“You, dear first-year students, are today embarking on one of the most important and hopefully the most beautiful journeys of your lives,” said Rector Dr. Béla Merkely in his welcome speech, pointing out that with the start of the academic year, thousands of first-year freshmen join the Semmelweis Citizens and become members of the Semmelweis Family. Almost 4,000 first-year students will start their studies in the academic year 2023/24 in the six faculties, of which nearly 1100 will study in English or German. Speakers at the ceremony in the MVM Dome included Dr. Balázs Hankó, State Secretary for Innovation and Higher Education, Dr. Béla Merkely, Rector, and Gábor Orbán, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Foundation for Health and Medical Education.

The opening ceremony of the 253rd academic year of Semmelweis University started with a welcome speech by Dr. Balázs Hankó, State Secretary for Innovation and Higher Education. “It’s good to be a university student today, because a graduate can find a job in 36 days, what is more, earning a degree contributes to at least one and a half times higher income. Over the last four years, we have seen a 78 percent increase in the number of publications in top international scientific journals and a quadrupling of patents! It is no surprise that Semmelweis University is a frontrunner in this respect,” he remarked, highlighting that in one year the dropout rate has decreased by 3 percent and Semmelweis University is the 64th best university in the European Union, ranking in the top 1 percent in the world. He described the three pillars of success as strong university autonomy in research-teaching, finance-management and organizational terms; flexible competitive operations and predictability thanks to the 6-year funding agreement, doubling the funding for higher education. “At such a time as this, it is especially reassuring that the renewed Hungarian university model preserves and shapes values, because it is thanks to our culture and values that we have no lesser task here in the heart of Europe than to guard and protect our people and create a force capable of shaping our narrow community, our nation and the world!  And in this, the mission of those who practice medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, conducting and health care professions is fundamental,” he emphasized.

Balázs Hankó elaborated on the increase in the number of students in higher education and the fact that nearly 8 out of 10 students start their studies with a state scholarship, also mentioning that the average admission score in the field of medicine and health sciences increased by 20 points this year.

He claimed that the goal is to have a Hungarian university among the top 100 universities in the world and 3 institutions among the top 100 in Europe by 2030, while the number of international students should reach 80,000. The State Secretary outlined the main goals of the model change, which are reducing dropout rates, strengthening mentoring, increasing research performance, innovation and creativity, and expanding international relations, talent management and university sports as widely as possible.

We particularly count on Semmelweis University in shaping the future. As the leading medical university in the region, it is no longer just a partner in European collaborations, but also a partner with Harvard, connecting excellence with excellence. It is the joint planning and purposeful work of recent years that has brought us here,

he concluded. “The renewed Hungarian higher education is the key to our competitive edge and thus our future prospects! But your mission as young citizens of Semmelweis University is even more noble, because as guardians of our health, you are putting snow-white plasters on our physical and spiritual wounds,” he addressed Semmelweis students, asking for their commitment and assuring the university and its leaders of the ministry’s support.

The ceremony continued with Dr. Béla Merkely, Rector of the University greeting the first-year students. “There is no device that could measure the love and pride that I feel standing before of you as Rector of Semmelweis University, and the strength of the unity that characterizes our community. But there is no need for such a device. All you need to do is look around,” he said, stressing that the first-year students and their relatives, as well as the distinguished guests, were all present to share the joy and to take part in one of the institution’s biggest events and most prestigious celebrations. “Today, nearly 4,000 freshmen from 75 countries join the Semmelweis Citizens and become members of the Semmelweis Family,” he pointed out. The Rector drew attention to the importance of predecessors and role models such as the university eponym Ignác Semmelweis, Albert Szent-Györgyi, Vilma Hugonnai, András Pető, Gedeon Richter and Dr. István Körmendi, the oldest family doctor in the country who is still practicing.

“Today you, dear first-year students, are embarking on one of the most important and hopefully most beautiful journeys of your lives,” he underscored, adding that the journey will be neither easy nor fast, but full of wonderful experiences.

I am proud that as part of the Semmelweis Family, we will be able to take this journey together. I am delighted that so many excellent young people have chosen this path. And when I say excellent, I mean it literally. Because only the best of the best can get into Semmelweis University,

he stressed. Dr. Béla Merkely explained that this academic year, the number of applicants and admissions in all faculties, as well as in the English and German language programs, increased significantly by 20 and 10 percents, respectively. In total, almost 2,800 Hungarian first-year students and 1,100 English and German-speaking students are now beginning their studies, joining the university’s student community of almost 16,000 students, of whom around a third are coming from abroad. The Rector also highlighted the institution’s position in higher education rankings. According to the latest Times Higher Education ranking, Semmelweis is among the top 250 universities worldwide. “The fact that we collaborate with more than 200 universities around the world, including Harvard, Heidelberg, Karolinska and Singapore, is proof of our international approach,” he concluded.

