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PhD Study in Hungary - A Guide for 2018

Situated at the crossroads of Central Europe, Hungary has always been a centre of cultural and intellectual exchange. Its universities continue this tradition, drawing on 600 years of academic history to underpin a modern, international, approach to doctoral education.

A Hungarian PhD provides an innovative combination of rigorous academic training and traditional academic research, with a wide range of English-language programmes.

All of this makes Hungary an excellent – not to mention interesting – place to carry out postgraduate research. This page explains how you can do so, with information on universities, degree structure, application requirements and funding opportunities.

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PhD opportunities in Hungary – what’s on offer for 2018?

Are you a talented prospective researcher considering a PhD abroad in Europe? You’re exactly the sort of person Hungary’s higher education system is keen to attract.

The country’s Government has set itself a target of substantially increasing international student numbers by 2021. To do so, it’s developing increasing numbers of English-language doctoral programmes (and other degree courses) whilst maintaining students’ access to a range of funding schemes.

Here are a few reasons to consider Hungary for your PhD this year:

  • Highly-specialised universities – As well as comprehensive universities, the Hungarian higher education system also includes a number of institutions focussing on specific disciplines, such as Agriculture, Arts, Economics and Engineering – perfect for advanced PhD research
  • State-funded PhD opportunities – Hungary’s Government provides full tuition fee and living cost support for a certain number of university places, including EU, EEA and Swiss students on doctoral programmes.
  • Spectacles and contrasts –The Hungarian capital, Budapest, is becoming equally famous its vibrant twenty-first century ‘ruin pubs’ as it is for the stunning vista of the Danube River and the historic buildings lining its banks.

You’ll also be part of a proud – and diverse – tradition of inventors, writers and performers. These include László Bíró, inventor of the ballpoint pen as well as Joseph Pulitzer, namesake of the famous Pulitzer Prize: a perfect combination if you need some inspiration for your PhD write-up. Or, if things get tough, you can always recall that Budapest was the birthplace of Harry Houdini. . .


PhD Study in Hungary - Key Details
Universities 69
Nobel Prizes 13
Oldest University University of Pécs (1367)
International Students 21,707
PhD Length 3-5 years
Average Fees €5,000-15,000
Academic Year September to July

Hungarian universities

The Hungarian university system is comparatively small, with around 70 higher education providers, but highly diverse. Many institutions also possess extensive histories as centres of European teaching and research, stretching back into the early Renaissance.

University types

There are three broad categories of higher education institution in Hungary. They are organised according to the types (and level) of qualifications they award as well as their research capacity and expertise (the proportion of academic staff with a doctorate):

  • Universities (Egyetem) are fully-equipped research institutions at which at least 60% of academic staff hold a PhD. Most are comprehensive, with a range of faculties, but several specialise in particular fields. As well as awarding Bachelors and Masters degrees universities maintain dedicated doctoral schools offering PhD programmes in their areas of expertise.
  • Universities of Applied Science (Alkalmazott tudományok egyeteme) focus on teaching and training in practical and professional disciplines, rather than original research. They can award Bachelors and Masters degrees, but don’t usually offer doctoral programmes.
  • Colleges (Főiskola) are smaller institutions offering initial teaching and training, usually in specialist topics. They don’t award postgraduate-level qualifications.

Individual institutions may also be classed as state-funded (public universities established by the Hungarian Government) or non-state-funded (private universities established by religious organisations, businesses or other independent organisations).

Despite these labels, both categories actually receive government funding and their degree programmes are carefully accredited. The main distinction between state-funded and non-state-funded institutions is size: most large universities are state-funded, whereas the smaller colleges are non-state-funded.

Research universities

All Hungarian universities carry out original research (and can award PhDs) but some are additionally recognised by the Government for the exceptional quality of their academic work and their degree programmes. When this happens a university (or a faculty within it) is awarded ‘research rank’.

Research institutes

Hungary is also home to several independent research institutes, pursuing strategic R&D objectives set out by the Government. These don’t award degrees themselves, but they may collaborate with universities to increase the expertise and research opportunities available within their doctoral programmes.

Hungarian university rankings

Hungarian universities haven’t always been as visible in global rankings as their history might lead you to expect. However, the number of ranked institutions has been growing in recent years.

