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 Education in Hungary 2006  >  Chapter 4: The educational system and the progression of students

Anna Imre – Zoltán Györgyi

Chapter 4
The educational system and the progression of students

Society's increased need for schooling and the resulting expansion in secondary and tertiary education triggered a major restructuring process across the education system. More and more young people participate in educational programmes leading to a secondary school certificate and in tertiary education. Nevertheless, challenges in relation to the structure and functioning of the school system have remained and even have increased in recent years. Many students enrolled in secondary schools have unclear ideas about their future and have relatively poor basic skills. The selectivity of the school system decreases the chances of those starting out with a disadvantage. Due to the expansion of programmes leading to a secondary school-leaving certificate, training in vocational schools narrowed, and these schools are more and more becoming the choice of young people struggling with learning and behavioural problems, who cannot get admission to other schools. The situation of those with learning difficulties and drop-outs are unresolved. School progression paths are becoming less determined, there is a strengthening role of individual decision making and career planning. The two-level secondary school final examination was organised for the first time in 2005. This examination has a major impact on organisation of teaching applied by secondary schools and on students' strategic choices of secondary school learning and application to tertiary education institutions. Dropping child numbers and the high proportion of young people not in education and not in the labour force continue to play a determining role among external challenges facing the system. In recent years, a lack of skilled workers has been causing difficulty and – albeit to a small extent – unemployment among degree-holders has appeared.

4.1. Changes in the education system

A special feature of the Hungarian education system is that institutional structures and the structure of educational programmes are not aligned with each other. The system's institutional structure and the presence of programmes allowing early selection show similarities with Central European and ex-socialist countries. The system's content structure, the uniform and general phase of education has extended, and secondary level education may be characterised by increased opportunities for transition. The general phase of education lasts until the age of 16 in Hungary's education system. Participation in secondary education, offering a wide variety of programmes, is fairly high: with an enrolment rate in 2004 of 86%. Within secondary education, the proportion of students studying in programmes leading to a secondary school-leaving certificate and offering transition to tertiary education is around the international average. In most OECD countries, the expected years of schooling calculated on the basis of current trends, was between 16 and 21 years in 2004, in Hungary it was 17.6 years. Hungary's school structure has undergone significant change in many respects over the past fifteen years. In the nineties, most changes occurred spontaneously and contradicted each other as a result of local stakeholders' increased room for manoeuvre, due to demographic, social, economic and labour market changes, and due to the competition among institutions that evolved as a result of those changes, while legislative changes, too, played a role in the transition processes. (See also Chapters 5, 8 and 9.)

4.1.1. Vertical changes in the education system

An expansion in supply took place as a result of the vertical restructuring of the education system. These changes are largely attributable to the initiatives of the institutions, as they aimed to stabilize student numbers despite falling child numbers. That contributed to students remaining in the education system for longer.

The large structural change most typical of the early nineties was the launching of 8 and 6 years general secondary schools. With the introduction of the National Core Curriculum, the age for vocational training increased to 16 years of age by the late nineties. That extended vocational schools' training period by one year. In the case of certain trades, the 2006 National Register of Vocational Qualifications (Országos Képzési Jegyzék, OKJ) increased the training period by one more year. With the changes of the National Register of Vocational Qualifications and with a significant proportion of trades requiring a secondary school-leaving certificate, the training period was extended also at vocational secondary schools by 1 to 3 years, depending on trade. The surge in student numbers witnessed in secondary schools leading to a secondary school-leaving certificate is partly the result of those additional years, as they increased the number of students in grades 13 to 15 in vocational secondary schools.

Table 4.1. Change in the number of students studying in grades 13 to 15 (in full-time education) in secondary vocational training, 1995/96–2004/05 (excluding special educational provision for disabled students)

Academic year Number of students Increase
(prior year = 100%)
(1995/96 = 100%)
relative to total
student number
1995/96 24,132 100.0 100.0 11.6
1996/97 33,271 137.9 137.9 15.1
1997/98 39,398 118.4 163.3 17.3
1998/99 46,230 117.3 191.6 19.7
1999/00 50,199 108.6 208.0 20.8
2001/02 61,757 256.0 25.9
2002/03 58,505 94.7 242.4 24.4
2003/04 65,117 111.3 269.8 26.3
2004/05 63,491 97.5 263.1 25.9

Source: Educational Statistics of MoE; MoE Statistical Handbook, Education Yearbook 2004/2005

The training period at secondary schools is extended by the opportunity to organise a language preparation course in grade 0. Almost half of general secondary schools (48.6%), and more than one-third of vocational secondary schools (36.7%) launched language preparation programmes.

4.1.2. Horizontal changes in the education system

With the drop in demand from the labour market and in the population for apprenticeship training, the number of students enrolled in apprenticeship training decreased significantly, and, parallel with that, interest towards secondary schools offering a secondary school-leaving certificate increased. As regards the distribution between students enrolling to either one of the two school types, namely general secondary school and vocational secondary school, leading to a secondary school-leaving certificate, a shift has been witnessed in recent years towards general secondary school education. In parallel with the expansion of vocational secondary schools, which lasted until the turn of the millennium, a shrinking of a similar scale has occurred in training provided by vocational training schools, and since then the proportion of students entering vocational training schools has been flat. Along with the expansion of vocational secondary schools, a certain form of transition has taken place, involving the conversion of existing places and courses at vocational training schools into places and courses at vocational secondary schools. It was when that transition had ended that an expansion of a larger scale began in the general secondary school sector.

