THE NEW university will be in Komárno, in southern Slovakia.
photo: Ján Svrček
The Slovak cabinet agreed on March 12 that in line with its manifesto it will open a special university for Hungarian nationals living in Slovakia to enable them to receive university degrees while studying primarily in their mother tongue.
The plan falls under the country's commitment to a European charter on regional and minority languages, which took effect in January 2002, binding Slovakia to provide its minorities with greater access to university education.
The cabinet decision was welcomed by representatives of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, numbering about 500,000.
Komárno mayor Tibor Bastrnák said: "We welcome the decision. We hope the university will bring youth spirit and new ideas to our region."
Bastrnák told The Slovak Spectator that he expected the university to eventually attract about 1,500 students to his city of 37,000.
Under the cabinet plan, the university will be based in Komárno Castle and it will be named after a well-known Hungarian academic born in Komárno, János Seley. The facility should open in January 2004, and admit the first students in September that year.
It will consist of three faculties: pedagogical - training future teachers; economic - educating IT, economy, finance, marketing, and management experts; and theological - training future priests for the Hungarian-speaking regions of Slovakia.
Education Minister Martin Fronc said that by March 31 the university plan should have been evaluated by the country's academic authority, the accreditation commission.
After receiving a statement from the commission, Fronc will prepare a final proposal on the university's establishment to the cabinet. If the government okays the proposal, MPs will hold a deciding vote on the plan.
According to the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) MP Sándor Albert, who is also a member of the parliamentary education committee, the university is a chance for the country's Hungarian minority to catch up with majority Slovaks in the realm of education.
"The education level of the Hungarian minority is lower in general than that of the majority population. Education levels, naturally, are related to employment levels and people's chances on the job market," Albert said on March 18.
On the national census of 2001, 507,000 people reported the Hungarian language as their mother tongue. That same year, statistics showed that 10.4 per cent of Slovakia's population was university educated, while only 5.3 per cent of Hungarian nationals living in the country had a university degree.
According to the cabinet plan, "about 20,000 university-educated Hungarians" are needed before the minority catches up to the Slovak average.
Albert said that the university was also needed for the simple reason that ethnic Hungarians do not have their own institute of higher education at the moment.
"Slovakia has 24 universities, which means there is one university per 200,000 inhabitants. There are about 500,000 Hungarian nationals living in Slovakia and they have no university," Albert said.
However, the plan has met with some opposition already.
Leader of the non-parliamentary far right Slovak National Party (SNS), Anna Malíková, said on March 13 that establishing the university was a move against ethnic Slovaks, and that institution was unnecessary considering Slovakia's expected entry into the EU.
"Because in 2004 Slovakia will enter a united Europe, the establishment of the Hungarian university is useless," said Malíková.
Albert said he could not "understand how establishing a university could be directed against someone".
"It is a chance for young people to have a better future. We are standing at the gates of the EU and education is a key to success for all nations. At the beginning of the 21st century I really do not understand such [nationalistic] aversion," he said.
However, professor Bartolomej Révész from the country's only Hungarian department in Nitra's University of Constantine the Philosopher told The Slovak Spectator that he would "not cheer until I see parliament approve the university."
Révész said he believed the Hungarian minority in Slovakia deserved the university, and that the whole society would profit from it eventually.
"Everywhere around the world minority groups have their universities. But the most important thing is that minorities are treasures of their states, and if their cultures are lost, the country is impoverished."
Albert said he hoped the ruling coalition MPs would vote in favour of the university. A simple majority of MPs is needed to approve such plan. Slovak parliament has 150 MPs, of which 78 are members of the cabinet parties.
"I would be disappointed if there was not enough support for the university among MPs. After all, this is not part of an exclusive SMK agenda but rather part of the cabinet programme as a whole," he said.
24. Mar 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová