It is profoundly concerning that the legislative proposals introduced in Hungary’s National Assembly on 28 March would decisively entrench direct national state control over open international higher education institutions in Hungary. International institutions face prospects of abolition, regressive restructuring to confine them within a closed national border, or forced exile.
It is scarcely a secret that Budapest-based Central European University is a primary target of this proposed legislation. It seems that the CEU is paying the price for its high quality. It is a brilliant university with a great role in Hungary, the region and the world.
Although the actions of the government in Hungary are consistent with other recent attacks on institutional autonomy and scholarly freedom – for example the repression of teachers and academics in Turkey and the forced closure of the European University at St Petersburg in Russia – these moves demonstrate a failure to grasp the conditions of operation that are essential to all effective universities. Everywhere, research-based higher education institutions work on the basis of open, cross-border networks of scholars. Any subtraction of a major part of this worldwide network, one in which all engage with each other, constitutes a loss for everyone. The future of the CEU is an issue of great concern to universities worldwide.
Born as a post-Soviet open society initiative, the CEU has played a transformative role in Central Europe. It has become a source of learning, scholarship and research of the highest importance. It has educated a generation of leaders and future leaders. It also fosters social access and social justice. It provides high-quality free postgraduate and doctoral education to many students with good academic credentials who lack the means to pay high tuition fees in North America or the UK. It has played a crucial role in access for Roma people and, most recently, refugees.
This university also functions as a vital and active democratic forum for the discussion of ideas and policies. Within its walls, its academic faculty and students maintain an open, collegial and welcoming space for debate and critical scholarship. The core values of the CEU are civic engagement, academic autonomy and freedom of thought and opinion, and these are consistently practised. Many of the university’s graduates have gone on to outstanding careers in academia, public service, politics, and business and civic life in Hungary, the region and elsewhere in the world.
The CEU is a university that Hungary should be deeply proud of. We at the Centre for Global Higher Education are proud to have continuing ties with the CEU, and to declare our solidarity with the university in its hour of need. We urge scholars, students and university representatives all over the world to show their support for the CEU and to firmly request that the Hungarian government withdraw its proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education.
UCL Institute of Education, University College London, and director, Centre for Global Higher Education