How did Budapest Become an Important Hub for International Students?

Mayar Alkaseem, Syria

In the recent years Budapest has become a very attractive study destination for international students, who come from all over the world. Stating all over the world is not a stretch, because thanks to its many diverse programs like Erasmus +, Stipendium Hungaricum, or even Bilateral State scholarships, Hungary has managed to attract around 38,000 international students for the academic year 2019/2020 as HungaryToday cites. This is a number which is exponentially growing given that in 2001, which is before the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship programme and before the intensity of Erasmus + exchange, the number of international students was around 11,000. The reasons why this number tripled are many. Firstly, the most important universities in Budapest like ELTE and Corvinus are widely known for their research, their quality of education and their well-prepared pedagogical staff. They offer almost all of their programs in English, Hungarian, German, French and most of their classes are mixed between Hungarians and international students. This kind of diversity can be observed in the pedagogical staff as well, as not all of the professors are from Hungary. So, overall, Budapest offers a good European education, and also an opportunity for students from developing countries who wants to achieve more academically.

Secondly, Hungary is one of the few countries who gives a scholarship for BA Studies, which is quite rare to find elsewhere, especially for students who come from developing countries or simply students who are not EU citizens. Each country that has a partnership with Hungary has the right to send a limited number of students, however, this number continues to grow year by year. Also, the Stipendium Hungaricum offers scholarship in graduate studies and exchange semesters as well (just like Erasmus), creating the opportunity for more people to apply. Even for those who do not receive a scholarship and who can afford it, the tuition fee per semester varies from 1500-4000 euros based on the program and the university you apply. While this may seem expensive for some young people, it should be noted that the fee is the same for EU/EEA citizens and those who are non EU/EAA, unlike other European Universities where non EU/EEA students pay a significantly higher fee.

Budapest is also a very appealing study destination for the Erasmus+ students. The exchange program is so popular, hence many organizations, trips, online profiles and websites are dedicated to students who come for their Erasmus in Budapest. Budapest is known to be a very beautiful and vibrant city, with a great cultural life, where many expats live. To top it all, Budapest is comparatively cheap compared to the rest of the capitals in the EU, has a great geographical position and offers a variety of entertainment from bars and cafes to concerts, escape rooms, galleries etc.

Of course there are some drawbacks, if you decide to live long-term, such as getting familiar with the language and with the ways of the local people. Understanding that the chances of getting a job are minimal if you don’t speak the language. Managing on your own in terms of finding a decent place to rent, bureaucracy and residency. However, both of the programs mentioned above, tried to help newcomers with setting up in Budapest (and elsewhere in Hungary) by creating a mentorship program, where each student is assigned a mentor. The role of the mentor is to guide, help, answer questions, and sometimes accompany students to local offices in order to ensure that they don’t feel lost. The mentor can be either a Hungarian or another international student in their second of third year of their studies. Furthermore, from last year, the Faculty of Humanities in ELTE established a group of international student representatives, in order to give their international students a chance to speak up and be more active in the faculty. Each semester there is an orientation week, followed by welcome parties and intercultural events. Also, every year, HÖOK- National Union of Students in Hungary organizes a big intercultural banquet for all the freshman international students who are part of the Stipendium programme and their mentors. The last one was held in February 2020, just before the COVID-19.