Exclusive interview with president Tibor Gulyás, representative of all university students in Hungary.
Daily News Hungary: Mr. President, please, introduce your organization and tell us something about yourself
Gulyás: The HÖOK (National Union of Students in Hungary) is a representative organization named by the higher education law.
All the university students’ self-governments are members, in state, church and private institutions alike.
The organization is responsible for the representation of all the university students besides — or together with — the reconciliation of student governments. I have been in office as president since 2015. I was reelected in 2016, so I can lead this organization today. I studied political sciences at University of Pécs, where I also graduated from. Currently, I am a MBA student at Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
DNH: What did you achieve this year and what important changes occurred in the lives of the students?
Gulyás: I will try to pick some fields. First, as regards the past year, I would highlight the “National Dormitory Development Strategy,” which already has visible results in its zeroth phase. While we were not afraid to voice our doubts during the process, I am happy to have it, because no such strategy was introduced before, and I look forward to the future with hope.
We are having debates about the revision of the establishments in Budapest in order to make investments serve higher education better after the cancellation of the application for the Olympics.
The second point I would like to focus on is the group of changes in the system of the DiákHitel (governmental student loan). HÖOK organised a remarkable amount of talks with the leaders of DiákHitel in the last one and a half years in order to develop a new framework for the loan construction that helps university students. We were happy to see them in practice.
The third point that needs to be highlighted is the Mentorprogram, for which we have achieved a higher support in two phases.
Thanks to the increase of its popularity, more than 3000 students in need are helped by more than 300 peers this year.
We are constantly developing the training elements of the program, and this semester started out to be very promising.
I would like to emphasize our #Jövőkép Program as well, about which we are still speaking a lot. We went on a national tour last spring and visited Hungarian institutions and Hungarian institutions beyond the border as well, to learn about the problems emphasized by the students. #Jövőkép Program is the conclusion of this tour. We summarize the issues of higher education in 17+1 fields and try to find answers. We will ask for solutions at the upcoming meetings with the government (www.jovokep.hook.hu).
DNH: Which one of your international connections would you highlight? What is your relation like to other student representative organizations around the world?
Gulyás: Naturally, HÖOK is a member of the European Student’s Union (ESU), but we are proud of being the initiators of the establishment of a students’ V4 alliance. We are currently working on establishing an international association — a legal entity.
We are also represented in the European Youth Card Association (EYCA), we are even present in the managing board. These are ongoing relationships. If I take the three mentioned fields into consideration, there are monthly discussions in which we participate.
DNH: How many students are participating in higher education in Hungary? How many of them are from abroad and which countries do they come from?
Gulyás: 287,000 students are attending higher education right now, 28,000 of which come from abroad, from every corner of the world.
I do not know exactly the number of the countries they do come from, but I am aware — due to the YouDay event — that students from 100 countries can be found at the University of Debrecen only.
DNH: Which are the most popular universities among foreigner students?
Gulyás: Statistics show that the majority of international students study in Budapest, where Semmelweis University is the most popular among them. In the countryside, the universities of Debrecen, Pécs and Szeged are the most popular.
As you might see, our medical institutions are at the top, but, thanks to Stipendium Hungaricum and the other multi-sided international contracts, the number of foreign students in full-time education is increasing significantly.
DNH: What is it that attracts foreign students in a Hungarian university?
Gulyás: The reputation, fame of an institution, the quality of education, but also the atmosphere and the culture of the city — I think that it is a decisive factor, especially in the case of institutions in the countryside.
DNH: How does HÖOK contribute to the satisfaction of the students who do not speak Hungarian?
Gulyás: Student representatives mostly contribute to the everyday life of students from abroad on a local level. During touring the country, one can see some major developments in this field.
HÖOK intends to contribute to the everyday life of foreign students through a national peer network.
We are currently discussing this matter in the framework of Jövőkép Program.
Gulyás: Unfortunately, I cannot estimate the exact number, but it is certain that their country of origin and the skills acquired play a vital role in deciding how to proceed.
DNH: Do you think that Hungarian universities have a future? How should higher education change to get some international acknowledgement? What would be needed to attract more students?
Gulyás: We are defining our future today, it depends on us, university citizens, how it will escalate. I would like to emphasize one more thing about reputation:
everyone must work hard in his or her own place, own field of expertise on an international level in order to gain more fame.
We have to evaluate how we receive foreign students from another wide, horizontal view, and work harder and develop in every field, from education through student services to administration.
Photo: © Unger Tamás, HÖOK
Source: Daily News Hungary