The following Hungarian universities are included in world rankings for 2018:


Top Hungarian Universities in 2018
University THE 2018 QS 2018
Semmelweis University 401-500 -
Eötvös Loránd University 601-800 651-700
University of Pécs 601-800 751-800
University of Szeged 601-800 501-550
Budapest University of Technology and Economics 801-1,000 751-800
Corvinus University of Budapest 801-1,000 801-1,000
University of Debrecen 801-1,000 651-700
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

Hungarian university cities

The largest city in Hungary is the country’s capital, Budapest: home to around a fifth of the country’s population and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of its universities and students.

Other important and historic university centres include Debrecen, Miskolc, and Pécs (the site of Hungary’s oldest university).

PhD structure

Hungary is a member of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and follows the three-cycle format set up by the Bologna Process. Hungarian doctorates are third-cycle qualifications, designed for students who have already completed existing degrees at undergraduate Bachelors and postgraduate Masters level.

Degree types

Universities in Hungary award two types of doctorate: the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) and the DLA (Doctor of Liberal Arts).

Aside from their names (and associated subjects) the two qualifications are functionally similar. Both are academic research qualifications awarded based on the completion of a substantial original thesis.

Doctoral schools and doctoral programmes

a PhD (or DLA) student in Hungary, you’ll normally study within a dedicated doctoral programme run by a doctoral school. This is a specialised centre within your university that provides the relevant training, expertise and facilities you’ll need to succeed on a PhD.

Programmes may also involve contributions from experts based outside your university, including other academics, research professionals or business leaders.

The Hungarian PhD process

Unlike some other PhD systems (which focus purely on independent research) Hungarian doctoral programmes are divided into two phases:

  • The first phase lasts for 1-2 years and includes a curriculum of taught units, laboratory sessions, seminars and other training worth 120 ECTS credits. This is designed to provide detailed academic subject knowledge as a foundation for your independent research.
  • The second phase lasts for 2-3 years, during which you will be recognised as a full doctoral candidate, researching an original project. Most programmes also allow an optional additional year to write up your thesis.

Taken together, these two sections mean that the length of a full-time Hungarian PhD is usually 3-6 years. This is longer than the standard doctorate awarded in some other countries.

However, the additional time you’ll spend on a Hungarian doctoral programme can add significant value to your degree. The initial phase of taught study will provide you with additional expertise – and make the transition to independent research easier than it might otherwise be.

Most programmes also offer the opportunity to undertake practical training during the first phase of your programme. This can include professional academic experience (such as teaching and demonstrating) or external work placements and internships.

If you’d prefer a shorter PhD experience – and think you’re suitably prepared – you may be able to ‘skip’ straight to the second phase of a Hungarian PhD. To do so you’ll need to demonstrate that you’re sufficiently qualified to begin independent research, ideally with a suitable Masters and some existing experience in the techniques and methodologies you plan to use.

Academic year

The Hungarian academic year runs from September to July and is divided into two teaching semesters interspersed with holidays and followed by examination periods. Universities specify their own timetable, but the following is a good general guide:

  • Autumn semester – September-December
  • Autumn examination period – December-February
  • Spring semester – February-May
  • Spring examination period – May-July

Remember that this academic calendar matters more to PhD students in Hungary than it might elsewhere; during the first part of your programme you’ll be completing taught units and undertaking exams according to the timetable set by your university.

Supervision

You’ll normally be assigned a single supervisor from within your doctoral school (or a relevant faculty at your university). This will be someone with relevant expertise in your field and the necessary professional experience to guide you through the PhD process.

Hungarian universities don’t normally formalise this arrangement: it will be up to you and your supervisor to establish a good working relationship.

Assessment

Hungarian PhDs involve more frequent assessment than some other doctorates, with different examinations at each stage of your doctorate.

During the first phase you’ll complete examinations at the end of each semester, designed to test the subject knowledge you’ve acquired. These may be oral exams (during which you’ll answer questions about course content) or traditional written assessments.

At the end of this phase (usually after two years) you will complete a comprehensive examination. This is an oral exam, designed to test your general subject knowledge, your awareness of methodological principles and your familiarity with current scholarship in your field. It won’t relate directly to the contents of your intended research project.

