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4. The Hungarian education system

The regular public education system in Hungary is composed of the general (or basic) school (általános iskola), the general secondary school (gimnázium), the vocational secondary school (szakközépiskola) and the vocational school (szakmunkásképző iskola). There also are some special short-term vocational schools (speciális szakiskola) that take two years1 (see Figure 4.1 on the next page). Pre-school programmes are provided in the nursery schools (also called kindergartens), which are compulsory from the age of 5.

Table 4.1
Students by type of institution and educational level, 1993/94

Age General school Special school for disabled children Vocational schools Secondary schools Adult and higher education Total Proportion of the
age group

5 4,463 551 5,014
6 109,334 1,610 110,944
7 122,044 2,566 124,610
8 119,578 3,540 123,118
9 118,955 3,650 122,605
10 119,923 3,954 2,669 126,546
11 126,157 4,010 1,966 132,133
12 102,025 4,388 4,780 111,193
13 138,549 4,509 2,866 145,924 98.9
14 26,670 4,471 42,020 73,502 146,663 94.3
15 8,284 3,805 60,443 79,962 1,813 154,307 93.3
16 1,153 2,348 63,442 76,859 8,400 152,202 87.4
17 1,053 21,317 75,626 15,031 113,027 62.4
18 323 9,487 21,196 27,628 58,634 30.3
19 76 7,267 3,125 32,669 43,137 25.7
20 36 393 27,995 28,424 18.9

Sources: Ministry of Culture and Education, Ministry of Labour, Statistical Yearbook of Hungary 1993, Central Statistical Office
Figure 4.1
The education system in Hungary

A. matriculation exam (school-leaving exam)
B. matriculation exam and vocational qualification
C. technician's certificate
D. skilled worker's qualification
E. lower level vocational qualification given by special short vocational school

Due to the flexible enrolment system, children are enrolled in general school between age 6 and 7. The general school is compulsory and consists of 8 grades, i.e. the lower primary level (grades 1-4) and the upper primary level (grades 5-8). The latter, in which subjects and not just basic skills are taught, can also be considered to be a lower secondary level.

Since compulsory education takes more than 8 years, the rest of it can be accomplished in one of the various types of secondary schools.

Vocational school (which is sometimes translated as skilled worker's school or apprentice school or vocational trade school) usually takes three years, and offers training in roughly 200 professions/trades. It gives a skilled worker's certificate which is valid all over the country, but does not grant a certificate of matriculation. Training is in a sandwich course: students usually spend one week in the school and one week in a workshop. The workshops were maintained mostly by firms in the 1980s. In the 1990s, due to the collapse of large-scale industry, the number of workshops located at various firms decreased drastically. Now workshop training takes place mostly in workshops run by the vocational schools themselves or/and by craftsmen.

The 4-5 year secondary vocational school offers a more general education, grants a certificate of matriculation and a skilled worker's certificate or technician's certificate, and prepares the students for further studies. This is one of the most popular forms of education in present-day Hungary. This kind of vocational education represents the school-based form, in which practical training is less dominant than in vocational schools, and in which more theoretical knowledge is offered. Practical training is usually provided in the workshops of the school.

The general secondary school is a 4-to-5-year educational institution providing general academic education. The general secondary school concludes with the matriculation exam, which is partly administered centrally, and partly by the schools themselves. The matriculation examination provides the students with a general qualification for higher education. The general secondary school has traditionally been the main gateways to universities.

4.1 Educational institutions and enrolment

4.1.1 Early childhood education

The pre-school system in Hungary, as in other countries of the region, is well developed. In 1994 in Hungary, according to the comparative data of the OECD, children attended nursery schools for 3.2 years on average, while in the OECD countries for 2.1 years. In Hungary, almost every 5-year-old child (99.2%) attended kindergarten, in the OECD countries only the 82%. 80% of the teachers in kindergartens have a college/university diploma. The number of groups in kindergartens has been around 16,000 for years, and the number of the kindergartens is above 4,700 (see Table 4.2). Companies also had a role to play in maintaining kindergartens (5% of the children had been in the companies' kindergartens), but most of them have been closed down in the past 5 years. At the same time, the number of kindergartens established by the private sector or the denominations was not more than 63 in 1993/94. Since the support from the state budget covers only a small part of the expenditure of kindergartens, local communities and municipalities must make big sacrifices in order to maintain them.

