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“Clearly, nothing is fine here” – teachers at state universities forced to take second and third jobs

Mohos Márton /
The building of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME).
Mohos Márton /
The building of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME).
At the most prestigious state universities – such as ELTE, BME, and the Academy of Music – the situation of teaching salaries is taking the spotlight with increasing frequency. According to Gábor Polyák, head of ELTE’s Department of Art Theory and Media Research at the Faculty of Humanities, it is clearly solely a matter of political decision whether the state is willing to allocate an amount completely insignificant from a budgetary perspective to address the minimal adjustment of instructors' salaries – which have not shown an increase in the past two years, despite high inflation.
  • At three of the country’s leading universities, more than 3000 employees have expressed dissatisfaction regarding unjust wages and working conditions.
  • Such discontent is becoming ever more visible, while our sources report of taking on second and third jobs amidst persistent desperation.
  • According to our sources, the desired wage increase would require approximately 0.02 per cent of the central budget, making the future of state universities “solely a matter of political decision”.

Recently, tensions have erupted dramatically at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music when sixty students appeared at a senate meeting. Following in the footsteps of their teachers, the students intended to signal Chancellor Attila Kotán about the gravity of the situation that the institution’s employees are leaving the university in droves. Shortly after the incident, news surfaced about the resignation of several key university leaders – the financial director, legal director, communications director, as well as a chief accountant are leaving the institution, making the maintenance of basic operations even more difficult than before.

Vasvári Tamás / MTI Attila Kotán

In recent weeks, nearly three thousand employees from three major universities have stepped forward to demand resolution of their salary situation as well as dignified conditions befitting quality education. The discontent employees are directing their demands towards the institutions’ maintainer, the state – more precisely, the Ministry of Innovation and Culture (KIM) under the leadership of János Csák.

  • First, nearly 1500 employees of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) signed an open letter demanding an immediate 33% pay raise, similar to what primary and secondary teachers have received;
  • they were soon joined by over a thousand employees from Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME), including Rector Prof. Dr. Tibor Czigány – although the chancellor repeatedly refused to allow sending the petition to their colleagues via the university’s central email address – demanding a 50 per cent wage increase;
  • the initiative was thereafter bolstered by roughly 250 employees from the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music (LFZE);
  • followed by approximately 1500 employees from the research institutions of the HUN-REN Hungarian Research Network joining the signature collection.

In 2023, the average salary for university graduates was around gross 850,000 forints, with the minimum wage grossing 232,000 forints (with an average inflation of 17.6% for the whole year). However, in state higher education institutions,

an assistant professor at ELTE, holding a doctoral degree, currently earns gross 420,000 forints monthly, of which they take home 279,300 forints;

while at BME this figure is gross 277,200 forints, which, without any employer supplements, amounts to a net 243,789 forints.

Desperation and Second Jobs

What can be said about those who continue despite all this? Dedication? Obsession? A wealthy spouse, a millionaire family? In any case, if the situation doesn’t change very soon, instructors will leave the universities in droves, and there won’t be anyone left to teach

– expressed our source, a master’s level educator at ELTE, adding that currently resignations are rolling in week after week, whether from instructors or from employees in auxiliary positions earning even less than teachers. Along with several colleagues, our source was approached by after it became known that several student forums had been held at the campus due to the increasingly visible dissatisfaction among both teachers and students in recent times. These meetings were convened to address the growing problems caused by the salary situation of employees and the underfunding of the institution via civil discussion. Nonetheless, the anger of university citizens would at times manifest in rather sharp comments.

Varga Jennifer / The building of the Faculty of Law of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) on Egyetem tér.

Sources teaching at the aforementioned department – requesting to remain anonymous – reported that since they cannot make a living from their full-time university positions, it is common among them to take on second or even third jobs, and work on weekends. They also tell us that they now experience their situation with profound despair.

One of them, an assistant professor with a doctoral degree and ten years of teaching experience, earns a net salary of 280,000 forints,

which “is clearly not enough to make a proper living, let alone support your family. However, also doing various other jobs completely wears you down.”

