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CEU announces move to Vienna if talks fail

The Central European University will move its US-accredited programs to Vienna next year if it does not reach an agreement with the Hungarian government before December 1, CEU rector Michael Ignatieff announced in a press conference.

CEU's library in Budapest. Photo: Elekes Andor/Wikimedia Commons

First-year students will start their US-accredited courses in Vienna as of September 2019, while already enrolled students may remain in Budapest to complete their degrees.

“This means we cannot operate legally in Hungary as a free US accredited institution…we are being forced out”

“The entire incoming class of CEU US-accredited master’s and doctoral programs will take instruction in Vienna if we can’t get a deal with the Hungarian government between now and December 1,” Ignatieff said at the press conference.

CEU’s legal limbo started in April 2017, when the Hungarian government passed a new higher education legislation dubbed “Lex CEU“, which was widely considered to be targeting the institution founded by investor George Soros.

In compliance with regulations requiring foreign institutions to have a campus in their home country, CEU established educational programs in 2017 with its partner institution Bard College in the US.

But Hungarian authorities indicated that they would not sign an agreement with the State of New York, which had been negotiated to allow the institution to retain its American accreditation, thus making it impossible for CEU to remain in Budapest as a US institution, a statement by the university read.

“A couple of weeks ago, the Hungarian government informed the US ambassador that they would not recognise the activity CEU is conducting in New York. This means we cannot operate legally in Hungary as a free US-accredited institution…we are being forced out,” Ignatieff said.

The CEU rector said the institution would welcome further meetings with Hungarian government officials, but it is looking for “written guarantees” of its academic freedom as an American institution in Hungary.

The decision, the institution explained, also comes as a consequence of the Hungarian government’s crackdown on academic freedom, including a ban on gender studies programs, the forced suspension of research related to migration, and punitive tax measures.

Ignatieff maintained that the institution is seeking all possible solutions to remain in Budapest, where it has operated for the past 25 years and built partnerships with local providers.

“I frankly hope we can solve this problem…it’s unnecessary and ridiculous,” he said.

“Just this week [CEU] and the Hungarian Academy of Science won a €10m research grant. This is an active symbol of the kind of cooperation that we want to foster and maintain.”

Ignatieff added that he hopes the government will take the short window of time left.

Even if the move will go ahead, Ignatieff said the institution will endeavour to leave as much of its library and research and teaching activities in the Hungarian capital, but the rector said it would be “irresponsible” to not pursue agreements to secure CEU’s future.

The announcement has been defined a “Soros-style political ploy” in a tweet by Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.

US Ambassador to Hungary, David B. Cornstein, said that CEU remains a priority for the US government and that he is working with both parties to reach an agreement before December 1.

“I understand CEU’s position— prolonged uncertainty is not sustainable for an academic institution. However, a solution is still possible. There is a small window to resolve this, but it needs to happen fast,” he added.

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