George Soros’ $1 billion gift launches global university network

Universities will come together to offer joint degree programmes and research projects

January 24, 2020
Source: iStock

George Soros has pledged to donate $1 billion (£763 million) to a university network that will “promote the values of an open society”.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he railed against the ascendance of authoritarian rulers around the world and said that the new university network would encourage freedom of expression and the diversity of beliefs.  

The Open Society University Network will be an international platform for teaching and research that will try to reach institutions in need of international partners, as well as refugees, incarcerated people and other displaced groups, he said.

OSUN was set up by the Central European University, founded by Mr Soros, and Bard College in New York, but will partner with other institutions around the world, such as Arizona State University, the American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan and BRAC University in Bangladesh.

The second phase of the network will involve opening it up to other institutions. “We are looking for farsighted partner institutions who feel a responsibility for the future of our civilisation, people who are inspired by the goals of OSUN and want to participate in its realisation,” Mr Soros said.

It will offer simultaneously taught network courses and joint degree programmes. Its plan is to bring students and faculty from different countries together with in-person and online discussions and conduct joint research projects.

It will also create a “massive scholars-at-risk” programme. It will connect “academically excellent but politically endangered scholars” with the network and each other.

Mr Soros said that OSUN would “be the most important and enduring project of my life”, as he lamented the turn against open societies after the global financial crash of 2008.

This was “because it constituted a failure of international co-operation. This in turn led to the rise of nationalism, the great enemy of open society,” he said.

“I believe our best hope lies in access to an education that reinforces the autonomy of the individual by cultivating critical thinking and emphasising academic freedom,” he said.

Mr Soros called on other philanthropists to donate to the network. The time has come for “a new and innovative educational network that the world really needs”, he said.

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