Table 4.2. The number of students successfully completing grade 8 in a full-time programme and the proportion of those continuing their studies (excluding special educational provision for disabled students)

Academic year 1985/86 1990/91 1995/96 1999/00 2004/05
Students completing 8 years of general school education (heads) 130,992 164,616 122,359 114,302 113,179
General secondary school education (%) 20.8 21.1 27.1 31.6 36.5
Vocational secondary school education (%) 26.0 27.5 33.7 39.0 39.2
Training in vocational training school (%) 43.8 42.0 34.2 22.9 23.0
Typing and shorthand training school (%) 1.4 1.6 4.3 2.4
Healthcare vocational training school (%) 1.4 1.3
Training in special vocational training schools for non-disabled students (%) m
Total of students progressing (%) 93.6 93.4 99.3 95.9 98.6

Source: MoE Statistical Handbook, Secondary education 1999/2000; MoE Statistical Handbook, Education Yearbook 2004/2005
Note: Since the early 1990's, the number of students successfully completing grade 8 has recognised the number of 8th grade students studying at 6-year and 8-year general secondary schools.

4.2. Changes in vocational training

More and more disadvantaged students struggling with various learning, behavioural and social problems are enrolled in programmes in vocational training schools. A higher number of innovative solutions are needed to resolve the problems of students now entering vocational training schools and to ensure their successful training, as traditional methods seem to be increasingly failing, evidenced by a significant dropout rate. Regulations governing admission to vocational training schools were amended with a view to reduce the dropout rate and to expand opportunities for re-entry. As of September 2003, students over 16 years of age may enrol in vocational training schools even if they have not completed their general school education, on condition that they take part in compensatory education, during which they acquire the necessary skills and competences. After the successful completion of compensatory education, students will have achieved a general school certificate and may gain entry to vocational training grade 11 of the vocational training school. A survey into compensatory education, conducted in 2004, shows that there is a significant dropout rate even from compensatory education, and progression rates are lower than what was expected (two-thirds of students completing compensatory course).

The Ministry of Education launched a three-year programme entitled Vocational training school development programme. Its implementation is funded partly from the central budget and partly from the Vocational Training Fund. The programme is made up by a number of components (A: education in general knowledge domain and pre-vocational strand, B: methodology of vocational training, C: reintegration of disadvantaged students), and includes a set of thematic projects (foreign language teaching, assessment and evaluation in vocational training schools, career guidance, information technology). Objectives of the programme included: reducing the dropout rate, increasing the number of students completing compulsory schooling, improving career starter skilled workers' preparedness and labour market value by providing them with flexible knowledge. The second phase of the programme was launched in early 2006, with the objective to establish a system suitable to harmonise the needs of the economy and vocational training institutions in a flexible manner.

Another major problem in vocational training is its fragmented institutional network. The Government strategy on vocational training development called for the revision of arrangements with maintainers, primarily in the field of determining enrolment quotas. As part of the Human Resources Development Operational Programme of the NDP, 16 so-called Regional Integrated Vocational Training Centres (Területi Integrált Szakképző Központ, TISZK) were established. There are plans to set up a further 6 Regional Integrated Vocational Training Centres with financing from the Labour Market Fund, and an additional 30-35 Regional Integrated Vocational Training Centres in the framework of the 2nd National Development Plan (in the period 2007–2013). A Regional Integrated Vocational Training Centre operates as a consortium involving 6 to 8 vocational training schools, where schools coordinate their vocational training, with special attention to career guidance, vocational theoretical and practical training. (See also Chapter 5.)

4.2.1. Non-university higher vocational training

Non-university higher vocational training (ISCED 5B) includes programmes more advanced than those offered in post-secondary school vocational training (ISCED 4), and was introduced following the need for broader and more practical tertiary education. A special feature of the programme is that while it is part of tertiary education and the professional background for training is provided by tertiary level institutions, programmes may be organised both in secondary and tertiary education. It has no independent institutional system. Trainees attending courses organised in tertiary education legally qualify as tertiary education students, while those attending courses in secondary education institutions qualify as secondary school students. The programme structure is laid down in a Government Decree. The training period is 2 to 2½ years. Until 2001, the proportion of on-the-job training was set at a minimum of 50%, since then no limit applies. Regarding credit to be given in tertiary education for exams passed, the 2006 Act on Tertiary Education sets out the minimum and maximum number of awardable credit points, and tertiary education institutions are entitled to make decisions about the details at their own discretion. Programmes were first launched in 1998, and the range of qualifications on offer has gradually increased: in 1997, only 6, while in 2004, as many as 58 non-university higher vocational qualifications were included in the National Register of Vocational Qualifications. The range of vocational qualifications is broadest in the business-service category, accounting for 36% of all vocational qualifications on offer. The number of training institutions also shows strong growth. In 1998, 16 secondary schools and 7 tertiary education institutions held a license, while in 2005, 285 and 32 were licensed, respectively. The number of graduates increased almost 8-fold between 2000 and 2005. Although student numbers are steadily growing, the proportion of students attending this form of training is still not too significant: in 2005, 5.6% of students entering tertiary education started their studies in non-university higher vocational training organised by tertiary education institutions. Most students, however, attend non-university higher vocational training delivered by secondary schools. According to estimates, students in non-university higher vocational training account for 13.6–14.0% of all students in tertiary training. The ratio is much smaller as regards graduates: in 2004, students in non-university higher vocational training accounted for 8.3% of all students graduating from tertiary training (from graduate education). The difference is partly attributable to a high dropout rate and to transfer to university and college courses.

