Central European University in peril as Hungary passes law

Parliament approves legislation that institution says would force it out of Budapest

April 4, 2017
Hungarian parliament, Budapest

The Hungarian parliament has passed legislation that the country's top university says will force it out of Budapest, despite academic protests from across the world.

The Central European University, set up to promote liberal democracy and partly financed by the philanthropist George Soros, says it will challenge the constitutionality of the new law and has vowed to continue operations.

Last week, the Hungarian government sparked condemnation from global academic groups by tabling amendments that would, according to CEU, force it to open a campus in New York, prevent it issuing US degrees, and leave it requiring a new agreement between US and Hungarian authorities to enshrine its legal status.

The move against CEU is seen as the latest attack by the government on pro-liberal or Soros funded organisations in the country.

CEU received vocal support from numerous academic groups inside and outside Europe, including Princeton University and the European University Association. Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, joined CEU's board of trustees, while the US State Department warned the Hungarian government against moving forward with the legislation.

But on 4 April, the Hungarian parliament approved amendments to Hungary's national law on higher education regardless.

At a press conference following the vote, CEU's president Michael Ignatieff said that the legislation had been "rammed" through parliament and was actually worse than that proposed last week, demanding a "punitive" timetable of changes.

Speaking via video-link from Washington DC, where he was rallying US political support, Professor Ignatieff said he would challenge the constitutionality of the act with Hungary's president.

Asked at what point CEU would decide it had to relocate from Budapest, he said: “CEU will continue its operations...in all circumstances.”

“Our current plan is that we want to remain in Budapest,” he said.

Leon Botstein, chair of CEU's board of trustees and president of Bard College in New York State, called the legislation "an unprecedented attack from within the EU on an American institution".

Earlier on 4 April, the plight of CEU was also highlighted in a speech by the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who warned that Europe could not remain silent.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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