BME’s vice-rector for international affairs is committed to improving the university’s visibility and attractiveness and promoting mobility programmes.
BME’s successful international presence, the improvement of its ability to attract students and the promotion of student mobility are the top priorities of Emília Csiszár Koczkáné, vice-rector for international affairs, professor at the department of Physical Chemistry and Material Science at BME’s Faculty of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology (BME VBK). In her interview with bme.hu, she spoke about the responsibilities of her office, the strategic objectives linked to the internationalisation of BME and recent international events.
BME hosted a large scale international conference this spring. How do such events help increase the university’s international presence?
BME agreed to host the annual conference of the European University Association (EUA) back in 2019 but it had to be postponed until this year because of the pandemic. EUA is the most extensive representation of European universities with 850 member institutions from 48 countries. In Hungary, BME and six other higher education institutions are members of the association. It is important that BME was the host of such a prestigious event. The nearly 400 participants, -around 40% of whom were university executives-, discussed issues at BME such as university autonomy, the importance of collective thinking and the freedom of knowledge and the higher education. A conference like this is an excellent opportunity to build new international relations, to extend our partnership network and strongly contributes to enhancing our international visibility. As a matter of fact, our goal is to ensure that BME plays the same key role in the international education and research community as it does in Hungary.
How can BME appeal to foreign students? How is BME faring in that respect?
We are fortunate as the number of foreign students has been steadily growing in the last few years, their rate relative to the total enrollment is now approximately 14%. At present, we receive students from roughly 100 countries for full-time education or mobility programmes and we want to further raise their number. The foreign language degree award ceremony held in mid-summer represents an important milestone in our international training programme as nearly 400 foreign students received their degrees. This is the highest number of students in foreign language programmes BME has ever had.
The recruitment of foreign students has been the responsibility of the Directorate for International Affairs (NKI) since last September. Together with the vice-dean for international affairs from each faculty, we identified the geographical areas with potential relevance for BME from where we usually receive young people with excellent training and competencies. We concentrate our recruitment efforts on these regions. We pursue direct recruitment at fairs organised by foreign institutions or designed to promote programmes in certain disciplines. My colleagues recently went to the United States and will travel to Dubai in late October to recruit students at secondary school and higher education fairs. Indirectly, we also work together with agencies that specialise in this field.
Apart from student recruitment, what alternatives are there to improve BME’s appeal to students?
To attract more foreign students, we first and foremost need to develop and extend the selection of our English language courses. Our training portfolio has been significantly improved in the last five years: the number of English language courses doubled from 19 to 39 and currently a total of 36 programmes (6 BSc/OTM, 17 MSc/MA and 13 PhD/DLA) are available. In addition, we have preparatory courses for foreign students and 7 joint programmes in international collaboration. There are plans to further extend this portfolio. The MSc programme in construction information technology engineering is available from this school year while the engineering manager MSc and physicist engineer BSc course will be offered from next year.
I believe that in order to succeed in the competition for international students, we need to use state-of-the-art teaching methods and we need to constantly update and upgrade our course content. We are planning to strongly rely on teaching methods based on task performance and problem solving as well as learning independently or in groups.
One of the essential aspects informing the choice on a university by young people is the opinion of graduates about and the degree of satisfaction with their university. In addition to offering more academic opportunities, we also want to ensure that international students enjoy themselves at BME. This is why the Student Journey Programme (HÉP) was designed.
What exactly is the Student Journey Programme and why was it created?
The Directorate of Foreign Language Education (INYOI) at the Rector’s Office created the Student Journey Programme in the autumn of 2020. It is a comprehensive, all-university development programme. It has been designed to allow better coordination between information relevant to international students and community initiatives. International students include not only current students but also prospective students and alumni too. As the number of international students has doubled in the last five years, it was important to coordinate, at university level, the community building of international students and establish closer relations with them. HÉP supports orientation, access to information at the university, skills development, career choices, community building at BME and offers programmes for intercultural awareness-raising and language training. After graduation, further networking with the renewed alumni organisation is offered.
Emília Csiszár Koczkáné is vice-rector for international affairs and professor at the department of Physical Chemistry and Material Science at BME’s Faculty of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology.
She received a technical engineering degree in chemistry in 1981 and then in 1983 a chemical engineer degree from the Faculty of Chemical Technology of the Technical University of Budapest. After graduation, she started research at BME on a scholarship from MTA’s Scientific Evaluation Committee and gradually moved her way up in her research and teaching career. She received her university doctoral degree in 1988, a PhD degree in 1997 and her doctoral candidate in chemistry from MTA in 1998. In 2013, she habilitated at BME VBK and was awarded the title “Doctor of the Academy” in 2020.
Her research work consistently focused on biopolymers. Earlier, she studied the enzymatic technology processes of cellulose based fibers while currently she is working on identifying the potential applications of nanoparticles extracted from cellulose and other biopolymers.
She has won several OTKA and R&D applications and has led the Hungarian research team in numerous bilateral international collaborations and four COST Actions. In 1996, she conducted research at Cornell University in the USA. She teaches several courses in BSc, MSc and PhD programmes at BME VBK. Since 2017, she has been the programme owner of the MSc programme in plastic and fiber technology engineering.
She was the secretary of the Material Science and Technology Complex Committee of MTA for 6 years and of the Natural Polymers Working Committee for 9 years. Between 2008 and 2018, she was the chairwoman of the Natural Polymers Working Committee of MTA.
Her professional contribution has been recognised by a number of awards: she received the Csűrös Zoltán Award in 2000, the Fodor Lajos Award in 2010 and the Réffy József Award in 2020 from BME VBK for her academic, research and community work. She received a university award for her “TDK work” in 2004 and 2014 and was granted the Széchenyi István Scholarship between 2001 and 2004.
