Béla Erődi-Harrach Jr

One of the outstanding personalities of the nearly hundred-year history of the Corvinus University of Budapest has been Bála Erődi-Harrach Jr. economist, social politician and professor.

His activities are intimately linked to the first three decades of the university. Erődi-Harrach was born in the municipality of Kunmadaras in 1882 to a bourgeois family. His father, Béla Erődi-Harrach Sr used to be a linguist. Erődi-Harrach Jr studied at the Budapest University of Science (today’s Eötvös University) as well as in Berlin and Halle. He began his career as a teacher of economics and finance at the Trade Academy of Cluj in 1904.

With support from the Cultural Ministry he devised and organized the College Social Estate in 1901 in Újpest (a district of Budapest), later called University Institute of Social Policy, which he directed until 1947. Inspired by the English “settlement” movement, the aim of the Estate was to provide assistance to families living in extreme poverty through establishing personal contacts and making use of them. It also served as an educational and training institution for university students engaged in social services. Besides the social estate, his other major contribution was the project of the Faculty of Economics.

In the autumn of 1917 Erődi-Harrach Jr was invited to write a study defining the tasks, orientation and educational system of the University of Economy. His 36-page study entitled “University of Economy” became published in print and consisted of two main parts. The first part was the general introduction justifying the necessity of setting up such a university. “In order to achieve national well-being, the approach of the economist is required … who through his work is able to fill in the large and all-encompassing framework of national life”. He stresses the responsibility of the managers of enterprises saying that “mass training in economy is needed, as it is the well-trained average gifted people who broaden the roads opened up by the pioneers of advancement and who provide a firm and lasting foundation for the power and well-being of their nation[…] What is needed?” – asked Erődi-Harrach. In his view “the intellectual class who became impoverished and ruined during the war should be helped to get back on its feet”, that is the middle class should be lifted and promoted. He turned out to be right in thinking that “the social question” would determine the everyday life of society and politics.

One of the most interesting and decisive chapters bears the title: “The connection between the university and practical life”. Erődi-Harrach did not consider it to be the university’s task to “substitute or to make up for the practice that is necessary for the profession of the economist”, the graduated student will acquire this on the job. Nevertheless, the practical aspects are of great importance as knowledge and experience with regard to economics are based on the collection and classification of these. Economics “systematizes phenomena, collects the new ones, subjects them to criticism, separates the important from the unimportant, points out the economic and social context, detects and overcomes the errors committed at the practical level. Science […] emerges and develops from this process cycle, in parallel with life. These disciplines require a higher intellectual institute where they can be duly cultivated, interdisciplinarity can be achieved and passed on to wider circles”.

Having clarified these questions, he then addresses the university curriculum and the educational system in the second part of his study. He starts from the complexity of economic life and economic science, but in his view in education reality should be described in terms of the current state of science. With veritable positivist thoroughness he prepared the subject schedule including all the relevant disciplines, of which he even attached a table. One should however avoid teaching this knowledge, these disciplines in an encyclopaedic manner, without the relevant correlations. He listed altogether 25 subjects coming under five groups1. Although the list reflects his belief in victory at war, the subject list can still be considered to be modern. With regard to language instruction it is worth mentioning that English is not included among the Western languages preferred in world economy and word trade. Among the Eastern languages the languages of the Balkans, Turkish, Russian and Arabic are mentioned. The instruction of Western languages is modelled upon the system introduced at the Eötvös Collegium, that is by employing native speaker teachers.

Erődi-Harrach suggested that practical training should take place in small-groups, led by lecturers, assistant lecturers and assistants. He included the establishment of model offices as a form of practical training. Among the training tools priority should be given to a system of libraries consisting of a central unit and a network of seminar libraries. Practical training is to be supported also by various laboratories, experimental estates and practical institutes. An example of the latter is the College Social Estate that he set up in Újpest. Under his proposal, university studies should last 8 semesters, during which an average of 18-24 compulsory classes should be attended. In the course of four years, two comprehensive exams should be passed: at the end of the second academic year the basic examination, at the end of the fourth year the final examination upon which the diploma would be issued. Erődi-Harrach does not specify the name of the qualification. By contrast, he does so in the section called “Doctorate” where he explains that qualification is not subject to obtaining the “Doctor of Economics” title, the latter being a scientific degree. The doctoral rigorosum or final exam would consist of one main subject and three minor subjects. The main subjects would be different for farmers, mining engineers and forest managers. This is where he describes that these subjects would also have the corresponding departments at the university, that is besides agricultural training, mining and forestry would also be added to the university’s programs. This aspiration is quite understandable owing to the organizational and infrastructural developments that took place in the largest mining town of the Hungarian Kingdom, Selmecbánya (today’s Banska Štavnica in Slovakia) at the beginning of the century. During the war, however, the university ran out of students, the institution became empty.