4.2.2. Changes in the National Register of Vocational Qualfications

The National Register of Vocational Qualifications established a standardised framework for state-accredited vocational qualifications previously included in a number of different trade registers. In a revision conducted in 2005, the following new objectives were set: providing vocational qualifications necessary for jobs existing in the economy, promoting the opportunity of life-long learning, allowing entry of people without general school certificate in vocational training, facilitate the acquiring of vocational qualifications complementing prior vocational qualifications, and laying the foundation for modular training. As opposed to the previous 812 qualifications, the register defines 416 basic-vocational qualifications (trades), 436 partial vocational qualifications, 321 associated branch qualifications and 118 additional qualifications complementing a base-trade, setting out admission conditions and the minimum training period expressed in school hours and/or years for each qualification. The list of the National Register of Vocational Qualifications, which previously had a linear structure and included isolated vocational qualifications, was arranged in a matrix, and it now shows interrelated and associated vocational qualifications on one line, complete with the description of the relationships among them. As regards secondary level vocational qualifications, the National Register of Vocational Qualifications created the possibility to start training for those who do not have the required educational attainment but have the necessary input competences, thereby contributing to improving the labour market situation of some of those with no general school certificate.

4.3. Transition and options for correction

One of the Lisbon benchmarks of the European Union in the field of education is to reduce the rate of early school-leavers: according to the objective, the rate of 18–24-year-olds who leave the school system with no higher than lower-secondary educational attainment must be reduced to 10% by 2010. The European Union average of early school-leavers was 17.7% in 2000, dropping to 15.5% by 2005. In 2000, Hungary's situation was already better than the European Union average: in 2000, only 13.8% and in 2005, 12.3% of students exited the school system without secondary educational attainment. (See also Chapter 1.)

With a few exceptions, transition between general schools is problem-free. However, transition is not automatic in secondary education, nevertheless there are some limited opportunities for transfer between defined programmes. For now, educational statistics in Hungary is unable to accurately record movement between programmes, its magnitude may only be estimated on the basis of various studies. More pronounced transition may be witnessed primarily between programmes at vocational training schools and vocational secondary schools, especially in the 9th and 10th grades, and chiefly in mixed-profile institutions offering both programmes. Based on students' actual and the expected performance, a smaller proportion of students in the first grades of secondary level education (about 10%) will be ‘redistributed' among the individual programmes. According to new regulations, if vocational training school education is performed in a mixed-profile institution delivering vocational secondary school courses as well, then after passing vocational examinations – and receiving credit for courses completed in the 9th and 10th grades – students of vocational training schools may continue their studies in order to prepare for a secondary school final examination. School dropouts are given a new chance by school-based adult education, which today primarily has corrective purposes and serves to enhance adults' life perspectives.

Following the country's political and economic transition, the institutional system of primary education for adults significantly narrowed, due to difficulties in financing. In recent years, the number of institutions running adult education general school programmes (alongside other courses) has increased somewhat (in the 2004/2005 academic year there were 2766 people studying in 69 institutions). At secondary level, students of adult training programmes are enrolled mostly in programmes delivered in general secondary schools or vocational secondary schools. About 100,000 students take part in training annually, attending chiefly evening and correspondence courses. Recent years have seen an increase in the average age of participants in adult training, and, contrary to trends in prior years, younger generations are no longer dominant. It appears that the number of students in the adult age group of people above 25 years of age is growing, which is probably attributable to the fact that today younger people are much more likely than they were in the past to complete their secondary school studies in full-time education.

Labour market institutions and a wide array of civil organisations too have recently appeared with the aim of assisting people with low educational attainment levels, especially in the field of training leading to some type of secondary educational attainment. Successful programmes supported by the National Employment Public Foundation (e. g. transit employment programme) demonstrate that it is possible to operate programmes which reach this target group and which are able to provide participants with educational (and professional) qualifications.

4.4. Levels of public education

4.4.1. Pre-primary education (ISCED 0)

In pre-primary education, nurseries provide day-care services and professional care and counselling services for children under the age of 3. In nursery care, there are 8.4 places for 100 nursery-age children, basic care and additional services combined are used by 12–15% of the age group. The numbers of nursery places have dropped in recent years, while the number of children enrolled increased, producing an overall improvement in the utilization level of nurseries. Pre-school education catering for children over 3 years of age has a dual function: on the one hand it provides day care services for children, and on the other hand – as part of its public education role – it prepares them for school. The Act on Public Education requires 5-year-olds to attend a school preparation programme: children above 5 are obliged to participate in pre-school education for four hours a day. Education policy is flexible in approaching the school starting age: starting compulsory schooling is not exclusively driven by age, rather, by a combination of age and the child's maturity. As a result of flexible enrolment, the age band of pre-school education has widened, and the number of children attending pre-school institutions for 4 or 5 years (from age 3 to age 7 or 8) has increased. School maturity is certified by pre-school institutions, and in problematic cases, pre-school teachers may ask for assistance from the expert and rehabilitation committee. In Hungary, access to pre-school services is fairly good, even in international comparison: in 2003, participation of the relevant age group in pre-school education was full among 5-year-olds, while the rate among 3–4-year-olds was 81%. Access to pre-school education is rather uneven in different parts of the country. In some areas, demand for pre-school education exceeds available places. In many areas, children younger than 5 are refused admission due to overcrowding, affecting a total of about 5000 children annually. The number of pre-school education places is dropping. The law sets the average number of children per pre-school education group at 20, with a maximum size of 25, and group sizes may be exceeded by a maximum of 20%. Overcrowding did not cease to exist in pre-school institutions: the number of children per group is still high, 40% of groups having 21-25 children. The proportion of groups with less than 20 children is 30.1%, while 24.9% of groups are attended by more than 26 children.

