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Unpopular Bologna process for Budapest’s class of 2009

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The accords making European higher education compatible reached Hungarian universities in 2006. A sociology student at Budapest Corvinus University describes the trying experience of the new system which celebrated ten years on 25 May

‘It’s a pity the Hungarian education system was replaced,’ Szidónia says. ‘The old system wasn’t rated one of the best for nothing.’ Up until 2005, Hungarian students spent four years at secondary school, 5-6 years at university or 3-4 at college. The Bologna Process, which aims to establish the foundations of the European Higher Education Area by 2010 and is in place in 46 countries, cut university entrance exams. It implemented a two-level high school graduation, similar to the British GCSE and ‘A’ level exams. It abolished a point calculating method which had become a nightmare for high school leavers who finished their finals in June and calculated their own points, but could not receive official results until the annual ‘night of the entrance points crisis’ (Ponthatárok Éjszakája) in July. Many joked that the Chinese curse Live your life in changing times was cast upon them. 

Bologna in new changing times

The 1999 rationale behind the Bologna process is to speed up economic growth and preserve the EU’s competitiveness by better coordinating the education of the European workforce. The EU established the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) via Erasmus, and the Magna Charta of European Universities in 1989 and 1988. Erasmus, Leonardo, Socrates and other exchange programmes boost the mobility of young people across the continent. 

Some Hungarian departments started BA/ BSc courses (the three-year long basic university education or ‘bachelor of arts/ sciences’) well before 2005.  It only really kicked in in the 2006/ 07 academic year.

From the first day, teachers tell Bologna students that nobody will recruit them after only three years of a degree

‘It is strange that five years is now compressed into three,’ remarks Zoltán. ‘I have too many subjects, it is harder to finish my studies. Employers will not know in the beginning what a BA/ BSc degree means in terms of knowledge.’ It’s a common case for ‘Bologna students’ so far; from the first day, teachers tell them that nobody will recruit them after only three years. The criteria of selection, available places and exact content of masters (MA) programmes are also still unknown. In October 2007 I ask the student office about doing an MA. ‘We haven’t quite managed to find out yet.’At the end of the exam period in January I try again. ‘I haven’t got a clue, we haven’t even thought about it.’ In April, the reaction is angry. ‘How should we know? We haven’t prepared for Bologna students yet.’ The same story in every department. Another student who complains about the low number of conversation classes whilst enrolling in a language department is told that if she doesn’t like the schedule, she can hire a private tutor. Why are universities so unorganised? 

Less postgraduates, please

Ági is studying at Budapest Corvinus University for her second degree. ‘It’s nonsense that we are informed about the schedule of the fifth and sixth terms only in the second half of our fourth term.’ Bálint says many professors do not keep up with the times; other students cite out of date textbooks and course synopses. Csaba is pleased with his professors, but thinks that the value of his eventual degree will not be proportional. ‘We are studying too many disciplines in a higher density, and our degree will mention only the basic level - will an employer understand the work we have done?’

‘There are just too many postgraduates,’ Éva and Bálint state, in reference to the heterogeneous composition of students. Lecturers, who find that what took five years to teach is impossible to do in only three years, agree.

'The problem is the increase in the number of students'

‘The problem is the increase of the number of students, either missing the necessary base knowledge or lacking a motivation to learn. But this is mostly independent of the Bologna reform,’ states Ildikó Hrubos, professor at Budapest Corvinus University. ‘It's harder to make progress,’ adds fellow lecturer Ágnes G. Havril. Bálint proposes adjusting the postgraduate outlet to the current labour market offer, which his fellow students agree is not harmonised. For example, increase the numbers doing technical and scientific studies against those doing philosophy, arts, law, economics and other social sciences. 

What do professors think about 2009 graduates? ‘It will balance out, provided that the system is not tampered with again,’ comments lecturer Attila Forgács. One predicts a 2 to 3 year ‘tolerance period.’ Another professor predicts 10 to 15 years. Meanwhile, 55% say it’s worth trying to find a job with just a BA/ BSc, whilst 11% say they could find a ‘satisfactory’ job. But 33% don’t believe that a basic degree will be sufficient. 72% have already decided to continue with an MA, but most have not yet decided which subject to continue with. The significant majority maintain that the development of the proper education system is essential for the maintenance of the economical competitiveness of a country. It is not only the future that looks sad for the ‘bolognese’; their present is also full of unwanted adventures, and 77% deem the Bologna system not so well thought out for Hungary. The next Bologna meeting is in Leuven, Belgium, 28-29 April 2009.

Translated from Hungarian to English by Virág Varsányi and Lóránt Havas