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From factory to university: The Gyula Illyés Programme has given talented young people a chance for two years

2024-06-20 10:55:00

In addition to intensive learning and preparation for graduation, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds find community and motivation at Corvinus.
Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem

“I had it in me that I wanted to go to university” 

András Farkas comes from Kaposvár, where he went to high school. He originally trained as a chemist and chose biology-chemistry as elective courses. But before graduation, he had to deal not only with preparation, but also with an illness. “It was very hard for me and it left its mark on my graduation. I passed the exams, but I didn’t get the number of points I wanted. But I still had it in my mind that I wanted to go to university,” says András. Finally, after high school, he completed an NQR programme and started working in a factory.   

“That environment was not for me, and I still had it in me that I wanted to go to university,” he recalled the time when his cousin showed him the call for applications for the Gyula Illyés Programme. He met the admission criteria: neither of his parents has a degree, he is over his school leaving examination, he is not yet 26 years old and his circumstances prevented him from entering higher education. So he wrote a motivation essay, applied and travelled to Budapest for the personal interview. Almost two years have passed since then, and thanks to his own perseverance, diligence, the University’s conscious and systematic preparation programme and the supportive environment he experienced at Corvinus, András has successfully graduated again and has already completed one academic year at the University of Dunaújváros in the bachelor study programme of Engineering Management. 

András is one of eight young people who arrived in Budapest from all over the country last academic year and participated in the Corvinus’ Gyula Illyés Programme from autumn to summer. This academic year, two more students have completed this special, university preparatory academic year. The Programme helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to continue their education, achieve better results at school and improve their English language skills.  

“The whole Corvinus is a bubbly place”  

The Programme also provides students with dormitory accommodation and a scholarship, as well as the tools they need to learn. “It was nice not to have to work alongside it. The aim was really on focusing on learning and getting the best possible results,” says András. The dormitory environment was a great experience for many of them, a completely new way of life in Budapest. 

“It was a new experience to come here and be away from home for a long time. A new opportunity to experience what it’s like to be on my own and do everything on my own. Obviously I could ask for help if I got stuck, but it gave me extra autonomy,” explains András, who has also made a lot of new friends. “It’s a pity the Programme is over, I long to get back to that atmosphere. The whole Corvinus is a bubbly place.”  

Dr. Ágnes Zsóka, Vice-Rector for Academic Development, who is in charge of the Programme, said that the University is doing everything possible to ensure that students who complete the academic year are integrated into the university community through the preparatory programme and mentoring of lecturers and students. “The Gyula Illyés Programme is part of our University’s very serious commitment to social responsibility.”  

“We help them with what they need”  

This has already been emphasised by Dr Krisztina Megyeri, Head of the Programme, who, in addition to being its soul, also teaches the participants mathematics. “The teacher was very attentive to each of us individually, how we should practice what, and she really brought up the level of each of us,” recalls András of the intensive maths lessons. One of the Programme’s major achievements is that all of last year’s participants passed their re-tests better than before. For example, András improved his maths score from 34% to 80%, which significantly increased his chances of getting into university.  

English language training is also the backbone of the Programme. The students join the International Preparation Programme offered by the university for foreigners, which has run for 12 years. At the beginning of the academic year, they take a level assessment and are placed in a group according to their level of knowledge. It is a very intensive programme that has helped András to progress from basic to intermediate level. “We used to speak so much English that I even dreamt in English,” he recalls. “It was a challenge to study with mostly foreigners and the classes were really almost all in English”.  

According to Dr. Ágota Dobos, Head of the Language Preparation Programme, the participants were able to integrate well into the international environment. “Everyone is so new to university and Budapest that they are in a similar situation to foreigners. The groups have proved to be very inclusive”. András also made friends abroad and, as English was the common language, he also practised outside class. “As well as getting used to the requirements, they will later be able to move more freely in an international environment,” says Ágota.  

“We were not very bored, we went to the university from Monday to Thursday,” says András. This year’s participants also report working up to six days a week, from morning to night, to achieve their goals. Gábor Kurucz, for example, has set himself an ambitious goal: to start a bachelor study programme in Business Administration and Management at Corvinus in September. The Programme does not expect participants to apply to Corvinus, but will find the study programme and university that best suits them. “The aim is also to help them find what they want to learn. We put a lot of emphasis on this in the first few months,” explains Kriszta. “When we got in, they calculated the number of points for us, asking us what directions we were interested in. I remember that the first study programme they offered me was the one I’m studying now,” recalls András. 

“The university community is very supportive” 

Gábor ultimately chose Corvinus because he found the programme to be a cohesive university community. The volunteer maths teachers of the student association Studium Generale (SG) spend a lot of time with the participants. Szabolcs Nagy, head of the SG’s mathematics section, recalled with a laugh: “Our teachers love working with those participating in the Illyés Programme so much that this year we had two of them mentor a student”. According to President Róbert Litkei, they also practice individually with them and can join group classes and other programmes. Gábor, for example, was so impressed by the spring camp that he decided to join the student association if he was accepted to university.  

In addition to volunteers from the student association, other peer mentors will help participants. “I find that there is a reserve in Corvinus students that they are eager to show”. For example, Réka Csenge Balázs, a student at Corvinus, has been actively involved in the Programme as a mentor for two years. “They are my role models,” she says when I ask her about her motivation. It’s inspiring for her to see how hard these young people in the Programme work to go on to university. The motivation is mutual, as András also reported that “the mentality at Corvinus is different from what I have seen before. Most of them are trying very hard”.  

“There is a dialogue between us. No one went into this Programme with the idea that we would come down and lift the students up, but it’s a good collaboration for everyone,” explains Kriszta. “Corvinus students will become leading economists. It is important that they understand what is needed, for example, when designing a loan scheme. The Programme helps to break down the wall between middle-class and disadvantaged students, brick by brick.” Dr. Ágnes Zsóka adds that the Programme also has a spill-over effect. “These young people become role models in their old school, even in their families. They can go back and motivate and encourage people in their own former environment.”  

“You give each other strength” – says Dr. Előd Takáts, former Rector of Corvinus, initiator and one of the inventors of the Programme. “It’s not just teaching, it’s community building. It strengthens cohesion within the university”. Different organisational units are linked in the Programme. For example, Ibolya Nagy from CEQEM helps a lot with the administration. The Head of the Programme pointed out that the university’s organisation provides stability, but at the same time everyone is surprisingly flexible and quick to respond when a problem or need arises. “The university community is very supportive – it has ensured the success of the Programme for two years now. We would like to continue next year, so we are looking forward to receiving applications.” 


The Gyula Illyés Programme will be announced for the next academic year 2024/2025. We are waiting for the applications until 19 August 2024. For more information/Inquire here: 


Written by: Tünde Taxner 

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GEN.:2024.07.20. - 03:11:35