He particularly drew attention to the importance of practice-oriented training and the curricular reform focusing on it. “I consider it of utmost importance to train qualified, conscientious and outstanding professionals, who, at the same time, are also empathetic and good people. People who are sensitive to the big questions of their national community, to the arts and sports. For Semmelweis is a place where it is good to study and work, and a good place to live and spend leisure time,” he said, emphasizing that students should never forget that patients shall always be at the center of their studies and their future careers.

He stressed the university’s strongly theory-based and practice-oriented education as well as the infrastructure of the institution, as state-of-the-art technology and equipment are available, teaching facilities, community spaces and sports facilities are being continuously improved, and the ongoing Campus Development Program will create the conditions for up-to-date education, research and innovation for years to come.

“For you, this is the beginning of a period that you will never forget. Neither will you forget your solemn oath, which will be taken shortly. The path you are embarking on is a long one. The path you follow is a difficult one. The path you take is an arduous one. But it is also a path that is joyful, exalting and uplifting. I urge you, during your university years, to walk this path with courage and curiosity. Keep feeding your thirst for knowledge. Keep your curiosity alive! Doubt, question and search! Search for new answers! Seek new paths, your own paths! As the Rector of Semmelweis University, I can assure you that you will receive not only the widest and best possible knowledge, but also the fullest support to become excellent professionals at the end of this journey, serving not only patients, but also the advancement of the science and the healthcare system. Furthermore, our international students will be excellent ambassadors for the Semmelweis values and for Hungary,” Dr. Béla Merkely concluded his speech.

“Getting a degree at Semmelweis University is not the easiest feat. During those seemingly never-ending nights of study, may you be strengthened by the certainty that at the end of your persistent work, you will graduate from a highly prestigious institution. With this diploma in your hands, any healthcare institution will be happy to employ you, and will be proud to have such exceptional professionals in their ranks”, said Gábor Orbán, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Foundation for Health and Medical Education. He pointed out that the education at the university has become world famous in recent decades: the university has been hosting students from more than a hundred countries in the framework of the international medical training program, which started more than 40 years ago, so that currently one in three students studying at the institution comes from abroad. “This reputation is outstanding internationally and exceptional in Central and Eastern Europe. Both the university’s management and the Foundation for National Health and Medical Education as its maintainer, share the common goal of not only preserving this competitive edge, but also of further strengthening the quality of education that attracts high intellectual capital,” he claimed, highlighting the value of the curriculum reform, the infrastructure development and the digitalization, the success of which is demonstrated by the institution’s increasingly high position in higher education rankings.

But as you enter the doors of the university, remember that the meaning and the main asset of medicine is the human being. The pain of the patient, the concern of the relatives and the empathy needed to treat them cannot be measured by any indicator,

emphasized Gábor Orbán, stressing the importance of a patient-centered approach. He added that the foundation and the university also aim to train outstanding people who are among the world’s elite in terms of their professional skills, but who are also able to treat their patients with understanding and patience and do their best to help others with their best knowledge.

A short film about Dr. István Körmendi, Hungary’s oldest practicing family doctor, was also screened at the event. This was followed by the solemn oath ceremony of first-year students in three languages, Hungarian, English and German. After a performance by the Semmelweis University Choir, university awards were presented.

After the screening of the short film ‘My Semmelweis – Study at Semmelweis University and live in Hungary’s vibrant capital, Budapest’, Csenge Gecsey, President of the Students’ Union of Semmelweis University welcomed the first-year students. “Today, you become part of a community where knowledge, innovation and personal development take center stage. I can safely say that university life is much more than just studying and preparing for exams. It is about change, new friends and memories to last a lifetime – values that will have a lasting impact on you,” she said, highlighting the diversity of the student community. She also outlined the role of the Students’ Union, which strives to ensure that students have a rich and varied community life and the best possible representation of their interests. “Every academic year brings new opportunities and challenges for all of us. On campus and beyond, we can acquire skills and knowledge that will help us grow professionally and personally. Through innovation and development, we can also achieve results in the fields of health and science that will benefit society,” she added. Csenge Gecsey noted that being a Semmelweis Citizen means strength, perseverance, dedication, responsibility and great pride. “In the coming period, I ask you to focus on perseverance and determination. After all, you are now students at one of Europe’s leading universities. You will become some of the most outstanding doctors, dentists and health professionals of the future,” she underlined, stating that cooperation, empathy and knowledge sharing are values that students should always remember. She also drew attention to the sports and arts opportunities available at the university. “I hope that after your university years, the Semmelweis Spirit will remain in your hearts forever and that you will pursue your chosen profession with this in mind,” she concluded.

The list of students who have been awarded the National Higher Education Scholarship for the academic year 2023/2024 has been announced and can be found by clicking here.

The event closed with a performance by the Semmelweis University’s Medic Orchestra.

Ádám Szabó
Photo: Bálint Barta, Attila Kovács – Semmelweis University
Translation: Judit Szabados-Dőtsch