Table 4.2
The number of institutions, teachers and pupils in kindergartens, 1990-1995

1990/91 1993/94 1994/95 1995/96

Kindergartens 4,718 4,712 4,719 4,720
Places (thousands) 385.0 376.1 376.4 373.2
Teachers 33,635 32,957 33,007 32,320
Groups 16,055 15,952 16,072 15,813
Children at the nursery schools (thousands) 391.1 397.2 396.2 399.3
Proportion of the age group 84.9 86.6 86.3 87.2
Children/group 24.4 24.9 24.7 25.3
Teachers/group 2.09 2.07 2.05 2.04

Source: Hungarian Statistical Pocketbook '95, Central Statistical Office

The number of children exceeds the number of places in kindergartens every year, which means that demand for kindergarten is higher than supply. The number of places does not follow the demand, since it is highly determined by the financial position of the maintainer. This might cause tensions in the future.

4.1.2 Basic education

The main institution for basic education is the 8-grade general school, which contains the 4-year lower primary and the 4-year upper primary, or lower secondary level. Although the number of pupils at general schools has been decreasing, the number of schools has constantly increased since the late 1980s. The number of teachers decreased slightly between 1989 and 1992, but then, due to the reduction of compulsory lessons and to an educational policy that held out the possibility of a centrally financed salary system, their number began to rise again. The effects of the rapidly decreasing number of pupils and of the cut in the budget could be perceived for the first time in the school-year of 1995/1996, when not only the number of teachers, but that of the schools began to diminish (see Figure 4.2 and Table 4.3). The number of classes also decreased, so today there are fewer and fewer classes in the schools, and the size of general schools are smaller now than some years ago.

Figure 4.2
Variation of basic education indicators, 1985-1994

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Hungary, Central Statistical Office
Table 4.3
The number of schools, teachers and pupils in general schools, 1985-1995

Number of schools Number of classrooms Number of classes Number of teachers Number of pupils

1985/86 3,546 43,800 48,610 88,066 129,7818
1986/87 3,540 44,597 49,213 89,611 129,9455
1987/88 3,540 45,409 49,622 90,925 127,7257
1988/89 3,526 46,045 49,509 90,620 124,2672
1989/90 3,527 46,046 49,112 90,602 118,3573
1990/91 3,548 46,580 48,729 90,511 113,0656
1991/92 3,641 47,121 48,497 89,276 108,1213
1992/93 3,717 47,594 48,330 88,917 104,4164
1993/94 3,771 48,148 47,676 89,655 100,9416
1994/95 3,814 48,677 47,578 89,939 98,5291
1995/96 3,809 48,615 46,425 86,891 97,4800

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Hungary, Central Statistical Office

The increase in the number of schools and classrooms can be attributed both to the endeavours of the local municipalities to make use of their autonomy and to have their own schools and to the private sector, which strengthened after the abolition of the state monopoly in education. 94% of the general schools are maintained by the local municipalities. The shrinking size of general schools might cause efficiency problems, since smaller schools are relatively more expensive. 62.8% of the general schools have less than 16 classes, half of the schools are attended by less than 200 pupils, more than 25% of them have less than 100 pupils (see Table 4.4). 18% of the total number of pupils are taught in small schools (having less than 200 pupils). Small schools are typical of the villages but they can also be found in towns.

