On Friday the Hungarian parliament amended the law on higher education. If signed into law, the prime minister will be given the right to appoint quasi deputy-rectors responsible for managing the universities’ finances. Furthermore, instead of a doctorate, a medal won at the Olympics or an award bestowed by the state will qualify individuals for the position of rector. Opposition MPs and trade unions are concerned about the autonomy of universities.
According to the bill on higher education submitted by Fidesz MP László Pósán:
- It would not be necessary to hold a doctorate to become a rector of a university. In the field of sports and recreation studies a medal won at the Olympics, Deaf-Olympics or Paralympic games would be equal to a PhD degree; one would not need a doctorate degree in the arts if one holds the Kossuth prize or “a prize awarded on the basis of a government or ministerial regulation”.
- Universities and other institutes of higher education would be deprived of their exclusive right to recommend teachers. From then on, this right would be exercised also by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. (In the field of sports studies the Hungarian Olympic Committee, and in the field of arts studies the Hungarian Academy of Arts would have a right to recommend teachers).
The law is being refered to as “lex Mocsai” because it will make it possible for handball coach Lajos Mocsai, who does not hold a doctorate, to take the seat of university rector at the University of Physical Education, recently being separated from Semmelweis University. Furthermore, the law makes it possible for former President Pál Schmitt, who was forced to resign his position at the beginning of 2012 over revelations that he had plagiarized much of his doctoral dissertation, to be appointed rector of a university.
A few days after submitting the initial bill, Pósán retracted it. On the day parliament was scheduled to debate the bill, the legislative committee chaired by Fidesz MP Gergely Gulyás issued the final version of the amendment – this time anonymously – that included all elements of lex Mocsai previously retracted by Pósán. This version of the bill was adopted by the national assembly on Friday.
Besides central appointment of teaching staff and new requirements for the post of rector, the amendment contains significant modifications to the organizational structure of the institutions. A chancellery system will be introduced from September. These quasi deputy-rectors will be centrally appointed by the prime minister to all 28 state-funded insitutions of higher education. They will be responsible for the economic management of universities and colleges. The chancellor will be the employer of the staff, with the exception of scholars and researchers, and report directly to the minister of human resources. All decisions by rectors will need to be countersigned by the chancellor, yet nobody will oversee the chancellor decisions.
The Trade Union of Higher Education issued a statement in which it called appalling “the absurd timing of the legal amendment, the lack of consultation, and the way how the Higher Education Roundtable was completely ignored during the legislative process”. According to the Trade Union Bloc of Intellectuals, the introduction of chancellery is a serious violation of university autonomy. Opposition MPs attacked the amendment in the same vein. Fidesz MP László Kucsák reacted to the criticism in his Monday plenary address, claiming that the bill does not infringe on the autonomy of universities, as “according to the Fundamental Law, finances of higher education organizations are to be overseen by the government”.
Commenting to the Budapest Beacon, education expert János Szüdi emphasized that it is natural that a central budgetary body’s finances are regulated and overseen by the government, and that this was a standard practice for a long time. “Chancellors however are now entitled to exercise full decision-making power in economic issues, and this is contradictory to the 2005 decision by the Constitutional Court,” Szüdi said. “According to this, freedom to decide over own financial issues is an integral part of the autonomy of institutions of higher education.”
Szüdi also finds it problematic that the appointment of teachers and rectors is becoming more flexible. “This violates requirements for a quality education, and makes an opportunity for the appearance to a political aspect of appointment instead of scholarly and professional aspects,” he said.
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