Government plans to shake up education system
The Hungarian education system is undergoing a series of changes brought about by amendments to the Public Education Act. A new central education office has been established, and has become Hungary’s largest employer. All teachers are now also obliged to join a new national faculty. Teachers have been promised career development and a rise in wages; however, unions are sceptical about the actual benefits that teachers will receive as a result of the changes.
In Hungary, teaching has never been a well-paid profession. There have been no significant wage increases for some time, and in recent years working conditions have deteriorated, especially for those new to the profession. This is likely to be one of the reasons that many teachers move to new jobs, either in Hungary or abroad. In its 2012–2013 programme, the government set out a clear plan to increase teachers’ wages, improve working conditions and improve the quality of education. Rózsa Hoffmann, Secretary of State for Education, said:
The government will fulfil an obligation that has been outstanding for decades, whenever the economic situation will allow, to introduce a new career path model for teachers which will substantially improve their living and working conditions and will give them recognition for the importance of their work both financially and morally.
Hungary’s newly established Public Education Act centralises curricular regulations and the hiring and monitoring of teachers and teaching standards for state schools. The Act, which came into force on 1 January 2013, aims to resolve the inequalities between teachers in different regions created over the last few decades by local variations in public administration and by the differing size and resources of the 3,000 municipalities.
A new central office, named the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Centre (KLIK), now administers more than 4,000 schools, 1.2 million pupils and 120,000 teachers, making it the largest employer in Hungary. The centre will have 200 regional offices and it will have the right to designate school admission districts, hire teachers and administrative personnel, and regulate standards of educational content. It will also provide professional services such as speech therapy and education counselling services. Only the infrastructure and physical assets of Hungary’s schools will remain under the control of local governments.
However, Mendrey László, President of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (PDSZ), has complained that the government has failed to listen to teachers, and that there have been no consultations or negotiations over the establishment of the KLIK. László added that separating the operation and maintenance of schools does not seem to be a logical step in the restructuring process.
Fight for an increase in wages
According to 2012 figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), teachers in Hungary are paid less than employees with a similar level of education. The European Commission’s (EC) Eurydice Network provides information on, and analyses of, European education systems and policies. It states that, of 30 countries examined, Hungary is one of 16 in which teachers’ salaries have remained the same or have decreased slightly compared with the previous year. Gross annual salaries for Hungarian primary school teachers start at €8,598, and at €9,126 for secondary school teachers. Teachers’ salaries have been frozen since 2008 and ‘13th month’ bonuses were withdrawn in 2009.
In September 2012, negotiations began between teachers’ unions and the government. Unions argued the case for a 20% wage rise from January 2013. On 19 October 2012, after several failed rounds of negotiations a strike committee was formed by the Trade Union of Teachers (PSZ), the PDSZ, the Education Officials’ Trade Union (OVSZ) and the Hungarian Trade Union of Employees in Public Education and Vocational Education and Training (MKSZSZ).
Their demand for a wage rise was passed on to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and negotiations between the government and the unions resumed in mid-November 2012, led by Zoltán Balog, Minister of Human Resources (former post of Minister of Education and Culture).
During the talks, agreement was reached on issues such as layoffs and job security, and three working groups were set up to manage employment, career paths and essential and minimum services to be maintained during the strike. In January 2013, Balog announced that the government had concluded negotiations and signed an agreement with three of the four unions (PSZ, OVSZ and MKSZSZ). The PDSZ said it could not sign an agreement that did not ‘include anything from our demands’.
Galló Istvánné, President of the PSZ, said it had never been likely that the unions could change the government’s decisions, but there was a possibility of influencing change in the education system. Although many of the strike committee’s demands, particularly for a pay increase, have not been included in the reforms, it was more important that they did promise far-reaching restructuring of the public education system and the creation of a new career path for teachers. This was why the PSZ had signed the agreement.
In July 2013, the government announced that 150,000 teachers would receive an average 34% wage rise from September 2013. Minister Balog promised in public that teachers’ wages would rise again in September 2014 by an average of 10%, with further rises taking place each year until 2017.
New career path for teachers
While wage negotiations were underway, the government developed a so-called ‘career model’ for teachers. At the end of the summer, the Hungarian parliament amended the Public Education Act to introduce this model.
The amendment also includes:
- an increase in the number of weekly classes to be taught by each teacher;
- the elimination of overtime payments;
- a quality assurance system to monitor and maintain teaching standards;
Minister Balog said: ‘Promoting teachers and increasing the quality of education is a priority for the government.’
He added that the creation of a clear career path for teachers was an ‘old debt’, and that the new law fulfils a wish long-held by those working in public service.
The largest opposition party, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) said it supported the planned wage increase for teachers but described the amendment to the public education law as hastily prepared, inconsistent and imprecise.
The former Education Minister, Istvan Hiller, said the government had been unable to keep its 2011 promises and that teachers’ wages will rise by only 60% of the promised level.
The PSZ said it wanted to participate in the planning stage of the legislation, not just make comments on it. PSZ President Galló said the new teachers’ career model fails to reward better performance, but that teachers would welcome an average monthly wage rise of HUF 40,000–60,000 (€136–205 as of 19 November 2013).
Hungarian teachers’ faculty
Parliament has approved a law which will require all Hungarian teachers to join a new organisation called the National Teachers’ Faculty, to represent educators in negotiations with the state. A working committee has been established to set up this body and the faculty will start work in 2014.
Rózsa Hoffmann, Secretary of State for Education, explained that one of the reasons for establishing a mandatory teachers’ organisation is that the government has found it difficult to conduct negotiations with several different representative groups.
Galló Istvánné, President of PSZ, said establishing such a body sends a clear message that the government will create its own partner for negotiations rather than deal with trade unions in the sector.
The PDSZ said in a press release that the new teachers’ faculty leaves out the traditional interest representation bodies, and they suspect a new negotiation partner that offers less opposition to government proposals will replace the existing teachers’ unions.
László Arató, President of the Hungarian Teachers’ Association, said that the new faculty was part of the government’s plan to centralise the system of public education.
All stakeholders in Hungarian public education agree that education policy must be a priority for any government because the future success of the country depends on the education of its people. There is a consensus that the whole sector must be reformed in order to make it attractive to potential employees and equip it to provide high-quality education. The current government has therefore begun to reform the education sector.
However, as no impact analysis has been published, the effects of this reform are difficult to predict. The largest trade unions in the sector claim that the government has decided on some key issues without substantial consultation or negotiation and that unions only became aware of some issues through the media.
Another contested issue is the establishment of the new obligatory teachers’ faculty. The government’s aim is to have a single negotiation partner, rather than several unions with often conflicting aims.
Education Secretary Hoffmann said in a statement that the faculty would help to raise the prestige of teaching within society and that the organisation would guarantee that professional issues are decided in a way that is based on the real opinions of all teachers. Unions, on the other hand, suspect that the new faculty will compete with them and will be loyal to the government.
Time will tell whether this faculty will become a partner to the government in order to defuse the power of representative unions or will function as an additional professional body, as is envisaged.
The government’s view is that teachers will receive much greater appreciation and recognition of their work in the coming years, while unions state that their working conditions are worsening because of increased workloads and a minimal increase in teachers’ net wages.
Máté Komiljovics, Solution4.org