A student group is protesting a rule under which students who
attend state-funded universities must stay in the country to work
for two years for every year of studies.
Daniel Szabo and Gergo Birtalan are both optimistic about their
job prospects in their native Hungary, which has a low unemployment
rate for college and university graduates. But the two Hungarian
students are in totally different situations.
When Mr. Szabo, 24, graduates soon from law school, he will be
free to go wherever in the world he wants. But Mr. Birtalan, 18, was
required to sign a contract at the beginning of his first year as a
sociology major because of a new rule introduced in September. As a
beneficiary of the state-funded university system, he will be
obliged to work for two years in Hungary for every year of his
Such contracts, the only ones of their kind in Europe, have met
with broad opposition and street protests from both high school and
If Mr. Birtalan finishes a typical three-year degree, his
movements will be restricted for six years after graduation, when he
will be in his late 20s, or even older if he pursues post-graduate
studies domestically. The rule applies to all students at state
universities, as well as those at state-funded places in private
If Mr. Birtalan finds a good overseas opportunity before his
allotted time, he will have to pay back his tuition. A three-year
undergraduate degree would cost him about 900,000 Hungarian forint,
or about $4,100. A two-year master's degree in communications would
be another 900,000 forint.
While those sums pale in comparison with tuition at state-funded
schools in the United States or Britain, they are considered
significant in Hungary, where the average monthly salary, after
taxes, is 140,000 forint, and where citizens are accustomed to
Officials said it was not an unreasonable amount for Hungarian
students who studied free under the state and then found lucrative
work in Western Europe.
"It's not impossible," Ferenc Kumin, a representative of the
prime minister's office, said of repayment. "A salary in Norway or
in Great Britain could finance the payback of this tuition fee."
Still, students were not convinced.
"I signed it, but I felt really bad and angry about it," Mr.
Birtalan, the sociology student, said in a small Budapest cafe near
the Danube River, which serves as the unofficial headquarters for
HaHa, a student movement that has demanded the removal of the
In December, several months after the contracts were initiated,
about 2,000 students held a demonstration against the new rules,
according to local news reports.
After the demonstrations, the Ministry of Human Resources began a
series of roundtable talks with teachers, student groups and Chamber
of Commerce representatives in late January.
HaHa was not invited, and Mr. Szabo said that if their demands
were not met, they would protest with civil disobedience. According
to local news reports, about 30 to 40 students occupied the faculty
of humanities at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest last Monday.
The faculty was occupied at least until Friday, and HaHa leaders
said they had more protests planned.
The Hungarian government sees the contracts as necessary means to
combat "brain drain," said Zoltan Balog, the government minister in
charge of human resources, referring to graduates' choosing to work
"How can it be that we are training several hundreds of doctors
every year -- which costs the taxpayers a whole lot of money -- who
after graduation immediately go to Norway, to Sweden, to England? …