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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Branches of study

Hungary introduced the Bologna three-cycle degree structure in pilot projects in 2005, followed by the phased-in introduction of the Bachelor and later Masters Programmes (These mainly replaced the formal so called dual, traditional 4-, 5- or 6-year college and university programmes). Any higher education institution compatible with accreditation requirements is entitled to launch a Master programme. The length and structure of Master programmes are regulated by the Higher Education Act and related legal regulations.  There are 12 branches of study (with the following ECTS credits): agriculture [120], humanities [120], social sciences [120], IT [120], law [120], economics [120], engineering [90-120], medicine and health [90-120], teachers training [90]; sports [120], science [120] and arts [120].  (The National University of Public Service (NUPS) provides education in the field of Public Administration, National Protection and Military services [120] However, there is a separate law and a set of government decrees on the NUPS, its programmes and its operation.)

A typical Master programme lasts for 2 years and is of 120 ECTS credits but in some fields of study there are programmes lasting for 3 terms (one and a half years) with 90 ECTS or for 2 terms (1 year) with 60 ECTS. These require obtaining fewer credits because they are built on Bachelor programmes with a higher amount of credits. The programmes are included in the official list of degree programmes issued by the Minister responsible for higher education in a decree. In terms of outcomes, Master programmes belong to the second cycle of the qualifications framework developed for the European Higher Education Area and represents level 7 of the Hungarian Qualifications Framework (which is compliant with level 7 of the European Qualifications Framework, based on the Referencing Report of Hungary approved by the Advisory body of the EQF). These general outcomes (standards) as well as programme specific outcomes based in learning outcomes are regulated in an official ministerial communication taking the descriptor categories of the Hungarian Qualification Framework into account. Both the specific outcomes of the programmes and the programmes to be launched must be accredited. The accreditation procedure is mainly for checking whether the necessary resources are available for launching a programme. However, there are more and more exceptions to these (see in the Curriculum chapter)

There are no centrally defined regulations on the internal phases of the programmes. These are not typical of institutional training portfolios however, the framework regulation of the programmes defines some key elements of the qualifications (such as subject and science fields,) and allocates credit ranges to them in order to give guidance for programme planning. Furthermore, a legal act sets out that if, within a programme, there is an option for specialisation or a module which may lead to a separate vocational qualification, these modules or specialisations (szakirány) must also be subject of an accreditation procedure.

Admission requirements

The procedure, central organisation, publicising and registration of admission to Master programmes are the same as of Bachelor programmes. However, admission requirements are entirely different.

Pursuant to the Higher Education Act, only Bachelor degree holders can be admitted to Master programmes. However, additional admission requirements are set by the institutions themselves, provided that they apply the same requirements to all applicants (irrespective of where applicants have obtained their Bachelor degrees). Otherwise, institutions can select their own students.

Applicants are given scores based on their performance and extra scores may be granted for outstanding performance, disadvantaged or multiply disadvantaged status, disability and applicants with young children. All this and the admission requirements are specified in the internal regulations of institutions. Institutions have varying procedures ranging from considering the results of Bachelor studies to conducting written or oral examinations or aptitude tests. At the same time, given that there are many programmes on offer, among which the number of applicants is divided, and thus a significant proportion of the available master’s programmes are underrepresented, they strive to enrol as many students as possible.

Training and learning outcomes requirements (standards) specify the skills and competences in learning outcomes and their volume to be acquired in the first cycle, which also have a number of credits allocated to them. During the admission procedure, institutions have to check whether applicants to a Master programme graduating from dissimilar Bachelor programmes have acquired these competences. The greater the thematic distance between the fields of the bachelor and master programmes, the student more likely will not have the required knowledge and may be required to acquire it - either in parallel with or prior to the start of the master's program - but in a student legal relationship - in the framework of a so-called partial knowledge training. The admission procedure offers scope for the recognition of prior learning. This also leads to the development of masters programs more open or closed to other fields, which vary from institution to institution.

The minister responsible for Higher Education determines the number of state-funded places for each branches of study on the basis of the needs and capacity of institutions and also takes into account labour market trends.

Applicants can apply to several institutions and programmes ranking them in the order of their preferences on the application form. They will be admitted to the highest ranking programme of their list whose requirements they meet.