Table 4.3. Basic data of pre-school institutions between 1990/91 and 2004/2005

Description 1990/
Ratio of children attending pre-school as a percentage of the 3 to 5-year-old population, % 85.5 86.5 87.8 86.4 87.8 86.9 86.8 1.015
Number of pre-school institutions (places of provision) 4,718 4,701 4,643 4,633 4,641 4,611 4,579 97.0
Number of places (thousands) 385.0 369.5 366.2 353.8 357.0 350.9 350.2 91.0
Number of pre-school teachers 33,635 32,235 31,653 32,327 31,550 31,392 30,633 91.0
Number of children attending pre-school (thousands) 391.1 376.1 366.9 342.3 331.7 327.5 326.0 83.3
Number of children per one hundred places 102 101 100 97 93 93 93 91.2
Number of groups 16,161 15,784 15,479 15,502 15,016 14,794 14,640 90.6
Number of children per group 24.4 24.0 23.7 22.8 22.1 22.1 22.3 91.4
Number of children per teacher 11.6 10.9 11.6 10.6 10.5 10.4 10.6 91.4

Source: Statistical Pocketbook of Hungary 1998; Statistical Yearbook of Hungary 1999, 2001 and 2004; MoE Statistical Handbook, Education Yearbook, volumes 2002/2003, 2003/2004, 2004/2005

Research data demonstrate that pre-school education services are least available precisely for those social groups that would need them most. It is mostly the children of mothers who receive social assistance and care for young children at home and the children of unemployed parents also staying at home who are excluded from pre-school education services. Children from families living in villages with many children and in adverse financial conditions, often also having learning difficulties and/or a disability, have below-average access to pre-school education services at a younger age.

4.4.2. General school education (ISCED 1, 2)

Even in the new millennium, Hungary's permanent demographic decrease continues to have fundamental influence on general school education,: the number of students in the 2004/2005 academic year was at 76% of that of 1990/91. The number of institutions and places of provision was the least affected by the drop in student numbers. Teacher numbers were slow and inflexible to react to the decrease. In fact, after the turn of the millennium, even a small increase was recorded, which, however, did not prove to be long-lasting, and in the 2004/2005 academic year, the number of teachers fell to 90% of the level of the early nineties. (See also Chapter 7.)

Chart 4.1. Basic data of general school education, full-time programmes (ISC 1, 2), 1990–2004 (1990=100%)

Source: MoE Statistical Handbook, Education Yearbook 2004/2005
Note: Including special needs training delivered in general schools. Student numbers relate to full-time programmes, the number of teachers, classes and classrooms relate to full-time and part-time adult education (data are available according to type of place of provision).

Due to the changes in student numbers, the average number of pupils per school fell from 245 to 240 between 2001/2002 and 2004/2005, and the average of students per class dropped below 20, and the average number of pupils per teacher is 10.2. Half of all schools have pupils numbers typically between 100-200. The proportion of very small schools, with less than 100 students, has decreased from one-fourth to one-fifth over the last 5 years. Between 2001 and 2004, the institutional network of general schools contracted by 4%, following the closure of 138 schools.

Enrolment, progression, further education

As a result of flexible enrolment, 6-year-olds accounted for 23% and 7-year-olds accounted for 68.5% of school starters in 2004/2005.

Characteristics of progression between individual grades may be examined through trends of grade repeating and dropout rates. Although no official statistics exist regarding dropout rates, comparing the number of students enrolled in the first and final grades of general schools reveals that the rate of dropping out over 8 years of study has almost reached 10% in recent years. Although a welcome development was that this rate fell to 8% in 2003/04, and to 6% in 2004/05, students already attending general secondary school programmes in grades 5 to 8 result in an additional 8% loss in student numbers for general schools, every year.

In general school education, the rate of grade repeaters is steadily between 2% and 3%. Grade repeating is more pronounced at the beginning of the first and second 4-year periods, i.e. in the 1st and 5th grades. Rules on repeating grades in 1 to 3 in primary education were tightened in 2005. Looking at the proportion of grade repeaters in a regional distribution, we see that their rate in disadvantaged regions is significantly higher than in other areas of the country.

Students exiting general school may continue their studies in any of three types of secondary institutions: in general secondary schools, in vocational training schools leading to a vocational qualification and in vocational secondary schools. In the 2004/2005 academic year, the combined proportion of students continuing their studies in secondary education was 76%: 39% of students leaving general school went on to a vocational secondary school offering a secondary school-leaving certificate, 36.5% to a general secondary school, and 23% to a vocational training school. (see also Chapter 9.)

4.4.3. Secondary education (ISCED 3)

The number of enrolled students increased by 3.4% between the academic years of 2001/2002 and 2004/2005. In recent years, the number of students in general secondary schools has grown at a slightly larger rate than that of students in vocational secondary schools, while there has been no significant change in the number of vocational training school students in this period. The number of students in secondary education was influenced by a vertical expansion in training. In 2004, students in the 13th and higher grades of vocational secondary schools already accounted for 25.9% of all vocational secondary school students, representing a jump of almost 2½ times over student numbers of the mid-nineties. Volume rates relating to vocational training schools appear to be becoming stable regarding full-time programmes. It seems that student groups potentially entering secondary school education leading to a secondary school-leaving certificate are already in secondary schools, extensive reserves of the expansion have been exhausted, a further increase in secondary school participation – without improving the quality of general school education – is not possible.

