Higher Education in Crisis? An Institutional Ethnography of an International University in Hungary

Laura J Parson, Ariel Steele
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 5  •  2020  •  pp. 017-034

Our goal is to provide understanding of if and how the institutional factors found to contribute to a chilly climate are experienced in an international setting and provide a broader understanding of the discourses that create challenges for marginalized and underrepresented groups in STEM.

In August 2018 the Hungarian government stopped funding gender studies program and took direct control of funding at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in order to focus “taxpayer money on areas that can generate a payoff for society” (Witte, 2018).

Data collection and analysis focused on how the interface between students and mathematics education was organized as a matter of the everyday encounters between students and faculty and administration by exploring their experiences inside and outside of the classroom.

There is little in the scholarly literature on how the recent threats and policy changes by the Hungarian government will impact Hungarian higher education; as such, this research has the potential to be a significant and leading contribution to the field by critically examining how ongoing changes to higher education policy, practices, and procedures in Hungary impacts the educational environment for students seeking a graduate degree in Hungary.

Although students and faculty at IU were aware of the political discourses surrounding higher education in Hungary, they largely felt that their work as mathematicians was not largely impacted by threats to academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Instead, these findings suggest that many of the same discourses that coordinate the work of STEM students in higher education persisted to create similar challenges for IU mathematics students.

The first step toward improving the chilly climate in STEM fields requires revising the STEM institution from one that is masculine to one that is inclusive for all students with the goal of creating a STEM education environment that supports, validates, and gives students an equal voice.

Subsequent inquiries guided by this work can extend to additional institutional environments in Hungary and in other authoritarian countries where academic freedom and institutional autonomy are challenged in order to understand how political reform and institutional factors play a role in creating challenges for students from underrepresented groups.

By providing an international perspective, we can explore trends in institutional factors in order to make recommendations that mitigate or reverse the traditional competitive and intimidating STEM classroom environment.

Future inquiries can explore discourses that contribute to the chilly climate in STEM with an international perspective, to explore if these discourses are consistent across different types of universities around the world.

institutional ethnography, Hungarian higher education, STEM in higher educa-tion, mathematics education
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