Like the enrolment process for bachelor and higher education vocational programmes, this procedure is managed centrally by the Educational Authority, also providing electronic administration. The score points and institutional capacity are calculated using a computer algorithm, with institutional consultations in several rounds.  The Educational Authority also records and manages official data.

There are currently no alternative access routes or enrolment methods.

There are no current data available from the institutions on the validation of previously obtained learning outcomes during the admission procedure. According to the regulations, at least the basic (bachelor) degree is required (or the college or university degree obtained in the previous dual education structure).


The regulatory framework of the training programmes is not institution-specific but rather focuses on the programmes. The minister responsible for Higher Education determines the exit requirements (expected outcomes) of the second cycle (in accordance with the HQF level 7). A regulation framework (Training and Learning Outcomes Requirements) is developed for each Master programme by higher education institutions indicating the relevant standards. Based on the above, the learning requirements and learning outcomes of a programme must be elaborated by the institution in cooperation with the stakeholders – with the prior approval of the Minister responsible for higher education. These learning requirements and learning outcomes contain the name and credit value of the programme, the exit requirements (in terms of learning outcomes), the main fields of studies to be taught, the specific requirements of the final thesis, foreign language requirements and traineeship requirements. The Hungarian Accreditation Committee and the Higher Education Planning Board gives its opinion on the draft Training and Learning Outcomes Requirements. Afterwards, the minister responsible for Higher Education publishes them in a decree and includes them in the Register of Tertiary Qualifications. This process is referred to as the Programme Creation Procedure. The Training and Learning Outcomes Requirements of a programme are applicable to all higher education institutions that wish to launch such a programme – they can develop the curriculum and programme documentation accordingly, with some room for manoeuvre provided by the legal framework. Institutions usually prefer to draft the framework of their programmes (adjusted to their own profile). This practice results in several programme variations in the Register of Tertiary Qualifications. However, well-defined, clear aspects are not available to filter these during the accreditation procedure. Therefore, the negotiations within the Hungarian Accreditation Committee shape the decisions on the content of the programmes.

Joint courses under Erasmus+ and its successor programmes are subject to a simplified procedure from 1 July 2020, without pre-accreditation and authorization. The same simplified procedure can be used to establish and start master's courses by those institutions that prove to be highly qualified during the institutional accreditation.

Institutions elaborate their curriculum based on the training and outcome requirements of the programme and the relevant legal framework. The law regulates the minimum number of contact hours per term (200) and the general rules of credit allocation (in accordance with the ECTS). The accreditation guidelines of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee specify the minimum requirements for resources (e.g. minimum number of full-time staff, staff with PhD title, capacity and infrastructure). These regulations have a significant impact on the curriculum and the actual implementation of degree programmes. The programme package (curriculum and programme documentation) is assessed by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee in a preliminary programme accreditation procedure. Afterwards, the Educational Authority registers the programme in the central register and the programme can be launched.

It is possible to offer degree programmes in a foreign language or develop degree programmes to be launched in a foreign language. Their number is growing thanks to an extensive governmental campaign and financial support for internationalising the higher education provision better. However, due to the known accreditation difficulties, dual/double degree courses are more common.

For the registered German minority of Hungary, a master programme with an academic profile (German language and literature) has also been established.

Teaching methods

There are no central (governmental/ministerial) guidelines on teaching methods and learning environment – and they are often not regulated at institutional level either.  With regard to the learning environment, accreditation requirements contain some infrastructural-technical criteria (concerning the availability of a library, computers, etc.). The most popular and traditional way of teaching is giving lectures for large audiences, organising seminars or lab practices for small groups of students. New teaching and learning management methods as well as innovative technology are used at the initiation of individual academic staff or teams of colleagues., However, according to research studies, they seem to be fragmented and isolated even within an institution.

