At a 25th anniversary celebration of the Hungarian Rectors Conference (HRC) in June, CEU student Henriette Stoeber presented the results of commissioned research on “The Role of the Rectors’ Conferences in Europe.” Stoeber is a student in the ERASMUS Mundus MAPP program and an HRC intern.
The HRC is the supreme representative body of universities and colleges in Hungary, responsible for higher education governance and policy. Created in 1988, it was the first of its kind among Soviet bloc nations. CEU has been an auxiliary member since the early 2000s.
Rectors from a majority of Hungarian higher education institutions attended the event at ELTE Law School in Budapest, as well as Minister of Human Resources Zoltan Balog and State Secretary of Higher Education Istvan Klinghammer. One primary objective of the conference was to discuss the HRC’s successes and shortcomings over the past 25 years.
These are the key findings from Stoeber’s report:
• Rectors’ conferences, councils, and associations have longstanding traditions in only a few European nations, the oldest being the CRUS in Switzerland, founded in 1904. Most were founded in the 1990s.
• The legal status and organizational form of the rectors’ conferences differ across the countries. Many have adopted the structure of a non-profit organization.
• The number of member institutions varies dramatically, not because of the number of higher education institutions in each country, but because of the types of institutions allowed to participate. Regulations are very country-specific, but three membership trends are evident: 1) A slight majority of the rectors’ conferences open membership to all public and state institutions and private institutions that meet specific criteria. 2) In multiple nations, including Hungary, all accredited institutions can become members of the rectors’ conference. 3) Only the public institutions automatically become members.
• Officially, the European rectors’ conferences are concerned mainly with the same mission and tasks: 1) building a forum for the rectors to discuss issues and advise the government on higher education policy and legislation; 2) representing the universities nationally and internationally to foster cooperation among the institutions; 3) and, in many cases, conducting research, giving strategic advice, and safeguarding the academic values of the universities. Actual day-to-day work, however, is very country specific. Topics include public funding, links among higher education and research and innovation institutions, student issues, strategic management and quality assurance, and the bureaucratic burden.
• Higher education policy affects institutions and their students directly. While only one of the 16 national rectors’ conferences that participated in Stoeber questionnaire said they do not cooperate with student unions at all, student representatives in most nations are invited to attend such major events as general assembly meetings and participate in discourse on student-specific policy issues.
The Hungarian Rectors’ Conference specially reported these successes among others:
• As of 2006, the HRC is the exclusive representative of all higher education institutions in Hungary (vs. representation according to institutional type), increasing visibility and streamlining processes nationally and internationally.
• Marketing of the HRC as a brand led to higher recognition of the organization and was a major factor in securing Hungarian participation in international cooperation programs such as Brazil’s “Science without Borders,” in which Hungary is the first Central European nation to welcome Brazilian students. In managing the program the HRC secretariat acts as the intermediary among the students, institutions, and the Hungarian authorities.
Overall, Stoeber found, the focus and tasks of the European rectors’ associations are diverse and country specific, and their work is vital for an efficient, innovative, and autonomous higher education sector.