Her husband also works as a professor at the Faculty of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology while their two children both graduated from BME (BME VIK, BME VBK).
What do you think about the mobility ambitions of BME’s students? What opportunities do the mobility programmes offer?
BME is a genuinely international institution that attracts the world’s best to Budapest while opening the door to the leading universities around the world: BME’s students have access to more than 300 partner institutions across the world. I think that BME’s students, teaching staff, researchers, employees supporting teaching and in administrative positions have never before had so many opportunities to try themselves in an international environment as they do now. There are countless programmes supporting international research, teaching, partial transfer, international traineeships, knowledge sharing or even language learning in a partner country. And the EELISA programme provides opportunities to work in international communities. Nevertheless, the number of foreign students received by BME in a mobility programme is significantly higher than the number of BME students studying abroad. We also want to raise the number of those in teaching and non-teaching mobility. The university encourages and supports these mobility initiatives. While international experiences most importantly benefit the development of individual competencies, they also strongly promote the internationalisation of the university.
We regularly inform our colleagues and students about these opportunities. And we do this by not simply sharing a link to a website. We need to directly reach out to the relevant target groups. This is what we are trying to do together with NKI’s staff and that is why we organise a student mobility information day at the beginning of each semester. This recent event attracted nearly 200 students. (The presentation about application information is available on NKI’s website) We are also ready, for example based on a request from a department or faculty, to have personal meetings with smaller communities or groups to inform them about specific calls, applications. However, we must be aware that it is impossible to inform all persons concerned personally that is why we always have the most recent information about mobility opportunities available on NKI’s website.
You mentioned the mobility within the EELISA programme. How does the EELISA partnership support the university’s international efforts?
It is crucial for BME’s internationalisation that we work together with eight leading European universities in EELISA (European Engineering Learning Innovation and Science Alliance, https://eelisa.bme.hu/) allowing our university community to participate in the academic and research programmes of the partner institutions and to become familiar with each other’s best practices. We work together with the other universities in the alliance to create a new definition for the “European engineer” and to devise a new system for the European engineering degree. Under EELISA, a new European training model is being generated that is based on international communities. Students, teaching staff and researchers belonging to the EELISA alliance have access to an ever increasing selection of academic and research collaborations. We want to share information about these opportunities already as part of student recruitment so that young Hungarian and foreign people who are about to choose a university know.
In early September, we held an EELISA summit at BME in order to disseminate the results of EELISA and strengthen cooperation within the alliance. This event celebrated the establishment and achievements of the first EELISA communities as well as the issue of the first 1000 EELISA credentials.The executives of the alliance’s partner universities agreed that the cooperation should continue and preparations for the new application process and for the continuation of the programme after 2023 began.
BME has recently made intense efforts to build relations with Hungarian universities and institutions located outside Hungary. What progress has been made in this area?
One of the key goals of the application of our rector is BME’s increased and extended participation in the Hungarian language programmes of universities outside Hungary. To this end, we contacted many Hungarian higher education institutions outside Hungary last year in order to start academic and research cooperation with them. We contacted universities and colleges in Upper Hungary, Transcarpathia, Transylvania, Vojvodina as well as the Transylvanian Museum Association (EME). -As a renewal of the agreement made in 2004 - with the latter, we signed an agreement on long term scientific, academic and cultural cooperation here at BME a few days ago. And later this month, our agreement with the Partium Christian University will be signed in Oradea.
Partnership meeting of BME and the Transylvanian Museum Association and the signing of their cooperation agreement at BME
For months now, we have been working with my colleagues at NKI on an agreement encompassing extensive academic and research cooperation with the Babes-Bolyai University and Sapienta Hungarian University of Transylvania. We believe it is important to support Hungarian language education outside Hungary in the field of technology, information technology, natural sciences, economics and social sciences. In October, we are going to attend the event in Cluj-Napoca celebrating 150 years of Hungarian university education.
In addition to the accomplishment of the strategic objectives, what other routine responsibilities have you got as vice-rector?
I have a very versatile routine, partly because BME is regularly visited by the representatives of foreign universities and partner institutions from all over the world as well as from foreign embassies and Hungary’s foreign representations. I am happy to meet them as well as the foreign guests visiting the Rector’s Office and the various faculties. BME’s membership in multiple international organisations is also a source of a number of duties for me and colleagues from the various faculties in charge of this.
I get a lot of support from the highly experienced staff of NKI and INYOI. Last year, we restructured these two directorates, made adjustments in their work processes and responsibilities to enable them to efficiently support BME’s internationalisation efforts and contribute to the fulfillment of the diverse set of duties. In the last 14 months, we have hosted seven major events (international opening ceremony, three international degree award ceremonies, EUA conference, two EELISA events) whose successful organisation was in large part the result of the professional and excellent work of the staff of the two directorates.
While it may sound surprising, my responsibilities also include the sports activities at BME. Instead of detailing my related responsibilities, I would like to remind readers of an upcoming and large scale event. On October 1 and 2 2022, the Danube Regatta university rowing and dragon boat race will take place together with a sports, music and cultural festival whose main venue will be the central building and upper and lower embankment in front of it and, of course, the Danube as the race will be located between Margaret Bridge, Vigadó and BME’s central building. This event also has an international aspect as we are planning to invite foreign teams as well. It will be hosted by the National Sports Agency but BME will participate in the organisation. I hope that there will be many supporting BME’s teams and everybody will find something they enjoy from the wide variety of sports, music and cultural programmes. (For more information, please visit the event’s website.)
Photo: B. Geberle