The characteristics of organising degree courses are closely related to the forms of learning, e.g. sandwich courses and blended learning techniques are more often applied in case of part-time courses. It is part of the autonomy of academic staff to choose the teaching methods and learning management methods they use. Thus, usually there are no standardised, across-the-board approaches. Academic staff is also free to choose the teaching aids, textbooks and reference books used for teaching. However, during the preliminary programme accreditation procedure and the institutional accreditation, the list of teaching aids and bibliography are also reviewed. EU-funded projects have been launched for developing teaching methods, teacher training and using cutting-edge (usually digital) content with several institutions participating in the development and sharing the end product through a joint, public database.

As a consequence of crowded higher education, it is possible to measure the level of students’ knowledge after admission, to offer levelling courses, or to form groups of different levels from a given subject. According to the Higher Education Act, HE institutions are required to measure student competencies at the beginning and the end of their studies. As the framework and methodology of this measurement are not clear yet, actual measurement has only been made in a few institutions. A few institutions have been experimenting with the assessment of student competencies.

Talent support is receiving more and more focus in Master programmes. In the network of students’ scientific circles, talented students are involved in research activities and their achievements are presented within their university/college and nationwide. Students’ specialist colleges are self-governing associations based on self-education. There are currently about 130 registered students’ specialist colleges in Hungary. Knowledge gained in these forms of learning may be recognised in the ECTS credit system.

Progression of students

The central and institutional regulations do not make a difference between bachelor's and master’s degrees in terms of tracking students’ progression.

The legislators introduced certain measures to ensure faster progression and to reduce dropout rates and overextended studies. Such measures include defining the length of studies for full or partial state scholarships and the expulsion of students who do not complete their studies within the prescribed time frame, in which case they are also obliged to repay the state scholarships received. There is an increasing number of bottom-up initiatives focusing on this issue aiming at decreasing the number of drop-outs.

With regard to students’ rights and obligations, the act enables students to obtain the number of credits necessary for their degree in a shorter or longer time than the length of the programme they are enrolled in. Provisions concerning grants/scholarships for students do not have an adverse impact on students progressing slower than the average but aim at reducing unjustified overextended studies. The state-financed period for obtaining a given degree may be extended by a maximum of 2 terms. The higher education institution may extend the state-financed period of students with disabilities by a maximum of 4 terms. Furthermore, the law stipulates that institutions ensure that students are granted the opportunity to enrol for optional course units for up to five percent of the credits required for the award of the diploma and are offered a range of credit-earning course-units to select from at least twenty percent in excess of the total number of credits required. Furthermore, students have the opportunity of taking 10% more credits than the total number of prescribed credits of their study regime without having to pay extra tuition fee and of taking at least 10% of the required credits in a foreign language. After that, students can still continue their studies but at a fee-paying place.

Institutions declare in their Study and Examination Regulations that a student’s study duration should not be infinitely long. The usual regulations are as follows: a student may take a given subject in a maximum of three different semesters, and if he / she is unable to complete the subject at the third time, he/she will be dismissed for academic reasons. The number of possible exam attempts in a given subject is maximised (usually maximum 5-6 attempts). During his/her studies, the student can take active semesters (for which the student develops an individual study schedule, enrols in classes) or, in a limited number, passive semesters (when he/she does not take any classes and his/her student status is terminated). The regulations stipulate that the student must accumulate a total of at least 60 credits in the first two or four active semesters, and there are institutions where the prerequisite for continuing one’s studies is tied to a specified average academic achievement.

Underperforming students at state-funded places are transferred to fee-paying status. In line with the Act on Higher Education, the student is reclassified to a fee-paying status, if he/she exceeded the number of terms financed by the state (that is defined as the officially determined programme period plus two terms), he/she has failed to obtain at least 18 credits in two subsequent terms or he/she did not achieve the minimum level of performance (grade average) defined by the institution. Furthermore, if the student withdraws his/her statement that, within twenty years after acquisition of the degree, he/she will enter into and maintain employment or other work-related status resulting in social insurance with an employer under Hungarian jurisdiction or undertake entrepreneurship under Hungarian jurisdiction for a duration of the period during which he/she received (partial) state grant. The state-funded status of underperforming students is filled by fee-paying students with good academic performance.

