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Forging a better future can end in prison

Hungary. Riga Street in Budapest is home to the Hungarian State Language Examination centre. Each year, inside the prison-like building, hundreds of students take the notoriously difficult proficiency tests.

The cafes round the corner buzz with the grumbles and complaints of young Hungarians who have failed the tests - so vital for top jobs in Budapest.

But here everything has a price and some Hungarians are taking a short-cut to success. You can buy a driving licence for Pounds 50, a false one-year travel pass for Pounds 25, but the foreign language certificates will cost you nearly Pounds 250 on Budapest's booming black market in false certificates.

The rewards - a better chance of getting a place at university, increased salaries for those working in the state sector or a chance at one of the well-paid jobs with foreign multi-nationals - make it worth it.

But now the authorities are clamping down and the price for being caught could be three years in prison.

Last month an investigation was made at a provincial university after officials noticed an unusually high number of graduates with language certificates - many turned out to be forgeries. Police then ordered an investigation at 89 Hungarian colleges and universities, checking certificates going back to 1993.

Gyula Juhasz, vice-president of the State Language Examination Board, said: "We have begun investigations. In one higher education institution we found 23 out of a group of 30 students held forged language certificates."

The investigations have also revealed that some students have been paying others to take the exams for them, using false identification.

It is not only language examinations where cheating appears to be rife. Students regularly complain about inconsistencies in the admissions process to universities, with accusations that individuals have won a place due to family, business or political connections known as protekcio.

"Everyone knows what is going on. Most of it is just favouritism, it comes from the culture of the previous system where you had to know someone on the inside to get on," said one student.

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