Institutional Autonomy and Academic Freedom in Hungary: A Historiography of Hungarian Higher Education

By Parson, Laura; Steele, Ariel | College and University, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Institutional Autonomy and Academic Freedom in Hungary: A Historiography of Hungarian Higher Education


Parson, Laura, Steele, Ariel, College and University


ince the conclusion of World War I, Hungarian higher education has undergone several radical changes (Marcus 2014). The shifting of political alliances, foreign occupation, the creation of a new political system, joining the European Union, and, recently, a political shift to the right have all impacted the structure of Hungarian higher education. In April 2017, Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungary, proposed policies that would require internal institutions to have a campus in their home country and an agreement between their home country and Hungary (Karáth 2018, Matthews 2017). In effect, this legislation forced the international top-ranked institution Central European University (CEU) to move most of its operations to Vienna. (In October 2018, CEU announced that it would cease operations in Budapest and move to Vienna [Gorondi 2018a].) This legislation was just the latest in a series of measures passed by the Hungarian government to diminish the importance of higher education for Hungarians (Matthews 2017); it bore similarities to Soviet-era policies that limited institutional autonomy through enrollment quotas, administrative leadership, and financial control (Marcus 2014).

Through an exploration of trends in higher education policy, structure, and funding, the authors of the current study sought to understand the history of higher education in Hungary in order to provide an important perspective on the current state of Hungarian higher education. In this historiography, the authors explore academic freedom and institutional autonomy as they relate to political shifts in Hungarian higher education. A description of the history of Hungarian higher education in the modern era provides context within which to discuss shifts in academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Second, the authors describe the analytical methods that guided the analysis of Hungarian higher education history. Finally, after presenting their findings, the authors discuss their potential implications and make recommendations for future research. Understanding the history and impact of higher education policy in Hungary will promote greater understanding of the potential impact of recent legislation on Hungarian higher education, especially as it relates to institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

History of Hungarian Higher Education

The first Hungarian university was established by Anjou King Louis the Great in the town of Pécs in 1367 and was ordained by Pope OrbánV (Halasz, Caruso and Grossman 1990; Hongrie, Kultuszminisztérium and Tarrósy 2002). Higher education institutions were influenced by both the Catholic and Protestant Churches until the reign of Maria Theresa in the 18 th century, when reforms reduced church control of higher education and agrarian and technology programs of study were introduced (Halasz, Caruso and Grossman 1990). The political forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire maintained control over professors, students, and the curriculum. In the 1870s, higher education in Hungary grew in response to demands for a better educated populace (Hongrie, Kultuszminisztérium and Tarrósy 2002); this led to the creation of a binary system of higher education wherein institutions were organized as universities (theoretical and research emphasis, four to six years of study) or colleges (practical-professional emphasis, three to four years of study); several new polytechnic and engineering institutions were established to meet economic demands (Alesi, Rosznyai and Szántó 2007; Halasz, Caruso and Grossman 1990).

Pre-World War II

The demand for an educated public resulted in increases in both the number of colleges and universities in Hungary and the number of students attending them (Hongrie, Kultuszminisztérium and Tarrósy 2002). Changes to higher education during this period were strongly influenced by the German model (Kozma 1990): Children were organized into different education tracks largely on the basis of their families' socioeconomic status. …

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