I read with interest “The best universities in New Europe” ranking (News, 25 April). I was particularly glad that some Hungarian universities ranked in remarkably high positions. While understanding the need to differentiate universities in central and eastern Europe because of economic and historical reasons, in most cases related to the artificial division of Europe during the Cold War, allow me to share a few remarks concerning the notion of “New Europe”. First, “New Europe” implies the existence of “Old Europe”, implicitly meaning the old member states of the European Union, following the logic of your ranking. However, the EU developed and grew over decades, with four enlargements (1973, 1981, 1986 and 1995) preceding the “big bang” enlargement of 2004. So I found it rather artificial to put Sweden, for example, which joined the EU in 1995, into “Old Europe” and the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, less than a decade later, into “New Europe”. Second, “Old” and “New” Europe may add up to the 28 member states of the EU, but the EU by no means equals Europe. This fact is often forgotten, although it is obvious that countries such as Norway, Switzerland and Serbia, and in the foreseeable future the UK, do belong to Europe, without being members of the union. Third, some renowned universities in “New Europe”, such as Charles University in Prague (1348) and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow (1364), were founded in the same period as, if not before, several institutions in “Old Europe”. Equally important is that the Kingdom of Bohemia (also known as the Czech Kingdom), the Kingdom of Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary were established centuries before several of the modern states of so-called Old Europe, taking Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and Finland into account. Again, the division of Old and New Europe looks quite arbitrary. I appreciate THE’s efforts to make a separate, in many cases more favourable, ranking for the selected central and eastern European countries, and I also acknowledge that the standfirst “Times Higher Education ranking reveals top universities from across the 13 latest European Union member states” is more precise than the eye-catching idea of “New Europe”. Nevertheless, the usage of “New Europe” ought to be reconsidered.
Former Hungarian ambassador to The Hague