Another source mentioned feeling fortunate that there is currently ample market demand for their specialised knowledge. However, this means that alongside their 8-hour university job, they go through another 4-6 hour shift every single day. They added that the question also involves the fact that the significance of numerous scientific fields cannot be quantified in monetary terms to begin with. Nevertheless, among colleagues, taking on multiple jobs alongside livelihood issues comes at the expense of family and personal life, while for many it also it causes mental problems, such as frustration and despair – they continued.

One of our sources assessed it this way: “Is this really how Hungarian society values my knowledge? I go through my CV, my publications, the number of young professionals I provide to the market and public administration annually, and the amount of hours I teach each week. I am perhaps the only well-known expert from Hungary within my field, which has implications for the international recognition of Hungarian cultural production.

As we can see, this is how Hungarian society evaluates all this work. Among the endlessly repeated, false, and humiliating counterarguments, it is often brought up that university instructors in Rwanda sadly earn even less, and besides, one can always choose to go work at Aldi instead.

But what happens then if everyone heads to Aldi?”

“I am asking for your help; I have been working at the Academy of Music as the head of educational administration for 17 years, but I have never been in a situation where I had to ask request your assistance” – wrote on her Facebook page Olivia Gazsi, head of the Study Department at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. Gazsi was forced to turn to the institution’s students due to the on-going labour shortage, in order to merely ensure that the university could conduct the admission process at all.

In her post, she also mentioned that the few weeks’ worth of work cannot be compensated financially, but with chocolate and homemade pastries. Gazsi also mentioned that the salaries of her colleagues “on average do not exceed a gross salary of 360,000 (which corresponds to about 240,000 net to actually take home), for which they do truly dedicated work, but especially with today’s inflation, perhaps even paying rent, it is impossible to make a living on this. There is no chance of a pay raise, especially in areas related to education. Austerity measures, on the other hand, are everywhere.”

Clearly a political decision

In response to recent developments, several stakeholders from the leadership of state institutions have made joint efforts in recent months to secure funding for salary increases from the maintainer, has learnt. According to our information:

  • Following the salary increase for teachers in public primary and secondary education in January, a leading employee at ELTE’s Faculty of Humanities began compiling data on the salaries of employees in various positions;
  • Following this example, at the initiative of the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference, salaries at the four state universities (ELTE, BME, Liszt Academy, and MKE) were organised to present the required funding needs jointly and quantitatively to the Office of Innovation and Higher Education of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, led by State Secretary for Innovation and Higher Education Balázs Hankó;
  • The salary demand has now reached the Ministry of Finance, where it is being examined whether to allocate funds from the state budget for this purpose.

According to the summary of the four mentioned universities, a total of ten billion forints is needed for a 33% salary adjustment for their employees, according to our sources. At first glance, this amount may seem like a lot, but when compared to the 2024 central budget of Hungary, which allocates 40,755,101.1 million forints for state budget expenditures, we find that the funding required for the salary increase accounts for approximately 0.0245% of the state budget.

Gábor Polyák, head of the Department of Art Theory and Media Research at ELTE’s Faculty of Humanities, and a member of the Higher Education Workers’ Union’s ELTE branch, added in response to our inquiry that the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (KIM) did not immediately dismiss the salary demand, as the statistics revealed were something that

not even János Csák’s ministry could claim was all fine. Clearly, nothing is fine here

– he stated. He added: it’s clearly not a financial issue; it’s solely a matter of political decision whether the state is willing to allocate such a sum for this.

Varga Jennifer / Gábor Polyák in front of the headquarters of state media giant MTVA on March 6, 2022.

The department head also pointed out that while the 33% salary increase for colleagues is an important step, “it’s far from making salaries competitive.” This correction would only mean that the salaries of instructors at the universities involved would return to the level of two years ago, as their base salaries have not been substantially raised since then, while the general inflation during this time has been close to 34%. “There are very few economic sectors where inflation tracking has been zero per cent in the last two years; this 33% increase is merely about survival. It’s enough to keep the majority of colleagues in the field and prevent them from seeking other jobs,” he said.

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