Table 4.4
Features of general schools, 1993/94

Number of pupils in the school Number of schools Number of pupils Number of classes Number of merged classes Number of teachers Pupils/teacher ratio Pupils/class ratio

-20 241 3,147 298 90.9 422 7.5 10.6
21-60 422 15,500 1,152 45.0 1,646 9.4 13.5
61-100 313 25,307 1,943 8.2 2,959 8.6 13.0
101-200 901 133,508 7,394 2.8 12,993 10.3 18.1
201-300 489 119,787 6,052 0.2 10,935 11.0 19.8
301-500 775 305,077 13,801 0.1 26,962 11.3 22.1
501-1000 619 394,118 16,528 0.0 32,764 12.1 23.8
1001- 11 12,972 508 0.0 994 13.1 25.5
Total 3,772 1,009,416 47,676 2.1 89,655 11.3 21.2

Source: Statistics of the Ministry of Culture and Education

In the villages with less than 500 inhabitants, there are on average 51 pupils at general schools. Schools in small villages have serious difficulties, and that is both a financial and a structural problem since the decline in the number of grades (see below) at general schools might create a new division line in the vertical structure of primary and secondary education. Due to the cut in the budget, more and more municipalities have been forced from 1995/1996 to maintain their schools in association with other municipalities, or to close down or merge their schools, and to dismiss teachers.

The Act on Education of 1993 defined the general school as an institution of basic education having 10 grades. The Amendment of the Act on Education passed in 1996 provides that the main type of basic education is the 8-year general school. It acknowledges other versions as well. Indeed, a considerable proportion (more than 20% of the general schools, i.e. 804 schools in 1993) have less than 8 grades. Most of them (380 schools in 1993) function as a primary school with 4 grades, but, interestingly, there are a lot of schools with 1-3 or 5-7 grades. In 1993, 5% of the pupils attended schools with less than 8 grades (see Table 4.5). The high number of general schools with less than 8 grades indicates the adjustment of the settlements to the new conditions. The communities maintain as many classes as is reasonable.

Table 4.5
Number of general schools, grades that functioned, and their pupils in 1993/94

Grades Institutions Pupils Pupils/class Pupils/teacher

Number % Number %

1 57 1.5 2,021 0.2 42.1 32.1
2 128 3.4 6,947 0.7 41.4 31.7
3 156 4.1 5,520 0.6 21.0 16.1
4 380 10.1 18,485 1.8 16.5 10.6
5 17 4.5 1,683 0.2 16.4 9.4
6 35 9.3 5,103 0.5 17.0 9.9
7 31 8.2 3,688 0.4 14.0 8.7
8 2968 78.9 965,969 95.6 21.1 11.2
Total 3772 100.0 1,009,416 100.0 21.0 11.3

Source: Statistics of the Ministry of Culture and Education

There also are some general schools with over 8 grades, i.e. 10 grades, but their number is low, and the two upper classes often function as short vocational school grades.

4.1.3 Secondary education

In the present, fast-changing education system it is difficult to give a precise definition of secondary education in Hungary. Traditionally, those institutions are defined as of secondary level which admit students who have finished general school. This level is often taken for the upper secondary level in Western European countries. Secondary education is divided into general education and vocational education. The general academic type of secondary education is given by the general secondary school (gimnázium) preparing the students for the matriculation exam (school-leaving exam). Nowadays this type of secondary school embraces different forms both in terms of the duration (8, 6, 5 or 4 years) and of educational content. The main task of the gimnázium is to prepare students for higher education.

In vocational education a distinction must be made between vocational schools that offer an opportunity to take a matriculation exam and those that do not. The vocational secondary school (szakközépiskola) prepares students for the matriculation exam and offers vocational education and training. It has three types:

1. 5-year vocational secondary school for the education of technicians.
2. Previously 4 years long, now regularly 5 years long vocational secondary school training students for the service sector.
3. 4 years long vocational secondary school offering a matriculation examination as well as a skilled worker's certificate.

Table 4.6 shows the number of students at secondary schools in 1990 and in 1995.

