The network of higher education institutions is quite extensive in proportion to the country’s terrain, population and the number of students enrolled in higher education, but, compared to other countries, it is of medium size. Between 2019 and 2021, the distribution of institutions by maintainers changed significantly. From 2019, the National Assembly established trust funds to which the state has entrusted the maintenance, governance and financial management of a number of public universities, so that they have become private institutions.
Higher education institutions can be categorised in three main types based on their maintainer.
The type that includes the largest number of institutions is the private higher educational institutions (24 universities, 10 universities of applied sciences and 24 colleges) Within this, the number of higher educational institutions maintained by trust funds is the most significant (16 universities and 5 universities of applied sciences). A significant number of church universities and colleges operate in Hungary (6 universities, 2 universities of applied sciences and 19 colleges). There are some public higher education institutions (5 universities and 1 college). (The detailed list of higher educational institutions by types can be found in Annex 1. of the Higher Education Act.)
The foundation and operation of non-state institutions is subject to the same input (quality) criteria as the foundation and operation of state institutions. Compliance is checked in the course of accreditation at the time of foundation. Institutions meeting the criteria are granted state recognition by the Parliament. Only institutions recognised by the state can provide higher education and issue higher educational degrees. The establishment and operation of non-state higher education institutions are regulated by the Higher Education Act and related regulations. Non-state institutions also receive state funding based on an agreement with the government. The government signed a financing agreement with all fund trusts for six years which, in addition to the amount of grant awarded each year, includes performance expectations and related target indicators.
The state grant provided for institutions maintained by the Roman Catholic Church is governed by a concordat concluded between Hungary and the Vatican. The Hungarian government has concluded similar agreements with other historical churches (the Protestant Church and the Israelite Church) for ensuring funding for their higher education institutions. Like in the case of church and private institutions, the financial support of state institutions is only partly cover the costs of operation, so this institutional group must also generate its own revenue.
Foreign higher education institutions may also operate in Hungary. In Hungary, a state-recognized foreign higher education institution established in an EEA state may only carry out teaching activities leading to a degree, if the training programme it intends to pursue in Hungary and the diploma issued at the end of the programme is considered a state-recognised higher educational degree in the EEA state in which it is established. Also, the right of the higher educational institution to educational activities leading to a qualification is laid down in a decision of the Educational Authority upon request. A foreign higher education institution from outside the European Economic Area may offer study programmes resulting in a degree if there is a bilateral agreement on the equivalence of higher education qualifications and degrees between the government of the state where the institution is established and that of Hungary. The agreement must state that the training provided in Hungary is equivalent to the training of Hungarian higher education institutions, the admission requirements of the training provided by it in Hungary are equivalent to the admission requirements of a state-recognized higher education institution providing training equivalent to that of the institution, and the Education Authority has approved its request for training activities resulting in a degree.
At present, there are 14 such institutions. According to the database of the Educational Authority, the countries of origin include: the USA, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Poland, Romania, China, and Thailand.
According to the Act on Higher Education, with regard to academic profile, there are universities (distinguishing between universities of applied sciences in addition to universities), and colleges (non-university higher education institutions). The main difference lies in capacities. Universities are higher education institutions authorised to provide at least eight Bachelor and six Master programmes, offer doctoral programmes and award doctoral degrees, provided that at least sixty percent of their teaching and research staff employed directly or on a public service employment basis have a doctoral degree, operate student research societies and are able to provide studies in foreign languages in some of the programmes. Universities are authorised to offer programmes in every educational cycle.
Universities of applied sciences are tertiary institutions with at least four Bachelor’s programmes and two Master’s programmes and with at least two dual trainings (if its accreditation includes engineering, IT, agriculture, the natural sciences or business studies), having at least 45% of their teaching and research staff employed directly or on a public service employment basis have a doctoral degree, operate student research societies and are capable of offering foreign language courses at some of the departments. The large former colleges have recently been transformed into universities of applied sciences.
Colleges are tertiary institutions having at least one-third of their teaching and research staff employed directly on a public service employment basis and have a doctoral degree. Colleges are entitled to operate student research societies. No differentiation is made by law but colleges and universities of applied sciences are usually more active in practical education due to historical reasons. Their portfolio mainly offers first-cycle programmes and shorter programmes and applied research. By contrast, universities usually offer more theoretically oriented degree courses; they have more Master programmes than colleges and are especially active in basic research.
While the organization and size of universities are diverse, colleges – with a few exceptions – are small institutions and the majority of them are theological colleges of different churches and religious communities.