Special Report: Hungary May Sue EC Over Erasmus, Students call for Gov't-EU Deal

  • 13 Jan 2023 1:55 PM
  • Hungary Matters
Special Report: Hungary May Sue EC Over Erasmus, Students call for Gov't-EU Deal
In case the matter of Hungary’s Erasmus funding is not resolved, Hungary will file a lawsuit at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) over the resolution suspending the programme, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said.

This year’s Erasmus grants have already been approved and are not impacted by any council resolution or commission opinion, Gergely Gulyás said, adding that the decision applies to the 2024 grants.

Hungary wants to find a calm solution to the matter, he said, adding there may be little room for one given that the government had consulted with the EC and fulfilled its requests.

Meanwhile, Gulyás said the number of academic publications by universities that have adopted the foundational model increased by 18% over a single year.

Higher education admissions increased by 9% in 2021 and a further 7.5% in 2022 compared with 2020 despite there not having been more secondary school graduates in 2022 than in 2020, he said.

There are currently around 40,000 international students studying at Hungarian universities and colleges, up by 65% since 2013, he said.

Hungarian higher education institutions received applications from 11,300 international students between 2020 and 2021 despite the coronavirus pandemic, most of which went to universities run by foundations, Gulyás said.

Hungarian universities have also moved up significantly in international rankings, he said, noting that there were 11 institutions ranked in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings this year, compared with nine two years ago and seven four years ago.

Also, government funding for higher education is now double what it had been in 2020 despite the difficult economic situation, Gulyás said.

Asked about the conditions of the Erasmus programme, Gulyás said the government would have been prepared to accept any EU request not to have politicians serving on the boards of trustees of universities, but no such request had been made.

The EC’s only requirement regarding conflicts of interest was that government officials should not be involved in decisions on EU funds, he said.

The government is unable to recall anyone from university boards of trustees; rather, it can only draft conflict-of-interest rules that prohibit members of government and state secretaries from sitting on university boards, he added.

Gov to Cover Erasmus if EU Talks Fail

The government will cover students' 2024 Erasmus grants if it fails to reach an agreement with the EU on Erasmus funding for universities run by foundations, the head of the Prime Minister's Office said.

At a government press briefing, Gergely Gulyás called it “unacceptable” that universities run by foundations would become ineligible for funding as part of the EU’s Erasmus programme, under which students from Hungary can study abroad.

He said there were numerous examples of universities in western Europe that had active politicians sitting on their boards of trustees.

He said the matter was also “outrageous” because when Hungary reached an agreement with the European Commission, the government had followed the executive body’s rules on conflicts of interest.

Hungary would have been open to adopting even stricter rules, but Brussels did not require it, he added.
Gulyás said the EC had not put forward clear requirements regarding higher education institutions.

He said Tibor Navracsics, the regional development minister, will consult with the EU on the matter.

The government hopes “that this is just a misunderstanding and the matter can be resolved quickly”, he added. If no agreement is reached, Hungary will cover the costs of next year’s Erasmus grants, Gulyás said.

Student Federation Urges Gov't-EU Deal to Ensure Continued Funding Under Erasmus Program

“Higher education without the Erasmus programme is inconceivable,” the federation of Hungarian student governments (HÖOK) said on Wednesday, urging an early agreement between the Hungarian government and the European Union to ensure that Hungarian universities run by foundations should continue receiving EU funds under the programme in 2024.

A press report on Monday suggested that universities run by foundations would not receive fresh funding as part of the EU’s Erasmus programme — under which students from Hungary can study abroad — and Horizon Europe research and innovation schemes.

In a statement, HÖOK said Hungary’s foundation-based higher education model “allows room for criticism” but added that “students’ access to services such as exchange programmes cannot be subjected to disputes aimed at correcting defects of the system”.

Ensuring access to such opportunities is “an issue outside politics”, HÖOK said, insisting that “all players that can do something in the interest of a settlement should work hard to find a solution for students as soon as possible.”

HÖOK has contacted the European Students’ Union and will also approach the European Commission’s office in Budapest.

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