Usually, when a country struggles with budget deficits, one of the first areas to suffer is taxpayer-assisted higher education. Thus, the fact that Hungary’s government has cut the budget of many of its major universities should not come as a surprise. What is surprising and disheartening is the enormous size by which next year’s university budgets are supposed to be cut (just as an example, the budget of Eötvös Loránd University or ELTE, the largest university in Hungary, is to lose 4.5 billion forints from its current budget of 19 billion forints a year).
And what is unimaginably shocking is the government’s brazen attempt to gut universities by mandating public employees working in universities, who have had the good luck of living beyond 62 years to retire.
Two cases it point: the University of Szeged and Budapest University of Technology and Economics. From the former, four hundred people may have to be fired next year. According to Dean Gábor Szabó, the situation is critical since at the Szeged University clinic, already there are shortages of doctors and nurses. The application of the law mandating the retirement of people over 62 may make it impossible to offer courses in fields requiring a high degree of specialization that older and more experienced educators have attained over the years. From the latter institution, up to two hundred instructors may be forced to retire. Tibor Szabó, the secretary general of the university, has stated that not only will it be very difficult to replace instructors with highly specialized skills and knowledge, but also the staff that would have to replace these retired public workers would cost significantly more. (http://index.hu/belfold/2013/02/02/kirugnak_tobb_szaz_egyetemi_alkalmazottat/)
One wonders what the intent may have been behind this new law. Was this law meant to ensure that institutions of higher learning would be purged of instructors educated under communism just as the judiciary was supposed to be purged of judges over the age of 62? Of course, age does not discriminate, so if this were the aim, the results would be to force currently right-wing 62-year-olds from their jobs as well. Then again, the Hungarian PM seems to have put a loophole in place whereby his office would be authorized to make exemptions on a case by case basis. Saving costs cannot be the aim since younger replacement workers cost much more–as Tibor Szabó pointed it out. Then what? The list of speculations on this question would be rather long and is but of tangential interest.
What matters now is that not only will lives be put at risk if highly skilled doctors are forced into retirement (see the example of the crucial work the Szeged Hospital clinic will be unable to perform), but also that the future of Hungary’s next generation of professionals will be jeopardized. It is a truism that highly industrialized societies remain competitive and functional only when they include a high percentage of people with specialized skills. In Hungary, too, universities, to a large extent, have been responsible for making this happen. With this new law of mandatory retirement at age 62, some of the most senior faculty members will lose their jobs immediately. As a result, training the next generation of professionals will be in serious danger.
Naturally, the most vocal opponents of this new law should be the Hungarians themselves. Doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, and all other professionals have a moral (and existential) obligation to raise their voices in solidarity with those over 62 slated to be pushed into forced retirement.
International scholars, too, should join their Hungarian counterparts in declaring with a loud voice their distaste of this type of policy, lest it become a trend elsewhere. To that effect, I urge all of those who would like to express their solidarity with Hungarian scholars to sign the petition below, which intends to make the Hungarian government change this law. Please share the petition on your Facebook account and tweet about it!