Table 4.4. Number of students studying in full-time secondary education, according to programme

Academic year General secondary school4 grades General secondary school with 8 and 6 and 4 grades Vocational secondary school Vocational training school** Special vocational training school*** Total (including junior general secondary school)
1960/61 108,258 47,269 136,453 737 292,717
1970/71 122,988 110,303 223,238 426 456,955
1980/81 89,400 113,838 166,740 1,119 371,097
1990/91 123,427 168,445 222,204 3,152 517,228
1994/95 140,352 158,957 196,965 185,751 5,546 547,219
1999/00 145,210 175,492 241,369 117,038 4,642 538,541
2000/01* 149,500 178,500 239,300 120,330 5,200 543,330
2001/02 154,383 182,267 238,622 123,951 6,594 551,434
2002/03 158,664 186,508 239,793 123,341 7,200 556,842
2003/04 162,216 190,447 247,622 123,457 8,147 569,673
2004/05 165,182 193,366 245,302 123,403 8,369 570,440

Source: MoE Statistical Handbook, calculations of Erika Garami, based on the Education Yearbook of 2004/2005
Note: Data include number of students following a special needs curriculum.
* Data for the 2000/2001 academic year are estimates of the Ministry of Education, based on a 98% survey and trends.
** Up to 2000, data for vocational training schools include combined figures for apprentice training schools, typing and shorthand, healthcare and other vocational training schools. In the new statistical system, only vocational training schools are recognised (former specialist vocational training schools no longer exist in their previous form).
*** Special vocational training schools included vocational training schools with a special needs curriculum (and corresponding forms of education) even in periods prior to 2000.

Since the early nineties, the change in the number of teachers has been more pronounced than that in student numbers. The increase in the number of teachers teaching full-time programmes in secondary education was largest in general secondary schools (57%), but it was significant also in vocational secondary schools (46%). In vocational training schools – in parallel with the drop in student numbers, albeit at a lower rate – the number of teachers too fell, dropping by 33% in the period under review. (See also Chapter 7.)

Due to the expansion of secondary school education, the proportion of mixed-profile institutions increased, in 2001, 43% of the institutions involved in secondary level education ran only a single secondary level programme, the majority offered two or, in some cases, more programmes. There was also a high proportion of education programmes of different levels offered together – involving mostly upper-secondary programmes (ISCED 3) and programmes leading to a secondary school-leaving certificate (ISCED 4). 90% of vocational training schools offer combined programmes, which is largely attributable to an apparently permanent process in which vocational training schools are ‘evolving into' vocational secondary schools. The advantage of mixed-profile institutions is that they allow students who did not enrol to learn a specific trade and many of whom chose the school as a second-best option to move between programmes. Most of such transitions occur between vocational secondary school training and vocational training school programmes in the 9th and 10th grades, affecting about 10% of students.

Enrolment and progression

Due to the competition that has evolved among schools, the admission procedure allowed under the Act on Public Education has become broadly used regardless of the education programme. Enrolment in secondary institutions takes place party through a standardised and centrally regulated procedure. However, the centrally organised written entrance examination does not form a compulsory part of that mechanism. In the 2005/2006 academic year, one-third of secondary schools organised such exams, and less than two-thirds of students applying for admission to secondary schools sat for the central written exam. The majority of secondary institutions organise their own entrance examinations alongside or instead of the central written exam. Apart from the central written exam, entrance mechanisms include institutions' own written or oral tests, and most places also take into consideration the marks in students' school leaving certificates from general school – weighing these factors in various ways.

Hungary's secondary level enrolment regime is exceptionally selective in international comparison. Among the admission criteria, much larger significance is attached to educational achievement and selection according to interest, and less to place of living. As regards the formation of classes, an international study revealed that in almost half of secondary schools children of similar abilities are grouped together, while the opposite approach is much less customary, i.e. aiming to create groups of children of different abilities.

Chart 4.2. Performance based enrolment and grouping policies

Source: ISUSS database, 2004

As secondary education has become the general choice of progression, a massive group of students has appeared mainly in vocational training schools (about 10-15% of the age group) who have serious learning difficulties and lack basic reading and numeracy skills necessary for progression, despite having completed their general school studies. A lot of work is needed to keep these students in secondary education. An especially serious problem is that as these students enter vocational training schools, they are not provided with appropriate pedagogical methods or teachers able to flexibly adapt to their level or preparedness. These students need training of a ‘second-chance' nature, rather than the continuation of traditional programmes.

4.5. The expected impact of the introduction of the two-level secondary school final examination

The two-level secondary school final examination, introduced in 2005, had an immediate impact on schools from the organisation of teaching aspect, but on the medium and longer term it is very likely to have an impact also on teaching methods and the process of preparing students and teachers, due to modernisation aspects of the new regime affecting educational content. Preparation for the higher level presented a challenge in the 11th and 12th grades in secondary schools. Almost all general secondary schools and 75-80% of vocational secondary schools offer preparation for compulsory examination subjects, while significant differences exist between the two school types regarding preparation for elective subjects at higher level.

Two-level secondary school final examinations are recognised by tertiary level institutions too, and that significantly increased this exam's relevance and prestige. Students do not need to sit for a separate tertiary education entrance examination, they can get admission to tertiary education solely on the basis of the marks they received in secondary school and on the basis of the results of their secondary school final examination. According to the original concept, a higher level examination would have been required for entry to tertiary education, but with the exception of foreign language programmes, tertiary level institutions did not require higher level exams, they only awarded extra points to students with such exams. Due to standardised requirements and examination conditions, and because secondary school final examinations are run (in part) as external examinations, chances for entry are expected to become more fair. (See also Chapters 5 and 8.)

4.6. Systems receiving students leaving secondary education

Increasing the ratio of people completing secondary level education is one of the European Union's benchmark to be achieved by 2010: according to the objective, at least 85% of 22-year-olds should have such an upper secondary educational attainment by 2010. In Hungary, the proportion of those with a secondary educational attainment is fairly high, at 83.3% in 2005. Upper-secondary education, however, also includes short term vocational training levels and not only those leading to a secondary school final certificate. 93,000 students sat for a secondary school final examination in 2004 in Hungary, 25% up from 1990, and 4% up from three years before. This means that in 2004, 57.3% of 18-year-olds had a secondary school final certificate. (See also Chapter 1.)

