve been very keen to tell everyone [….] that these students are primarily driven by impact, and not necessarily money [….]. Whether their salary is HUF 700,000 or HUF 800,000, it doesn’t really make a difference as long as they feel like what they are doing can have a societal or economic impact,” he says.

And while “one in a million” may make it big in London or Amsterdam, “it’s really hard to stand out,” he argues, adding that, in contrast, “if you come back to Hungary, there are just so many things to do and achieve that it’s much easier to [create] an impact-driven company culture.”

The study (in Hungarian only) is not available online. Inquiries for access should be made to:

Hungarians shy of U.K. Unis Post-Brexit

While the United Kingdom remained part of the European Union, Hungarian and other EU students flocked to the country to take advantage of its higher education facilities. But post-Brexit, facing soaring costs, that has all changed says Balint Karagich, who holds a master’s from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“In 2020-21, the last year when students could enjoy pre-Brexit conditions, there were 1,050 Hungarian students applying to U.K. universities, with 705 accepted and starting their studies,” he says.

One year later, the numbers slumped to 480 applicants, with 320 accepted, but only 168 could take up their place.

“Many of those accepted applied for funding [through scholarships and bursaries], but were unsuccessful,” Karagich says.

The big winners from this have been the Netherlands, with 1,979 Hungarian freshers joining their student ranks in 2021-22, followed by Germany (1,878) and Austria (1,823).

Survey Facts and Figures

According to Hungarian Youth Association (HYA) executive director Bálint Karagich, there are no official government statistics on the number or location of Hungarian students studying abroad. By researching the higher education statistics of the principal countries which host Hungarian students, the HYA estimates the total number studying abroad today to be around 20,000, or 8% of the entire Hungarian student population.

The largest contingent of respondents for the survey studied in the United Kingdom (36%), followed by the Netherlands (25%), Austria (14%) and Germany (8%). France and Sweden tied for the fifth most respondents at 5% each.

Some 97% of respondents believed the quality of education at universities abroad is better than in Hungary. Just under one-third of the sample (32%) believe companies that prefer foreign degrees offer better career prospects and more competitive salaries.

While 18% of respondents held a bank account only abroad, 78% had accounts in Hungary and abroad. A mere 4% had an account only in Hungary.

The gender balance of respondents was 54% male, 46% female. Of the sample, 37% studied natural sciences, 32% economics and 31% social sciences.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 14, 2023.

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