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Cities in international perspective: Debrecen

Edited on

02 December 2020
Read time: 2 minutes

In the Welcoming International Talent project, seven cities aim at sharing knowledge, improving policies and implementing best practice projects in their international student cities. But why are these specific cities participating in the WIT project? Each city will explain what they can contribute and what they would like to learn from this knowledge exchange. This time: Debrecen, Hungary!

Debrecen is the second largest city in Hungary by population with its 202,214 inhabitants and located 220 km away from the capital, Budapest. The almost 660 years old city is the economic, cultural, and scientific centre of Eastern Hungary having also remarkable force of regional integration in the Eastern Carpathian Basin.


Debrecen’s economy is booming, companies from high value-added industries are establishing new sites in the city, like vehicle and machine industry, business service centre, electronic industry, chemical and pharmaceutical industry, health industry and food industry, which have traditional role in the region. Debrecen concentrates considerable level of resources promoting investments and developing local businesses. Recently Debrecen has announced more than €2 billion foreign direct investment and 8 000 new workplaces. Such major companies have chosen Debrecen as an expansion target, like BMW, Krones, Continental or Thyssenkrupp. 

Related to the economic development processes Debrecen initiated its Investment Promotional Programme. The success of this programme was demonstrated by several different awards since its establishment. In 2018 Debrecen won first place in the small cities’ category among the best European cities with the best capital-attracting investment strategy. Thus, the city has received the title of the European City of the Future and could use it for two years. In 2020, Debrecen took part in the competition again and awarded the second position, which is a great success, since no city had been able to participate in the TOP3 for two consecutive years. In another competition Debrecen took the 3rd place on Emerging Europe awards for its FDI promotion strategy.

The startup world in Debrecen demonstrates a steady development. Communities have been formed like DebTech, the meeting point of those interested in startups. !gen Debrecen, a social entrepreneur and innovator startupper training program was launched in order to support viable ideas, and helps participants with its mentoring and incubation program. The creative and inspiring environment is provided by DebrecenHUB, the first co-working office in the city.


Debrecen has an imposing history in the field of education since it has more than 72 000 students within the whole educational spectrum. There are several educational institutions in operation in the city, from kindergartens through primary and secondary schools (both grammar and vocational schools) to the higher educational institutions. The city boasts the oldest and largest university in the country, the University of Debrecen. Offering the most diverse training scheme, according to 2019 statistical data, it serves 31,458students in 14 faculties and in 25 doctoral schools. As an intellectual centre with outstanding research and development capacities, the University is playing an increasingly important role in the region’s economic, social, and cultural development. In 2019 the University of Debrecen served a highly diverse international community including nearly 6506 foreign students from 119 countries. 

Debrecen has launched its first international school, the “International School of Debrecen (ISD)” in the region in September 2019, which has been providing quality education from kindergarten to secondary school. Both foreign and Hungarian students have been involved in an international-level education in a modern and professional environment in Debrecen-Pallag, which equips them with essential skills and knowledge for a successful future in higher education and beyond.

A diverse city

A common sight in Debrecen is the image of the legendary creature, the Phoenix. Emerging from fire, from the top of the crown of Debrecen’s coat of arms, the phoenix symbolizes the never-ending renewal of the city. 

Even though Debrecen is often referred to as the Calvinist Rome, its religious landscape is rather diverse and there are many religious communities present here. The city is the seat of the Reformed and Roman Catholic bishops and is home to the Greek Catholic Archdiocese as well as the largest rural Jewish community in Hungary.

To foster economic development by establishing new sites for multinational companies from the above-mentioned high value-added industries, Debrecen is aiming at attracting international talents to settle down in the city as an expatriate or even as a student. It is a crucial point in improving the competitiveness at a domestic and at an international level, that foreign people and their families can find a welcoming environment and a liveable city, so they can significantly contribute to the success of Debrecen.

Welcoming International Talents

The Welcoming International Talents project established its relevancy for Debrecen. The project deliverables provide a different mindset for the local stakeholders, revealing the need for internationalizing our city and develop a welcoming policy strategy.

Transferring the good practice, we expect the city to meet challenges, i.e. to serve the needs of expats and foreign students at high level, to make Debrecen more liveable for them, and to facilitate their everyday life in our city. On the one hand, it makes education and employment more attractive in Debrecen, and on the other hand, it increases the number of internationals living in the city.