Table 4.6
Students at full-time secondary education by type of secondary schools, 1990 and 1995

Type of secondary school Number of students Female %

1990/91 1995/96 1995

General secondary school 123,427 140,884 64.4
Vocational secondary school 168,445 208,415 52.1
   industrial, technical 76,042 90,533 21.9
   agricultural 15,568 18,416 39.9
   economic 31,799 42,553 78.9
   commercial 10,339 16,735 77.3
   catering trade 5,098 8,007 56.7
   transport, postal 4,756 5,548 77.4
   sanitary 16,928 16,728 94.6
   nursery school teacher* 4,510 714 100.0
   art 2,495 3,612 61.8
   other 910 5,569 87.6
Total 291,872 349,299 57.6

* The Act on Education '93 terminated the education of nursery school teachers on the secondary level.
Source: Statistical Pocketbook '95, Central Statistical Office

The main form of secondary vocational education that does not prepare students for the matriculation examination is the 3 years long vocational school. Although the enrolment rate into this school has sharply decreased since the beginning of the early 1990s, a considerable part of the students who leave general school are admitted to this type of secondary school (see Table 4.7).

Table 4.7
Apprentices of vocational schools by sectors, 1990, 1993-1995

Sectors 1990/91 1993/94 1994/95 Female % 1995/96

Total 209,371 174,187 163,330 34 154,295
Industry and construction 162,123 131,278 120,166 36 109,835
Agriculture 9,676 6,990 6,453 44 6,101
Trade 25,679 16,109 13,601 74 13,544

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Hungary, Central Statistical Office

The special short vocational school which takes two years is a remarkable phenomenon that has given rise to much controversy. This type of school, originally established for disabled children, has also admitted non-disabled children since 1990. The main task of the special vocational school for non-disabled children has been to channel the surplus of the baby-boom generation into secondary education. Some educationalists regard it as a temporary institution that gradually disappear, and some consider it a part of the education system to stay. According to a survey made in these schools in 1993, most students are girls coming from disadvantaged families. Many of them cannot find a job after leaving school. Most of them were low achievers in general school, therefore they were not admitted to general secondary school, and, as for vocational education, most of the curricula offered are preferred by boys. The number of such schools multiplied 15 times, i.e. from 16 in 1990 to 239 in 1995, and the number of students multiplied 20 times, i.e. from 684 in 1990 to 13,984 in 1995. Although the long-term objective of educational policy is to increase the number of students who attend secondary schools which offer the matriculation examination, this type of short vocational school seems to be a lasting form of secondary education for a certain social group.

Hungary's enrolment ratio in secondary education, as compared with international data, seems to be average. Nevertheless, the enrolment ratio of the 17-18-year-old youngsters into upper secondary education is quite low, compared with the OECD countries (see Table 4.8).

Table 4.8
Net enrolment in all public and private secondary schools (full-time, 1994)

Country Net enrolment rates by single year of age (in %)

15 16 17 18 19

United States 97.1 95.4 85.9 61.2 45.4
Japan 99.8 96.4 93.4 - -
Denmark 98.0 93.7 81.0 69.6 53.2
France 97.8 96.1 92.2 84.1 68.6
Germany 98.3 96.3 92.5 85.2 65.8
Greece 81.3 81.6 57.0 58.7 52.6
Netherlands 98.9 97.5 90.6 79.8 67.3
Spain 94.4 81.9 74.5 62.8 52.2
United Kingdom 98.7 87.1 73.6 52.7 43.9
Sweden 96.6 96.2 94.8 82.7 34.3
Turkey 46.2 40.9 24.2 17.8 17.1
OECD MEAN 92.8 87.5 78.3 64.6 47.1
Czech Republic 98.3 88.0 61.0 35.6 22.9
Hungary 91.9 86.1 70.2 43.1 28.4

Source: Education at a Glance, OECD, 1996

In 1994, 68% of the secondary educational institutes were maintained by local municipalities, 24% by the county or central authority, and 8% by a Church or by a foundation.

