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Short-cycle higher education


7.2.First-cycle programmes

7.2.2Short-cycle higher education

Last update: 16 July 2024

Short-cycle Higher education is based on secondary education and provides a short-term vocational-oriented training in higher education (tertiary vocational programmes). Neither a significant programme offer nor a significant number of students characterizes this type of programme. Nearly 4% of HE students participate in these programmes, which do not give a HE qualification. This programme is typically at level 5 of the HuQF and EQF.

Branches of study

It is still unclear whether the Hungarian short-cycle programmes may be defined as first-cycle programmes of the Bologna system. These are practice-oriented higher education vocational programmes provided by higher education institutions, but they do not result in a higher education (Bachelor or Master) degree but a higher education vocational qualification. (ISCED 5B; HuQF level 5, which is compliant with level 5 of the European Qualifications Framework.). All programmes last for 4 terms (2 academic years) and the qualification obtained is recognised (30-90 ECTS) in a relevant Bachelor programme in the same field.

Qualifications are subject to the regulation of HE qualifications, and their standards are determined by the qualification and outcome requirements.

The classification of higher education vocational training programmes is based on their field of studies. The effective Register of Tertiary Qualifications includes the following 19 fields of training: Agriculture (4), IT (3), law (1), business (4), medical and health studies (1) arts (4) and engineering (2). Significantly fewer institutions offer higher education vocational training.

Admission requirements

The same rules are applicable to admission to short-cycle vocational programmes as to admission to Bachelor programmes. Passing the secondary school leaving examination is a precondition to admission. The higher education institution can make admission subject to rational health, professional and aptitude-related criteria which do not engender discrimination; passing health and aptitude tests or examinations during secondary school, as well as secondary school leaving examination results and vocational qualifications.

The proportion of new entrants awarded with state grant (full or partial) to short-cycle programmes is proclaimed by the minister responsible for higher education annually. It is then broken down to institutions. The higher education institution makes its decision on admission to higher education vocational training on the grounds of the performance of applicants, based on the standard national ranking. Applicants are ranked by a central computerised algorithm.

The general rules of application are identical to the application rules of Bachelor Programmes (secondary school leaving examination), furthermore, provisions on obtaining extra scores and priority status requirements are also the same.


Launching a short-cycle vocational programme is conditional on several requirements. The launch of the accreditation process is based on the preliminary approval of the minister responsible for higher education. The following documents must be attached to the accreditation request: opinions of the professional organisations, employers and the sectoral minister on the expected labour market impact; the opinion of the Chambers (economic, sectoral and professional), as well as the opinion of the Hungarian Higher Education Accreditation Committee and the Higher Education Planning Council. Based on the supporting opinions, the Educational Authority initiates the creation of the legal framework concerning the Qualification and outcome requirements of the programme and the admission of the programme to the Registry of Tertiary Vocational Qualifications. The programme accreditation process can only be launched after the admission to the Registry of Tertiary Vocational Qualifications.

The higher education institution makes a decision on the recognition of the obtained credits in a Bachelor Programme. However, the Act on Higher Education stipulates that at least 30 of the ECTS credits obtained during the higher education vocational training must be recognised in relevant Bachelor programmes.

A higher education institution can only launch a higher education vocational training programme, if it is registered by the Educational Authority linked with a Bachelor programme or an undivided Masters Programme, where prior learning can be recognised, in order to ensure further studies. The programmes are typically held in Hungarian.

Teaching methods

There are no central regulations or guidelines on teaching methods and learning environment – and they are often not regulated at institution level either. The content and examination requirements include provisions on the infrastructure and technology to be used (e.g. library, availability of computers etc.). It is traditions and established practices that teaching is most often based on. Evaluations of recent years focusing on the introduction of the multi-cycle education system have pointed out that more conscious and deeper changes are necessary in order to improve the quality of the first-cycle programmes and to achieve the objectives of the education. New teaching and learning management methods as well as innovative technology are used at the initiation of individual teachers or teams of teachers, however, according to research studies, they seem to be fragmented and isolated even within an institution. It is part of the autonomy of teachers to choose the teaching methods and learning management methods as well as teaching aids, textbooks and reference books. In recent years, EU funded projects have been launched for developing teaching methods, teacher trainings and using cutting-edge (digital) content. The relevant legal framework sets out that during the higher education vocational training traineeship placement must be provided for the duration of at least one term (14 weeks of work).

Progression of students

The progression and completion of studies are subject to the Higher Education Act in force. 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. The Hungarian Rectors’ Conference published references in 2016, aiming at decreasing the number of drop-outs.

As regards 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 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. The state funded status of underperforming students is filled by fee-paying students with good academic performance. As of 2022, higher education institutions are responsible for establishing the reclassification criteria previously regulated by law. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government stopped these status transfers in 2020 and 2021.

After accomplishing the first term, it is also possible to suspend one’s studies for a maximum of two terms at one go – and the maximum total length of suspension is regulated by the institutions. Consequently, the institution may give permission – in certain cases - to suspend studies for longer than two subsequent terms, or before performing the first term.


Since the aim of establishing short-cycle vocational programmes was to meet the needs of employers, these programmes contain more practice or in-company placement than other higher education programmes. The relevant government decree stipulates that a continuous practice-oriented training element of 30 credits (one term) must be provided in every higher education vocational training programme. Furthermore, it is also possible in this type of programme to enrol in a dual training programme that is based on the joint engagement of institutions and the business sector.

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 teachers, especially in smaller institutions. Institutions only regulate conditions related to degree thesis and 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 practice) there is usually continuous assessment of students.

According to the Act on Higher Education, at least one thirds of the credits required for the student to obtain their degree (diploma) must be obtained in their home institution, which gives more opportunities for the recognition of formal, non-formal and informal prior 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 teachers and students. However, the practice of validation within a regulated framework is not widespread.

The 5-point scale (5 – excellent, 4 – good, 3 – satisfactory, 2 – pass, 1 – fail) is the most common form of evaluation. 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 higher education vocational qualification) through the government and the Ministry responsible for higher education. The rules on awarding qualification is identical with the rules applicable for other higher educational programmes. Certificates of professional qualifications (that do not certify any higher education qualification or degree) can only be awarded by state-recognised (accredited) higher education institutions which acquire the right to issue qualifications following an accreditation procedure and state recognition. Higher education vocational programmes are defined by qualification and outcome requirements (standards) issued in a ministerial decree. After a successful vocational exam, the higher education institution issues the qualification certificate. For the issuing, content and registration of certificates the rules in connection with higher education diplomas must be applied. The certificate includes the Hungarian Qualifications Framework (HuQF) and European Qualifications Framework (EQF) levels of the qualification. A central database is maintained on the issued certificates.

Organisational variations

Higher education vocational training is offered on full-time, part-time (evening classes, distant learning forms and correspondence courses). However, the evening class and distant learning forms are not very popular, only a few candidates applied and were admitted. In contradiction, the correspondence form has proven to be very popular, just over a third of all students at this level of education attend correspondence courses. 

There are no specific rules in connection with the various forms of programme scheduling (full time, part time, etc.). They only serve the purpose of facilitating access to higher education by providing the option of working while studying. Also, there are no separate rules in connection with admission criteria, programme elements, and outcome standards. Pursuant to the regulations, in the case of part-time or distant learning forms of programmes, the duration of the obligatory traineeship is 240 hours, whereby prior work experience can be recognised.