4.6.1. Vocational training after secondary school (ISCED 4, 5B)

In Hungary, vocational training after secondary school is not a clearly defined concept. Although from a formal aspect, vocational training after secondary school final examination is part of secondary school education, students view their secondary school final examination as a point to make a decision about progression. Accordingly, secondary level vocational training, including technician training, non-university higher vocational training and tertiary education are alternatives for each other.

With the introduction of the two-cycle training regime, a new option for progression is introduced in tertiary education, one with a training period nearly identical to that of vocational training after secondary school final examination, technician training, non-university higher vocational training and graduate education (BA). Modularity of individual training forms is yet unclear, and neither is resolved the issue how credit is awarded for courses completed in one training programme if a student transfers to another training programme.

4.6.2. Further education at tertiary level (ISCED 5A)

Together with the expansion in programmes on offer, the number of places and, in turn, student numbers have risen steadily, producing almost a four-fold increase. In that growth, the number of students in full-time education has tripled, while the number of those in evening, correspondence and distance education has increased about 7-fold on prior levels. In 1990, tertiary education offered less than half as many places as the number of students who passed their secondary school final examination in the same year (32,000 places for 68,000 students), in 1998, however, the two numbers were almost equal (90,000 places and 92,000 students), and since then the number of students starting their tertiary education (101,461 students in 2004 including full-time and non-full time programmes) has regularly exceeded the number of students acquiring a secondary school-leaving certificate in the same year (93,000 students including full-time and non-full time programmes). Naturally, one driver behind this trend is that due to demographic reasons the number of those acquiring a secondary school-leaving certificate has grown by very little since the mid-nineties, while their proportion in the corresponding age group has increased significantly. Data clearly forecast a major drop in the number of applicants over coming years. Accordingly, pressure from older generations on tertiary education is expected to drop, and as a result, tertiary level institutions may welcome an increasing proportion of new secondary school-leaving certificate holders. The bottleneck continues to be primarily in the field of state financed places in higher education, where admission is much more difficult than in paying programmes. In 2004, 68% of applications targeted these places and only 54% of those admitted started their studies in this programme form.

4.6.3. Transition from school to work

Hungary, too, has seen a change in and extension of the process of transition from school to work over the last decade. In parallel with the growth in years spent at school and as a consequence thereof, the proportion of young people not in education and not in the labour force has slightly decreased: both in 2000 and 2006, about 20% of Hungarian 20-24-year-olds were not in education or in the labour force, which is still very high in international comparison. Although the proportion of those in education grew between 2000 and 2003 in this age-group, the ratio of those in the labour force dropped in the same period, while the proportion of inactive and unemployed people remained unchanged. (See also Chapter 1.)

Table 4.5. The proportion of 20-24-year-olds not in education and not in the labour force in Hungary and in OECD countries, 2000 and 2003 (%)

In education In the labour force Unemployed Inactive Total
Hungary 2000 34.8 45.0 5.5 14.7 100.0
OECD 2000 37.2 46.5 6.9 9.4 100.0
Hungary 2003 40.5 39.6 6.4 13.5 100.0
OECD 2003 38.6 44.7 7.5 8.8 99.6

Source: Education at a Glance, 2003 and 2005.

4.7. Career guidance and counselling

In Hungary, data is available regarding the institutional background of career guidance and counselling, and we have only sporadic information about the detail of the services involved. The national system of career guidance had disintegrated as early as the first half of the eighties. The institutional network was transferred to counties and cities, and their activities (scope of service, staffing conditions) depend on the attitude and the financial means of the individual maintainer. Career guidance is offered mainly by larger universities in tertiary education to assist their graduating students in finding job. Vocational guidance was introduced as a subject in the programmes delivered in schools by support of the World Bank, and has since been present among the subjects in the frame curricula. The subject of vocational guidance was introduced in vocational training schools in two lessons a week, with the objective to assist students after the 10th grade to make a conscious choice of trade, and to provide help in subsequent career correction and in finding employment after acquiring a vocational qualification (job search). However, in half of the schools, students may get information only about trades offered in the school's training programme. The Vocational Training School Development Programme is currently aiming to improve guidance activities and to prepare teachers to provide such guidance. Teaching materials have been developed (including the development of a student exercise book and a teachers' manual to enhance self-knowledge skills, and the production of films introducing various trades, complete with teaching aids, to help student familiarise themselves with different careers), teachers have been trained, and multimedia materials have been developed to complement vocational guidance.

Career development and career building, approaches also recognising experiences acquired during particular activities and abilities transferable to other fields, are still rarely applied in Hungarian practice.

The legal framework aimed to assist career guidance is made up by various rules of law and decrees, no comprehensive regulation has been created in this field either. The Act on Public Education regulates school selection, while the employment act regulates issues related to finding employment, also setting out the functions of institutions assisting that activity. In general schools, some rather poorly-based career guidance is provided during the period of school switching/selection that occurs after the 8th grade, viewed as a universal transition step in the school system. Some secondary schools have used the Choices vocational guidance programme for over ten years.

The vocational guidance activity of the Public Employment Service (Állami Foglalkoztatási Szolgálat, ÁFSZ) also assists young people studying in public education or attending vocational training programmes to successfully enter the labour market. That function is provided partly by the labour centres and partly the Job Counselling Network organisation. These organisations operate across the country at every county seat and in larger cities. The National Career Information Centre aims to help provide information about potential paths leading to particular jobs and careers, using as a basis the largest available national database covering the entire training system.