Students can progress faster than the average and thus accomplish their studies in a shorter time than the usual length of the programme. After accomplishing the first term, it is also possible to suspend one’s studies for a maximum of two terms at one go; the maximum total length of suspension is regulated by the institutions. The proportion of students progressing slowly or dropping out is significant. The extent of dropping out and overextended studies are estimated at around 20%. The Educational Authority has started analysing data on student drop-out in the Higher Education Information System (FIR) and feedbacks them to institutions for further considerations.

Pursuant to the law, higher education institutions have to provide information and counselling for their students. Therefore, learning management services as well as study and career planning counselling are offered. The systematic introduction thereof has started but the degree of implementation varies from institution to institution.


Hungary has started the introduction of the graduate career tracking system (DPR). The Higher Education Act stipulates that higher education institutions participate in the centrally coordinated national career tracking system and provide data for the system. Several higher education institutions introduced their own career tracking system. DPR is carried out based on central and institutional surveys as well as on data gathered by linking various national databases (taxation, employment and social security) with higher education databases.

The introduction of the multi-cycle system constitutes a significant step towards improving employability. The education and output standards of a high proportion of Master programmes include obligatory traineeships. In addition, several institutions experienced that Master students are interested in practical knowledge and skills, which in many cases have led to the modification of programmes. At present, there are career-consulting services at nearly all universities and colleges. Career-consulting service providers develop networks and in-service trainings, offer personal advices, and organise job fairs and other events where students can meet employers.

Since September 2015, dual programmes have been offered in the fields of engineering, IT, agriculture, natural sciences and business studies in Masters Programmes also. The main features of these programmes were defined centrally and are based on the cooperation between higher education institutions and the business sector. After term-time, students gain work experience at the companies engaged in the cooperation under the guidance of a mentor. Chances are high to be offered a permanent position upon graduation. The government supports these cooperation programmes by providing targeted grants and tax benefits to the institutions and the involved companies. The Dual Training Council ensures the quality assurance and the assessment of the work-based learning component of dual trainings. Presently, institutions and enterprises offer a few dual Master programmes, and only a few students attend.

Student assessment

There is no policy on student assessment at either national or institutional level. Although some institutions have started developing such a policy, it is generally the competence of academic staff. Institutions only regulate conditions related to the degree thesis and the final exam.

Traditionally, oral examinations are held at the end of the terms in the exam periods but where the number of students is high, written examinations and in-process evaluations are also common. In case of small-group classes (seminars, laboratory practices), there is usually continuous assessment of students. The Act on Higher Education explicitly refers to the acknowledgement of non-formal and informal learning. At least one third of the credits required for the student to obtain his/her degree (diploma) must be obtained in the home institution, additional credits may come from a variety of sources (credit transfer and recognition as well as the validation of non-formal and informal learning). Research shows that institutions do not have policies for assessing and recognising non-formal and informal learning; recognition and evaluation of credits is subject to informal negotiations between professors and students.  A recent amendment to the Act requires institutions to introduce and use microcredentials.

The 5-point scale evaluation (5 – excellent, 4 – good, 3 – satisfactory, 2 – pass, 1 – fail) is the most common. This scale system is not applied on a relative scale (ensuring that each year about the same proportion of students achieve each score). In fact, the requirements are nearly the same each year; therefore, the evaluation is of absolute nature.


It is the state that defines and recognises degrees (including Masters Degrees) through the government and the Ministry responsible for higher education. Degrees can only be awarded by state recognised (accredited) higher education institutions, which acquire the right to issue diplomas following an accreditation procedure and state recognition.

Degree programmes are defined by qualification and outcomes requirements/standards issued in a ministerial decree. The Higher Education Act regulates the granting of degrees, the conditions to be fulfilled before a final examination and the main elements of final examinations. (may contain several elements defined by the institution: defence of the thesis, oral exam, written exam, work-based exam) and the members of the final examination committee (it has to have at least three members, at least two of them with a doctoral degree and at least one of them has to be external, i.e. not employed by the higher education institution). Higher education institutions regulate the way of registration for the final examination, the rules of organising and holding the final examination and the method of calculating the results. They administer the final examination and, based on the results, issue the official certificate (diploma) certifying the degree as well as a diploma supplement. The diploma includes the Hungarian Qualifications Framework (HuQF) and European Qualifications Framework (EQF) levels of the qualification. The diploma is a public document and has to be registered accordingly.