Friday, April 12, 2013

On Differences between Oshkosh students and Pécs students

Forgive my extended period of inactivity on this blog, dear reader.  A number of things came up, but I mean to be a regular blogger again now.  Spring has sprung here in Pécs, and after a wonderful Spring Break that included a trip to Vienna, I handed back midterms this week.  That means, too, that I have been here for more than half a semester.  I’ve learned a lot about university education in Hungary, about students’ interests in American history, and other things, but I think there are many things I still have to learn.  To start making sense of what I have learned, then, I thought I would compile a handy chart, to show side-by-side comparisons of the things I do know about students at my home university and my host university.  In no particular order, here goes:

Students at Oshkosh…
Students at Pécs…
usually come from <2 hours drive away
generally pay $3678.58 tuition per semester (if Wisconsin residents)
free if you score at a certain level on exams, if not the cost varies ($1,300 per term for an English major, up to $8,300 per term for foreign med student)*
dress less formally to attend class
dress more formally to attend class
sometimes greet the professor
usually greet the professor
expected to be graded early and often
expect one big exam (100% of grade) in lecture courses
are a bit more willing to participate in a class
are a bit more shy of participation
are taking my class in their native tongue
are taking my class in their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language
80-90% attend lecture courses each meeting
50% attend lecture courses each time Seminar attendance is closer to 80%
classes meet 2 or 3 times a week
classes meet 1 time a week**
take 4-7 classes at once
take up to 19 classes at once***
take many courses outside of major
almost entirely take courses in major
have never taken me out for a beer
took me out for a beer the other day

*Tuition in Hungary is a big political topic right now, as the government just passed a new law regarding higher education. 
**There are also courses that never meet.  Students just take an exam to demonstrate some knowledge in that field.
***Yes, dear reader, you read that right!  The highest number of classes I heard of a student taking is 19, the lowest 9.  It is, I think, an astounding feat and I don’t quite understand how it is done. 

What do you think about all this, dear readers?


  1. My family left Hungary in 1490 and moved to Germany. Out of the frying pan and into the fire for Jews. Anyway, my question are students in Hungary pessimistic about the future or more optimistic?

  2. That's a tough question, Frank! My students are almost all English majors and my impression is that, being young, they are rather optimistic and also being multi-lingual and EU citizens, often see a big world out there that they can be a part of. They are, like university students in Wisconsin, quite concerned about jobs.

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  4. As a higher ed policy person I enjoy your blogs very much! This issue of ridiculous number of classes - it is present in Serbia (I believe in most of former Yugoslav republics is the same). It is also the same in Turkey. I have been fascinated to hear that university students in Turkey spend about 8 hours in class every day (from 08am-5pm)! One can only wonder how much information stays in the head after the semester. What do they remember at the end from courses? Students in Serbia often mock the US system - how student basically don't need to study at all, how few courses they take, etc... I beg to differ in some may ways that this comment space would not be enough even for an intro paragraph. As some Italian professors in Turkey I met said "it seems to be about quantity rather than quality". Sadly seems true.
    Seriously, a class that never meets, but you just sit for an exam? Is this an education institution or testing service agency I wonder.

  5. Well, Lidia, I think both systems work, though in different ways. Students in Pecs clearly learn a lot, and I think the emphasis is on learning a lot of material quickly. I still prefer fewer classes myself, though, as I think with so many classes, some get a lot of attention and some don't get as much attention as they deserve. I think in the US college courses sometimes are too easy, but I think the system as a whole is very strong. I also think having few classes does not, in and of itself, make things too easy. Classes can require more reading and writing, and meet more frequently, and all of that I think makes these classes rigorous, and makes a class load of 4-5 courses as meaningful and challenging (though in different ways) as a class load of 10.

  6. Yes Gabe, as I said above, I disagree wholeheartedly with the Serbian students' "assessment" of the US system. Have been educated myself there and have first-hand experience. Don't really know about the Hungarian, but through your writing, doesn't seem so different from the Serbian (structure wise). Yet, even the European University Association has evaluated Serbia's higher ed. The verdict is: overwhelming number of exams-courses, emphasis on theoretical knowledge... In the US I remember there were not only exams, but also projects (often group ones) that we had to do, also follow new news stories on the topic and apply knowledge from the class to it, "papers" to write and alike. The group projects teach people the "soft skills" that are so important in the today's world (communication,team work, initiative, public speaking, etc). In a system that only offers exams-type evaluations this is missing. You will agree in the line of work these are often more important then subject matter expertise. This method also does not allow for you to miss much of the lectures. I went to schools where attendance was part of the grade in just about every class (for both UG and G). Thought it was a norm in the US.
    With a system that puts students in class for the entire day, they can't even have an internship - for example, not to mention time for actual studying. And as you stated attention span is limited, even for adults. What remains in the head are probably the most basic things.
    As for having a large number of your students fail the course: Recently I heard a Ukrainian professor in the US say "I have never met a professor in the US who wanted to fail his-her students". The emphasis for me here is on the word "wanted". This represents the fundamental difference in Serbia's situation. Many Serbian professors pride themselves with the number of students failing - so sad to have such "educators".

  7. I also like the variety of assignments typical in American universities. However, speaking as a professor, it is a tricky balance. I find grading groups assignments really hard because it is hard to know who did what, so I tend to give higher grades to all. I do think group assignments can really help learning, as you say, and build "soft skills" for a work environment. However, I also want to be able to judge that the student actually learned enough to get credit for passing the course, and that requires tests to have significant weight. I am still working out this balance.
    I think there is also a tension among professors, even within the same professor sometimes, between wanting to act as a gatekeeper, to screen bad students out, and wanting to act as a helper, to help more students learn more things. I think, of course, we should be helpers. The only trick is to make sure you can both help and also maintain standards to ensure that students who pass have done the work and learned the things that passing suggests they have.

    Thanks, by the way, for being one of the few people to comment on the blog site itself. I receive some comments on facebook also, get lots of visits, but I really like hearing what people have to say here on the site.

  8. You are very welcome Gabe! I enjoy this kind of writing really - anything related to education policy, international issues - cross culture shock, comparisons. I can relate to it very much.
    I am sorry that more people don't read it. I sent it to a list serve for 500+ people, but my grad school students who study International Education...

    I have this crazy dream that one day I may be the Minister of Education in Serbia and fix that horrible thing called "education" there :-).
    You (and Andrea too) will be a great resource for me!

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