Higher education colonised into public trust foundations – this is how Fidesz reforms have let down thousands of students

Earlier this year, the European Commission has cut off 21 privatised Hungarian universities from EU-funded education and research projects such as Erasmus+ or Horizon Europe. The decision has put thousands of university students in doubt about their future prospects of studying or working abroad. In our video, we explain exactly what the Commission’s problem is, how higher education has evolved under the Fidesz government and how the country has shifted from public to private universities. 

The government should not have been caught off guard by the European Commission’s announcement in January that it would suspend the participation of the recently privatised universities  in the Erasmus+ programme, and the Hungarian government has repeatedly raised concerns about the outsourcing of universities to public trusts (KEKVA in Hungarian). But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

The EU’s main concerns centre on the efforts by the Orbán government to privatise higher education,

transforming state-funded universities into private foundations governed by a board of trustees – stuffed with ministers and other allies of the ruling party.

In 2021, the Orbán government handed over national wealth in a wave comparable to the privatizations of the early ‘90s. The assets, estimated to be worth thousands of billions of forints, were given free of charge to asset management foundations, largely run by Fidesz-allied actors, which from then on will own around 70 percent of Hungarian universities.

Hidden privatization: valuable public assets transferred from the state to public trust foundations led by Orbán-allies – English

By the end of 2021, the Orbán government handed over billions of Forints worth of national assets to semi-private owners, in a wave comparable to the privatizations of the early ’90s.

In our video, we show the changes that have taken place in Hungarian higher education under the Fidesz government and how we have reached the point where by 2021 there was only five state universities left in the country.


We also talk about the background to the Erasmus+ programme: every year, thanks to the EU’s programme for education, training, youth and sport, thousands of students are able to travel the world and spend a semester at a university of their choice or do an internship in an international environment.

According to 2019 figures, over €23 million has been allocated to higher education mobility programmes in Hungary, enabling nearly 10,000 students to travel abroad. Of the top three sending institutions, Corvinus University of Budapest have since been taken over by a private foundation, meaning that the future of the exchange programmes could be in doubt. There were also rumours about the possible privatisation of another top sending institution, Budapest University of Technology and Economics even before the parliamentary elections last spring, and this summer – but no such decision has been made since.

No one knows yet when the debate will come to an end

Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office called on ministers and government officials in early February to either resign from their positions in university trusts or leave their government contracts. Four have instead resigned from government positions and retained their trusteeships, which under current rules are for life.

The new members of the university boards of trustees, although not directly close to the government, are, according to idependent news website Telex, linked to the richest Hungarian, childhood friend of the PM, Lőrince Mészáros and the prime minister’s son-in-law István Tiborcz. In February, we looked in detail at the problems with Hungarian universities’ international mobility programmes and why the resignation of governing party politicians from the board of trustees would not solve the problem.

Hungarian universities banned from Erasmus as the government fails to address corruption concerns – English

To allow Hungarian universities to participate in the Erasmus+ the Orbán government promises banning ministers from the trusts running higher education. This alone however would not solve the corruption concerns and systemic issues plaguing Hungarian higher education.

Written and translated by Zita Szopkó, video by Dénes Balogh. The original, Hungarian version of this story can be found here