Data journalism

Hungarian university professors earn extremely low salaries by international standards

It has long been a problem that teachers’ salaries in Hungary are not very high, and the same is true in higher education. But not only compared to other, Hungarian salaries: the amount that university teachers in Hungary can take home each month is also very low by international standards: we are among the lowest paid countries, together with Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria, both for junior assistant professors and for full professors with several years of experience.

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At the end of July, we wrote about the situation of university teachers in Atlatszo. It turned out that besides the problem of low wages, in several Hungarian universities (40% of universities to be precise) it is also common practice to employ lecturers without compensation, i.e. for free. According to the data provided by 28 universities, more than 2000 teachers are involved.

This time, we wanted to know what are the wages in higher education in other countries and where is Hungary in that ranking.

Guaranteed gross monthly salary for teachers in higher education

Hungary at the bottom of the list

According to data from the Eurydice network, which operates under the auspices of the European Commission, the average gross monthly salary of university teachers in 2019 ranged between HUF 222 000 and HUF 1 300 000 in EU countries. As in Hungary, university teachers in other countries also fall into different salary categories according to their job title – assistant professors, for example, can take home much less money than associate professors and professors who have been working for several years. In some countries, like ours, salaries are regulated centrally, while in others it is up to universities to decide how much to pay their lecturers.

We looked at how salaries vary across the 27 EU Member States and in some other countries, and how much a junior lecturer or a teacher with many years’ experience at the top end of the salary scale can take home.

In our country, the data show that, at the current euro exchange rate, a teaching assistant earns €615 gross and a university lecturer roughly €1500 gross. This puts Hungary clearly at the bottom of the list.

Gross monthly salary of junior assisstant professors

The situation is only worse in Bulgaria for university full professors, who have been in the profession for many years, but Romania and Slovakia also pay low wages in this position.

In all four countries, professors can take home less than €1200 (435,000 HUF) gross on average, and junior assisstant professors at the beginning of their teaching carreer earn less than €900 (roughly 325,000 ft). By comparison, the average in EU Member States is €5,395, compared with €2,400 in the Visegrad Four. If we look at the salaries of career starters, we are talking about €2087 and €974 respectively.

Gross monthly salary of university full professors

Unsurprisingly, the best places to work in higher education are Switzerland and the United States, with the Netherlands ranking highest among EU Member States. In all three countries, a professor can bring home an average of more than €10,000 (more than €3 million) a month. For early career teachers (junior assisstant professors), the situation is slightly different, with Norway, Denmark and the US making the top 3.

It is revealing that there is a difference of more than 5 million forints between the top and bottom countries, but young teachers in the US can take home almost 4.5 thousand euros more than in Hungary.

Long-promised pay rise

In May, István Stumpf promised higher education workers a two-fold 15% increase by the beginning of 2022. The first pay rise is due to be paid in October, and the increase will also apply to state and church-run institutions. According to Tamás Schanda, the amount of funding allocated to the universities that are will increase by a factor of 2.5. “By 2022, the HUF 650 billion higher education budget plus development funds will amount to more than HUF 1,000 billion, or 1.87% of planned GDP.”

1000 billion pledged to model-changing universities
The above mentioned 1000 billion HUF  comes from the EU COVID-19 recovery fund, according to which Hungary would receive HUF 2,511 billion in non-reimbursable aid, and has the possibility to borrow up to HUF 3,384 billion more. At the end of April, the Hungarian government published a programme plan with nine main development components. Of the nearly HUF 6 000 billion, the third largest amount, HUF 1 192 billion, was intended for the renewal of universities with the higher education reform.
But later, Hungary decided to draw down only HUF 2 500 billion of the package. In May, the national recovery plan was published, from which more than HUF 1 000 billion disappeared. According to, the money was taken away from the development of universities because the European Commission was expected to interfere in the privatisation of universities. There are already some examples that prove this: we recently wrote on Atlatszo Oktatás (the education blog of Atlatszo) that Óbuda University  lost 5 planned developments because of this reduction.

The University of Debrecen, which is now maintained by a foundation, has also recently announced a two-stage salary increase, according to which the current gross salary of an assistant professor will rise to HUF 400,000 and that of an associate professor to HUF 500,000 from January 2022. The increase will be between 49% and 55% compared to the original salary.

Other countries have also raised university teachers’ salaries: in August 2020, for example, the Latvian government did the same, not only increasing the basic salary of higher education staff, but also the wages of all teachers. In Bulgaria, the government allocated the equivalent of roughly €25 million for the same purpose a few months later. And in Slovakia, teachers’ salaries, including those in higher education, were already increased by 10 percent in 2019.

Some universities in our country also pay millions

However, there are a few exception to the fact that university professors’ wages are generally low in Hungary. In early August, Telex calculated that a foreign visiting lecturer at Mathias Corvinus College (MCC) can earn up to 18 times as much as a Hungarian  assistant professor at another higher education institution. The MCC’s guest teacher scholarship programme for foreign professionals, which is close to the government, started in 2020, with those under 35 receiving €5,000 (more than HUF 1.7 million) and those over 35 receiving double that amount, €10,000 (nearly HUF 3.5 million).

The members of the boards of trustees and supervisory boards of universities maintained by foundations can also take home high salaries: the Magyar Narancs reported in March this year, based on the asset declarations of Fidesz MPs, that they receive an average gross monthly income of HUF 1-1.5 million for their membership of the board of trustees. It is true that there are also some who do not receive a salary for their foundation positions.

Written and translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, Hungarian version of this article can be found here

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