Your performance will normally be graded as unsatisfactory, satisfactory or exceptional (some universities use a more detailed scale). The minimum requirement for progression to the next phase of your programme will be a satisfactory / pass mark. Higher attainment may improve the honours your doctorate is eventually awarded with.

Once you enter the second phase of your programme you will have demonstrated that you have the necessary academic skills and expertise to work as a full PhD candidate, carrying out independent research.

To qualify for submission your thesis must be approved by your supervisor and other members of your university’s doctoral council. If they are satisfied it can be presented for examination.

This involves a public defence of your thesis, during which you will be questioned on the content and value of your research. The process is similar to the viva voce used in the UK and other countries, but takes place before an audience.

Once you have completed both phases if your programme you can be awarded with your PhD (or DLA)!

Hungarian PhD grades

As well as earning your doctorate (and the title ‘Dr’) you will also be presented with honours reflecting the quality of your thesis (and the grades you earned during the first phase of your programme).

The standard honours for a Hungarian doctorate are:

  • Rite (‘pass’) – confirming that your degree has been conferred
  • Cum laude (‘with honours’) – affirming that your work has exceeded the minimum standard for a doctorate
  • Summa cum laude – (‘with highest honours’) – affirming that your work was of exceptional quality, originality and impact

These honours provide additional recognition for the demanding – but impressive – assessment process you’ll have gone through during a Hungarian PhD programme.

Submission requirements

Your university may ask you to achieve certain targets before you can submit your PhD. These might include publishing part of your research or presenting it at academic conferences.

Fees and funding

Hungarian universities are free to set their own PhD fees, but not all students pay them:

  • State-funded students do not pay PhD fees and receive a maintenance allowance from the Hungarian Government. EU, EEA and Swiss students are normally eligible for this support.
  • Fee-paying students are charged fees at the level set by their university and must also cover any living costs. They can do this using other PhD scholarships, earnings or savings.

Most universities have a limited number of state-funded places on their PhD programmes, allocated by their doctoral council. In practice, the majority of students are usually fee-paying students (this is particularly likely for non-EU / EEA and Swiss students who don’t normally qualify for state-funded support).

Still, it’s worth checking with your university to see if it may have a state-funded place available for you – and what its selection criteria are. Some universities will automatically select students for this support, but you may need to apply before a certain deadline in order to be considered.

Typical PhD fees

Assuming you do pay fees for your PhD, you’ll normally be charged between €5,000 and 15,000 per year (with actual payments made per semester). These prices are normally the same for all fee-paying students, regardless of nationality.

As you can see, this is a fairly wide range. The actual amount you pay will probably depend on your subject area, with programmes in Business and Management tending to the most expensive.

You may also find that the amount you pay varies during your PhD. Fees for the first phase of your PhD (when you are taking more taught classes and assessments) will sometimes be higher than those for the second phase (when you are working on independent research).

Fee currencies

The Hungarian currency is the Forint (Ft) but many universities will list their fees in Euro (€) or US Dollars (USD).

Hungarian PhD funding

Failing to receive a state-funded PhD place doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pay the ‘full price’ for your PhD. In fact, a number of scholarships are available for international students in Hungary:

  • Stipendium Hungaricum – This is Hungary’s flagship international scholarship scheme, established in partnership with a range of countries. If you successfully apply you will receive full payment of your PhD fees, plus monthly stipend and a contribution towards the cost of your accommodation and health insurance costs.
  • Bilateral Scholarships – These are separate funding schemes established by partnerships between Hungary and selected other countries. They normally pay your PhD fees plus a monthly living allowance. Check with the ministry of education in your home country to see if you are eligible.
  • CEEPUS – The Central European Exchange Program for University Studies is an initiative designed to support student mobility across a range of countries, including Hungary. It works similarly to the EU’s Erasmus programme, with support for students to spend part of a degree programme in another country.

Don’t forget that other PhD funding may also be available to study abroad in Hungary – including our own FindAPhD Scholarships.

Applying for a PhD in Hungary

There is not centralised application service for Hungarian PhDs. Instead you should apply directly to a university (or its doctoral school) and seek admission to its doctoral programme.

Admissions criteria

All applicants to a Hungarian PhD or DLA must hold a Masters degree. Unlike in some other countries, this is a legal requirement. You won’t be able to apply without a postgraduate qualification, regardless of your previous experience or CV.