In secondary education, as in basic education, the past few years were characterised by a dynamic growth of institutions. Between 1988 and 1995, the number of general secondary schools increased by 43%, the number of mixed schools (with general secondary as well as vocational secondary classes) grew by 97%, the number of vocational secondary schools increased by 20%, the number of short vocational schools went up by 13% (see Figure 4.3).

Figure 4.3
Number of institutions of secondary education by type, 1985-1995 (1985=100%)

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Hungary, Central Statistical Office

The expansion of secondary schools preparing students for the matriculation exam is characteristic of the countries of Central Europe. It is however a typically Hungarian feature that expansion is the most marked among the vocational secondary schools (see Figure 4.4). One reason for this is that due to the development of the 6 and 8 years long general secondary schools or classes, the number of places at general secondary schools for the 14-year-old students has decreased. For the better students who fail to enter `gimnázium', the vocational secondary school operates as a substitute. At the same time, as a consequence of major investments, secondary vocational schools offer not only an advantageous position in the labour market, but challenge general secondary schools in preparing students to higher education.

Figure 4.4
Number of pupils in secondary education by type of institutions, 1985-1994 (1985=100%)

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Hungary, Central Statistical Office

4.2 Higher education

The number of applicants to higher educational institutions doubled in the past 5 years, from 50,000 to about 100,000 (taking both full-time and part-time education into account).The participation rate in higher education is low since, considering all types and levels of higher education (including post-secondary education), 15% of the 18-22-year-olds are in higher education. At the same time, the drop-out rate is low. There is no substantial mechanism of selection, therefore the ratio of graduates per 100,000 inhabitants is relatively high. Hungarian higher education typically has two sectors, longer universities and shorter, rather practice-oriented colleges. The post-secondary coursesĹwhose number is growing and which are usually expensiveĹalso widen the supply in tertiary education.

There are three ways of entering higher education. In the first case, the applicants are evaluated only on the basis of their achievements in secondary education. In the second case, the applicants must pass an entrance examination and then both the result of the examination and their achievement in the secondary education institution are taken into consideration. The third case offers a new opportunity: applicants attend a so-called 0 grade, and they may be admitted a year later on the basis of their achievements at this grade.

It is planned to introduce two levels of the matriculation examination. An advanced one is meant for students who intend to continue their studies, and another one is for those who do not want to proceed to higher education.

Table 4.10 shows the number of institutions, students and professors in higher education between 1990 and 1995.

Table 4.10
Higher education, 1990-1995

1990/91 1993/94 1994/95 1995/96

Institutions 77 91 91 90
Professors 17,302 18 687 19 103 18 098
Full-time students, thousands 76.6 103.7 116.4 129.5
Freshmen, thousands 22.7 35.0 37.9 42.4
Female % 48.8 51.9 51.1 52.2
Students/professor 4.4 5.5 6.1 7.2
Part-time students, thousands 25.8 30.2 38.3 50.0

Source: Statistical Pocketbook '95, Central Statistical Office

In spite of the expansion of higher education, only 40% of the applicants have been admitted for years (see Table 4.11). This means that the increasing number of the openings at higher education (which has doubled since 1986) only helped preserve the admission rate during the period when the baby-boom generation sought to enter university.

Table 4.11
Number of applicants and of the admitted students in full-time higher education, 1970, 1980, 1986-1995

Number of applicants Number of admitted students Proportion of students
admitted among applicants

1970 30,536 12,017 39.4%
1980 33,339 14,796 44.4%
1986 42,259 15,135 35.8%
1987 43,884 14,931 34.0%
1988 46,084 15,609 33.9%
1989 44,138 15,420 34.9%
1990 46,767 16,818 36.0%
1991 48,911 20,338 41.6%
1992 59,119 24,022 40.6%
1993 71,741 28,217 39.2%
1994 79,378 30,995 39.0%
1995 86,194 33,975 39.4%

