BRUSSELS – “Requiring a person to work for a certain number of years in Hungary after completing education could potentially be an obstacle to free movement of workers”, writes the European Commission in reply to an urgent letter from the European Students’ Union (ESU) on the new Hungarian Higher Education bill. The Commission letter is dated 22 March.
According to ESU, the new Hungarian education law allows for huge restrictions on the free movement of Hungarian students and is potentially an infringement on the free movement of workers and in particular Article 45 in the EU Treaty (TFEU). In the letter, sent on 9 February, ESU called upon the Commission to take action and immediately start a thorough investigation into the legality of such a law in the EU.
Allan Päll, Chair of ESU said: “This new decree says that Hungarian students who are fully or partially financed by the state should from now on sign a contract with the state, which obliges them to work for at least double the time of their studies in the territory of Hungary. “ This has to be fulfilled in twenty years after graduation. If they work less than the required years, they should pay back the whole costs of their studies with an interest rate
Commissioner Laszlo Andor, for Social Policy, Employment and Inclusion writes in the letter that the “Commission services are aware of these concerns about the new tertiary education reform in Hungary and are in the process of investigating (…).”
He added: “However, according to the EU law on free movement of workers (…) obstacles can be justified if they pursue a legitimate aim and are suitable to attain it and is proportionate to the aim pursued.” The Commission letter explains that in this context it will depend among other things how the system works, the objectives pursued and the justifications. The Hungarian law was adopted late last year, on 23 December 2011 despite the continuous protest from the Hungarian National Union of Students (HÖOK, ESU member).
Drastic decrease of funding
Päll concluded: “These so called “study contracts” limit the rights of graduates profoundly and could be seen as a modern enactment of serfdom. We are hoping for a positive outcome from the European Commission who will then have to take Hungary to the European Court of Justice.”
Drop in state-funded students
Next to the restriction of freedom of state-funded students, the number of state-funded students is also set to drop dramatically, by 40% -54.000 students in 2011 to 34.000 students in 2012- and in the case of several study fields (law, economy) state-funded places will only be accessible in Budapest.