Universities will set their own additional criteria for evaluating your application. These may include assessing the relevance of your existing degrees and the quality of other documents you submit with your application.

Application process and materials

You may be asked to provide the following as part of a Hungarian PhD application:

  • A record of your Masters degree (including some information on the content of your course and the qualification gained)
  • A personal statement outlining your interest in PhD study
  • Academic and / or professional references
  • Evidence of suitable language skills for your programme

You won’t normally be expected to submit a full research proposal at this point. The shape and scope of your PhD project will normally be defined during the first phase of your doctorate.

Some universities may charge a small application fee. This is likely be between €50 and €100.

Language requirements

Hungarian (Magyar) is the official language of instruction at Hungarian universities. However, it is common for doctoral programmes to be delivered in English.

Whatever the requirements for your programme, you’ll need to demonstrate that you meet them by providing a relevant language test score or other evidence. If you have already studied in a language or a native speaker your existing degree certificates or passport should suffice.

Selection criteria

There is no limit on the number of students a Hungarian doctoral school can accept. However, most will only have a certain number of state-funded places available and will allocate these to the best students. Universities will also seek to ensure that they only admit candidates who are likely to successfully progress through their programme.

They may therefore use interviews and entrance tests (usually an oral exam) to appraise students and select applicants. These may take place remotely, or you may be required to travel to Hungary to complete the admissions process – check with your university to be sure.

Student life in Hungary

What's it actually like to live in Hungary during a PhD? Our guide covers accommodation, living costs and leisure opportunities for international students.

Student visas

Hungary is an EU member, with slightly different visa requirements for citizens of other EU countries (as well as EEA and Swiss nationals).

EU, EEA and Swiss students

If you are a citizen of another EU country, an EEA country (Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) or Switzerland you can enter Hungary without a visa.

You will need to be studying for more than three months on an accredited course, but this won’t be a problem for doctoral students (any PhD that lasts less than three months probably isn’t a genuine qualification!).

You’ll need to register at an Office of Immigration and Nationality within 93 days of arrival, providing your university admissions documents, along with ID (such as your passport). You will then receive a resident’s card, confirming that you are able to live legally in Hungary during your PhD.

Other international students

Students from ‘third countries’ (outside the EU, EEA and Switzerland) will need a long-term type D visa to enter Hungary, though some exceptions may apply to citizens of certain countries. You can check your requirements and begin your application at a Hungarian Consulate in your home country.

You’ll normally need to provide the following:

  • A Confirmation of Acceptance letter from your university
  • Proof that you have paid the necessary tuition fees for your course
  • Evidence of language qualifications (as appropriate to your programme)
  • Valid travel documents (including any return journeys)
  • Evidence of health insurance
  • Evidence of sufficient financial resources to support yourself in Hungary (this should be a bank statement, funding agreement or other document confirming that you have access to at least €700 per month)

The fee for a visa application is normally €60.

Your visa will allow you to enter Hungary for up to 180 days, during which time you must apply for a residence permit at your local Office of Immigration and Nationality. You’ll need to do this in person so that biometric information (your fingerprint and photograph) can be taken.

It may be possible to apply for your residence permit before you arrive in Hungary, as part of your visa application. If so, you should do so at a Hungarian Consulate.

Use your international office

By the time you apply for your visa you should already have been accepted by your university. Their international office will be able to help with specific details or questions relating to your application.

Health insurance

All students in Hungary require some form of health insurance. If you’re an EU citizen you may already be covered by your existing European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). If not, you’ll need to purchase a policy before you can apply for a visa and / or residence permit.

Some funding packages (including state-funded positions) may already include health insurance. Check with your university if you aren’t sure.

Next steps

Hungarian doctoral programmes are designed to create highly-skilled graduates. The training you’ll receive in the first part of your course will increase your academic expertise, but it will also provide opportunities to gain professional experience through work placements or internships.

The degree you receive will also be rigorously examined – and graded – making it easier to ‘stand out’ as a PhD-holder.

Can I work in Hungary after my PhD?

EU, EEA and Swiss students won’t normally need an additional permit to work in Hungary. International students from other countries can apply for an EU Blue Card, entitling them to seek highly-skilled employment in Hungary (and other participating EU member states).

Find a PhD in Hungary

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Hungary? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 23/05/2018

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