4.8. Education and the economy

Opportunity for mediation between the two systems is present at multiple levels and in multiple ways. There are a number of laws governing the framework of the vocational training system. In passing those laws and in relation to issues affecting the operation and development of the vocational training system, the National Vocational Training Council (Országos Szakképzési Tanács, OSZT) – including representatives from employers, employees, central and local governments – has the right to make comments and recommendations. Its role mainly concerns school-based VET training. In the field of adult training, the National Council for Adult Education (Országos Felnőttképzési Tanács, OFkT) fulfils a similar function. In making decisions or agreements relating to specific areas, other bodies, involving representatives of both employees and employers, can express their opinions (such as the Adult Training Accreditation Body or the National Council for the Reconciliation of Interests, through its vocational training committee).

At regional level, following the approval of the act on vocational training contributions and support for training development, it is mainly regional development and training committees that participate in decision making regarding the distribution of financial resources. In the 28-member committees, half of the members are delegated by school maintainers and the educational sector, and half by economic actors (employers, employees, chambers).

One form of cooperation at school level is cooperation agreements, through which businesses may provide financial or material assistance to schools, and in return for their support they may formulate requirements regarding the content of education, so long as such requirements do not breach legal regulations. Another form of cooperation is businesses taking an active role in providing places for practical training. Despite the fact that the Act on Vocational Training of 1993 attached a key role to on-the-job training, this form of training gradually lost its significance in the nineties. Up to the end of the decade, use of on-the-job training decreased due to the crisis of factories providing the training background. This trend changed at the turn of the millennium, and now there is a balance in vocational training schools between school-based and on-the-job training. In programmes delivered by vocational secondary schools, almost three-quarters of students spend their entire practical training period at the school. Due to earlier changes in the regulation, theoretical education has received a larger role in training, entailing a sharp drop in the period of practical training: in the 9th and 10th grades the maximum time available for practical training is 4 classes a week. In vocational training grades, the opportunity for providing high-standard practical education is jeopardized by the fact that staffing conditions, too, are inadequate in practical training, and technical equipment used by vocational training schools are also rarely compatible with those used by businesses.

Employers participate in the delivery of practical examinations through chambers. The influence and role of the economy is significantly stronger in the field of adult training. Support is now granted to individuals, rather than to courses, which increases the control of the actors of the economy (employers and employees) to a certain extent. Career starters receive job-search assistance through mediation instruments connecting training and employment, such as the apprentice system, which the labour support system supports through financial means.

4.9. Adult learning

Another EU benchmark concerning Lisbon objectives is to increase the adult population's participation in life-long learning. Under the objective, the proportion of people participating in life-long learning shall reach 12.5% by 2010. In 2000, the average participation rate was 7.9%, and it grew to 10.8% by 2005. Figures show that Hungary – together with Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Portugal and Slovakia – is among countries where this participation rate is very low, less than 5%. The study prepared by the European Commission in cooperation with Eurostat on the basis of data from a labour force survey, examined participation in any kind of learning (formal school-based, non-formal non-school based and informal learning forms combined) over a 12-month period prior to the survey among the adult population aged 25-64. Hungary's shortfall from the EU average is dramatic, and older people's exceptionally low, almost non-existent, learning activity compared to EU norms seems especially alarming.

Chart 4.3. Rate of participation in learning according to age-group in Hungary compared to the average of the European Union, 2003

Source: Eurostat, Labour Force Survey

While 31% of 25-64-year-old Europeans with high educational attainment take part in some form of organised but non-school based learning programme, the corresponding rate among the Hungarian population is only 10%. While in the European Union a higher proportion of those in employment take part in training programmes, figures in Hungary show almost no difference between those in employment and the unemployed, and typically, the rate is low in both groups.

A special feature of participation in non-formal training in Hungary is an increased intensity measurable in working-hours across all groups reviewed. This implies the presence of policies that primarily target certain defined groups (e.g. the unemployed), rather than adults studying on their own volition. This puts Hungary in the group of countries where training takes up much of participants' time despite a low participation rate. That clearly implies that serious problems may exist not only in public education but also in adult education in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and equitability. Adult learning in Hungary is not based on pressure from legislation or employers, rather, participants view it primarily as an investment and expect a labour market return from it. The survey also reveals that many do not see a payback from learning, and thus they do not take part in it. (See also Chapter 1.)

Financial conditions concerning non-school based learning opportunities are strongly segmented. The system is made up by sub-systems that are separated without clear reason, which is also reflected in conditions for participation. Since 2003, 30% of the expenses of participation in accredited adult training programme can be written off from the tax base. Since 2003, state support has been provided to those participating in training leading to their first state-recognised vocational qualification, and to disabled adults participating in general, language or vocational training. In addition to the central budget, the other major funding source for training grants is the Labour Market Fund. This fund provides significant support to the unemployed. Unemployed is not required to contribute to the costs of programmes recommended by the labour centres, while grants may be secured on a case-by-case basis for approved courses (chosen by the individual). The state tax-policy assists participation in on-the-job training through employers, by typically giving preference to larger companies and their employees.

Hungary's lag in international comparison is largest in the field of participation in informal learning. While in the European Union, one-third of the population takes part in informal learning on average, that rate is lowest in Hungary among the EU-25 countries, at only 6%. Especially striking is the fact that while Hungary's rates regarding participation in formal and non-formal training do not show large difference compared to data of other Central European countries, participation in informal learning is especially low. Age and educational attainment also play an important role in participation in informal learning, the latter factor having a strong, significantly above-average impact on willingness to participate in learning.

