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May 2017

New law puts Soros-backed uni under threat

An institution set up by business magnate and philanthropist George Soros appears to be the target of the new laws imposing restrictions on foreign universities operating in Hungary.

Under the new regulations, foreign universities from outside the EU will need accreditation and have a campus both in their home countries and in Hungary. They will also be barred from awarding Hungarian diplomas without a new agreement between the governments of both countries.

George Soros – an opponent of the current Hungarian government – founded the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest in 1991. The institution now faces an immediate threat: it has been operating under an agreement between the governor of the State of New York and the then prime minister of Hungary, and it does not have a campus in the US. It will now need to comply with the new regulations or find itself unable to enrol new students – and face closure by 2021.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban (above) said that some foreign universities, including CEU, have been operating illegally and ‘cheat’ in the way they award diplomas, retaining an unfair advantage over other institutions. However, Hungary’s education authority has confirmed that CEU’s operations are perfectly legal.

As we went to press, the EU said it was launching a legal action against Hungary over the issue.

Observers believe Hungary’s right-wing ruling party Fidesz is targeting CEU, which some party representatives reportedly refer to as ‘the Soros university’, in the context of a more general fight against liberalism. Many fear the new regulations are an attack on academic freedom.

CEU rector Michael Ignatieff said, ‘This legislation has been rammed through parliament in a single week following a tide of defamatory attacks on the university and its degrees.’ The university said it was committed to fighting the new regulations and maintaining the integrity and continuity of its academic programs.

Academics, Nobel laureates, universities and government representatives from all over the world have pledged their support for the CEU. The European University Association expressed ‘deep concern and shock’ at the move.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Budapest in support of the university in what has been described as one of the largest demonstrations since Orban took power, while the CEU pledged to ‘immediately seek all available legal remedies’ to the situation. The university has repeatedly called on the government to begin negotiations.

Pic courtesy: European People’s Party

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