The study devotes an entire section to the connection between the university and the commercial academies. Out of the four major institutions operating in this epoch, the two state-run academies should be integrated into the structure of the new university, the Eastern Commercial Academy and the Export Academy of Fiume (today Rijeka in Croatia). This would not only be cost-effective and spare money, but would also offer synergies owing to the aggregation of intellectual potential. Out of the two other academies, the Budapest Commercial Academy could be a competitor to the university in the positive sense of the word and as such would survive the university’s establishment. By contrast, his opinion about the college-level education offered at the Commercial Academy of Kolozsvár (today’s Cluj in Romania) was devastating: “totally lacking the appropriate economic environment, it has for years languished like a plant in a greenhouse and will sooner or later close, therefore the new university does not need to take it into account”. Students having completed a certain number of semesters at the academies would be permitted to obtain a degree after two additional years of study at the university, and subsequently a doctorate.

Finally, the study briefly addresses the issue of financing on which the author simply says: the existing capital, i.e. the 1917 donation from the Hangya Szövetkezet (producers’, distributors’ and consumers’ co-operative) complemented by the annual 240,000 crown maintenance costs of the four academies, plus a donation of 5-6 million crowns would be sufficient for construction and maintenance purposes.

The significance of his project lies in the fact that in October 2018 it was submitted to the last Hungarian king, Charles IV as the plan of the future University of Economics. The collapsing Monarchy, however, buried the project under itself. It resurfaced at the end of 1919 and was applied meticulously in establishing the Economic Faculty of the Royal Hungarian University of Science. In the new institution Erődi-Harrach was active for a whole era: he taught Economics and Social Policy between 1920 and 1944 as well as served as Dean in the 1926/1927 and 1943/1944 academic years. On 11 November 1944 the far-right Arrow Cross Party arrested him, transported him to the military prison at Sopronkőhida and later to Bavaria. He returned to Hungary in August 1945 and was retired in 1949.

As witnessed from the above description, through his activities, career and commitment, Erődi-Harrach Jr earned imperishable merits in the establishment and functioning of the Faculty of Economics, therefore is considered and remembered as one of the founding fathers of the faculty besides Pál Teleki, Elemér Almási Balogh, István Korláti Bernáth and others.

Vilmos Zsidi

1The five groups of subjects: A) Cultural Sciences, B) Theoretical Economics, C) Economic Policy, D) Law, E) Natural Sciences.
Individual subjects: 1. Philosophy, 2. Economic History, 3. Languages, 4. Private Economics, 5. Structure, Organization and Basic Issues of Economics, 6. World Economics, 7. Statistics, 8. Sociology, 9. Agricultural Policy, 10. Industrial Policy, 11. Trade Policy, 12. Social Issues and Social Policy, 13. Social Healthcare, 14. Co-operative models and Co-operative Policy, 15. Finances, 16. Current Issues of World Politics, 17. General Civil Law, 18. Administrative Law, 19. Trade Law, 20. Loan Law (bankruptcy, promissory notes), 21. Transport Law (Patents and Patent Law, Railway Law), 22. Consular Law, consular courts), 23. Legal Institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 24. Geographical Economics, 25. Mechanical and Chemical Technologies

Közgazdasági Egyetem (University of Economics) by Béla Erődi-Harrach. Publication of the College Social Estate. Budapest, 1918.

A közgazdasági kar létesítésének története (History of the Establishment of the Faculty of Economics) . In: Organizational and Study Regulations of the Faculty of Economics of the Royal Hungarian University of Science of Budapest. Second edition. Budapest., 1921.7.ff

István Michalik: Küzdelem az önálló egyetemi szintű közgazdászképzésért (Struggle for Autonomous University-Level Training in Economics. In: Studies on the History of Hungarian Higher Education in Economics. The presentations of the scientific conference entitled „The 75 year-old first faculty of economics in Hungary”. Editors: László Szögi- Vilmos Zsidi. Budapest, 1995. (Publication of the Archives of CUB) pp. 48-82

Vilmos Zsidi: The History of the Faculty of Economics of Budapest. ibidem pp 83-98

Antal Lombos: Humanist Heritage in Újpest. The Memory of the Újpest Settlement. Part 1. In: Újpesti Helytörténeti Értesítő March 2017 volume XXIV, issue 1, pp 4-6

Photo: Historic Photo Archives of the Hungarian National Museum