4.10. Other sub-systems of public education

4.10.1. Special needs education (SEN)

Students with special education needs (SEN) may be categorised into three groups according to the extent of their disability. Most of those with a milder mental handicap study in schools or classes that follow a special curricula, or in separated special schools established to cater for their needs. Student numbers grew in the nineties, an increase pursuant to the steady growth in normative per-student grants provided for services for the disabled. In practice, special schools and classes are mainly used to segregate disadvantaged Roma students. According to estimates, 50-60% of students in such schools and classes are Roma. In recent years, legislation and programmes have aimed to promote integrated education of special needs students and to combat school segregation. Today, most children with milder disabilities are educated in an integrated manner, the proportion of children in special needs programmes is only 1.8% in pre-school institutions and 6.4% in general schools.

Education of severely disabled, handicapped children is chiefly provided in segregated institutions that were established earlier in larger cities. This institutional system accommodates 0.3% of the pre-school age group. Educational institutions are selected by the parents, based on specialist advice from an expert and rehabilitation committee which evaluates the child's learning ability, and from a committee performing expert and rehabilitation functions at national level. In the academic year of 2004/2005, 75% of pre-school students receiving special needs education took part in integrated education, the rate among general school students was 42.3%, and 83.5% among students in secondary institutions (See also Chapter 9.)

4.10.2. School education for national and ethnic minorities

In Hungary, education for national and ethnic minorities affects various minority groups. Pre-school institutions are maintained for six minorities with larger populations (Croat, German, Romanian, Serbian, Slovakian, Slovenian) and for some communities of very small populations (e.g. Greek, Rusyn, etc.) in two forms: in their ethnic language, or – for children who do not or only poorly speak their ethnic mother tongue – in Hungarian, while also teaching these children their ethnic language in a playful way. In the nineties, education for minorities significantly developed across all levels of education. The number of pre-school institutions and general schools offering programmes for ethnic minorities almost doubled (93% and 89%, respectively), and the number of secondary schools quadrupled between 1990 and 2004. The number of children in pre-school institutions grew by 40%, student numbers in general schools by 23.6%, and in secondary school by 41.3% over 1990 levels. At secondary level, programmes for ethnic minorities are chiefly offered in general secondary schools, and there is a dominance of bilingual institutions (64% of institutions, 72% of students).

4.10.3. Dormitories

The function of this institution is to provide an opportunity for attending school – and thereby for acquiring knowledge – to students, typically living in small villages, who do not have access to education at their place of residence and to those that do not have adequate conditions in the family necessary to pursue their studies, and to provide access for students to schools that offer programmes delivered in classes with low student numbers (special vocational training, arts, etc.) regardless of where they live in the country. According to the latest research, over 40% of dormitory residents are disadvantaged students.

The institutional network of dormitories has shown relative stability over the past ten years. The number of dormitories has dropped slightly, by 2%, compared to figures from four years ago.

The development of the institutional system has been helped by a number of factors in recent years. The amended definition of dormitories as set forth in the Act on Public Education and their newly defined functions helped restore the status of dormitories' counselling role and increase its significance. The National Dormitory Public Foundation sets directions for development by issuing calls for tenders, and it also provided funding with a view to overcome the essential infrastructural deficiencies of operation and to assist development. Two major central programmes aiming to assist disadvantaged students were launched, which also affected dormitories and which were matched with appropriate normative per-capita grants: the Arany János Programme for the Support of Gifted Students, now entering its sixth year of operation, reaching 3.7% of dormitory students, is playing an ever more significant role in talent rescuing and in increasing social mobility and the Arany János Dormitory Programme, reaching a smaller student population. (See also Chapter 9.)

4.10.4. Education not maintained by central/local government

Alongside local governments and state organisations, churches, foundations, business associations and private persons may engage in carrying out functions of public education. Private schools enjoy autonomy in their operation, i.e. they operate as legally independent institutions, they may choose the maintainer's organisational form and the form of management at their own discretion, yet the funding of their operation and their educational work are subject to state regulation. In the case that a pubic education agreement is concluded between the private institution and the local government, private institutions will contribute to the provision of local government functions, and thus they will receive grants from the local government as a supplement to the normative per-capita grants, which makes services free of charge for children in foundational institutions. (Section 8 of the Act on Public Education) Under the so-called ‘Vatican treaty,' schools maintained by the church receive the additional support from the central budget.

Denominational schools

Participation in denominational education quadrupled between 1992 and 2004. The increase is all the more remarkable as denominational schools, reorganised in the nineties, had to start their operation in a period characterised by falling student numbers: student numbers in general schools, for instance, fell by 24.3% between 1990 and 2004, and by 18% between 1992 and 2002. The establishment of denominational institutions was assisted by the needs of the society, by favourable financing and the opportunity for concluding public education agreements. Church participation in pre-school education is rather low (3%), while in general school education it is somewhat higher (5%). Figures show that denominational education focuses on the secondary level, in particular general secondary schools preparing students for higher education, where it accounts for 15% of all general secondary schools, 16% of all teachers working in general secondary schools, and 14% of all students. In vocational education, participation of denominational schools is quite low, accounting for only 2% of students in vocational secondary schools and for 2.4% of those in vocational training schools.

Schools operated by foundations

Enrolment data from foundational schools showed an increase across all levels of education. The scale of expansion was significant in the number of students attending vocational secondary school programmes. While the proportion of schools maintained by foundations and other maintainers accounted for less than 1.5% among general schools in 2004, in secondary education and across all secondary schools their participation reached 12.8%, and 8.3% at tertiary level. In contrast to denominational schools, however, it is not general education that is dominant in the horizontal structure of secondary education, rather, it is institutions offering vocational training. The presence of schools operated by foundations is especially determinant among vocational secondary schools (15%), but it is also significant among vocational training schools.


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