Source: Report on Public Education '95, National Institute of Public Education

Among the applicants there are many more general secondary school graduates than vocational secondary school graduates. In 1994, 74% of students completing general secondary schools applied for admission to higher education, while this proportion among students completing secondary vocational school was 36% (see Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6
Proportion of applicants to higher education among the matriculants by type of the secondary school, 1990-1994

Source: Report on Public Education '95, National Institute of Public Education, 1996

The position of secondary vocational school has improved as compared with general secondary school, since in 1990 the proportion of students graduating from general secondary education among the admitted applicants was 71%, the rate of those completing vocational secondary school was 27%. These rates in 1994 were 63.5% and 33%, respectively. The trends above indicate that, due to the reform in vocational secondary education, the two types of secondary school are converging, which creates a larger pool for higher education. Students graduating from institutions of vocational education prefer shorter technical colleges, while those finishing general secondary education traditionally apply for admission to university.

The number of applicants in the most popular fields is usually much higher than what the supply allows. The number of applicants for the universities of arts and law is four times higher, and there are twice as many applicants to the universities of economics and medicine than the number of places. At the same time, technical or agricultural colleges can admit all applicants.

4.3 Private education

The emergence of schools maintained by others than the state or the municipalities has been made possible by the amendment in 1990 of the Education Act of 1985. As a result, more and more private institutions diversified the supply during the nineties (see Table 4.9).

Table 4.9
The number of private educational institutions, 1992-1995

1992/93 1993/94 1994/95 1995/96

   Nursery school 22 28 36 43
   General school 58 94 110 131
   Special institute for the disabled 3 4 5 3
   Special short vocational school 2 5 8 6
   Short vocational school 1 2 1 3
   Secondary school 33 42 48 52
   of which general secondary school 31 38 44 51
   University, college 26 28 28 28

   Nursery school 26 35 43 71
   General school 25 24 33 47
   Special institute for the disabled 2 7 6 6
   Special short vocational school 8 9 11 15
   Short vocational school 13 12 14 18
   Secondary school 19 23 30 52
   of which general secondary school 13 14 13 26
   University, college 3 4 4 4

Source: Hungarian Statistical Pocketbook, 1995, Central Statistical Office

The proportion of private and denominational educational institutions in the field of pre-school, basic and vocational education remained relatively low. Approximately 1-3% of the institutions, students and teachers can be found in the private sector at these levels (see Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5
Proportion of the number of educational institutes, pupils and teachers in the private sector compared with the entire educational system, 1995

Source: Statistical Yearbook of Hungary, 1996, Central Statistical Office

The most preferred types of educational institutions in the private sector are general secondary schools and higher educational institutions. 18% of the general secondary schools and 38% of higher educational institutions are denominational. These institutions are relatively small, with a student/teacher ratio under the average. As to general secondary education, 10% of the total number of students and teachers are in denominational schools, and as to higher education, 5 to 7% of the total number of students and educators can be found in the denominational institutions. General secondary schools and higher educational institutions are favoured by foundations as well as by individuals. Nine per cent the general secondary schools are maintained by foundations, and 2% of all students attend them. This proportion is 4% each in the case of higher education. The private sector is willing to invest into the prestigious field of education. This is particularly true for the Churches. It has reclaimed its former properties and has very often re-established the old type of 8 years long gimnázium. In 1994, the Ministry of Culture and Education signed an agreement with the Churches on public education. According to this agreement, they are entitled to state support if they provide public provision in education, but they are not allowed to request tuition fee.


A honlapon található adatbázisban lévő tanulmányok, egyéb szellemi termékek, illetve szerzői művek (a továbbiakban: művek) jogtulajdonosa az Oktatáskutató és Fejlesztő Intézet. A jogtulajdonos egyértelmű forrásmegjelölés mellett felhasználást enged a művekkel kapcsolatban oktatási, tudományos, kulturális célból. A jogtulajdonos a művek elektronikus továbbhasznosítását előzetes írásbeli engedélyéhez köti. A jogtulajdonos a művekkel kapcsolatos anyagi haszonszerzést kifejezetten megtiltja.