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Hungary’s CEU defiant after restrictive HE law passes in parliament

The Hungarian parliament has passed higher education legislation that could force the Central European University to close.

CEU, HungaryPro-rector Eva Fodor, CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff and pro-rector Zsolt Enyedi at a press conference earlier this week condemning the proposed legislation. Photo: YouTube/CEU

"We're stunned that this is actually happening, but we’re also stunned by the outpouring of support"

The university’s leadership, however, has remained defiant, saying it is determined to remain in Budapest.

Proposed amendments to higher education policy, introduced in parliament last week, would directly discriminate against CEU, it argues.

“Our current plan hasn’t varied. We want to remain in Budapest”

The bill proposes preventing Hungarian universities from delivering programs or issuing degrees from non-European universities. Existing legislation allows for university programs and degrees from OECD countries, including the US.

CEU issues degrees accredited both in Hungary and New York state by the US’s Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

The legislation would also require CEU to open a campus in New York State.

At a press conference broadcast on YouTube, CEU president and rector, Michael Ignatieff, said, “The tax by the government on the credibility of our degrees has not shaken the students who are applying for our programs next year and we will retain and operate those programs.

Our current plan hasn’t varied. We want to remain in Budapest. We’ve done nothing wrong. Budapest is our home.”

Ignatieff went on to say the bill was “rammed through the parliament without consultation … This is not how a normal democratic society should function.”

Hungary’s president, János Áder, now has five days to sign the bill into law, send it back for another vote or sent it to the constitutional court which will have 30 days to make a decision.

Speaking with The PIE News, Eva Fodor, pro-rector for the social sciences & humanities, said CEU is lobbying both the president and the court. “Even if he doesn’t send it to the court, any individual can appeal it through the constitutional court, so we will do that anyway.

“We hope he will [send it to the court] in our name and see what is going on. But we don’t know. What we’re doing is preparing our arguments for the constitutional court rather than trying to figure out how they’re going to vote.”

The private university was founded in 1991 by American philanthropist George Soros and has established itself as a top ranking global university. Around three quarters of its student population is made up of international students from 108 different countries.

The legislation is viewed by CEU and observers as a direct attack on liberal ideals by right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban.

“This is a violation of our academic freedom,” said Fodor. “What’s happening in a European country is the government is attacking academic freedom and if this can happen here then it can happen in another European country as well.”

“I hope that everybody will notice that in defending ourselves at CEU we are seeking to defend the academic freedom of all our Hungarian partner institutions,” said Ignatieff.

“We hope that this can win not just for ourselves but also for the larger principle of academic freedom”

CEU has attracted support from national and international bodies, academic organisations and government agencies, all condemning the action of the Hungarian government.

Carlos Moedas, European commissioner for research, science and innovation, released a statement saying, “My concern is that this development may set an unwelcome precedent for the autonomy of academic institutions in Hungary.”

He went on to say, “I urge the Hungarian authorities to refrain from any decision restricting scientific and academic freedom and damaging Hungary’s academic reputation and relationship with EU partners.”

Meanwhile, Hungary’s ombudsman for educational rights, Lajos Aary-Tamas, called the amendment to the Higher Education Law “discriminatory against CEU” in an interview with news site

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, former Hungarian president Laszlo Solyom, former Governor of New York George Pataki, and Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States to Budapest David Kostelancik, have publicly expressed their support for CEU.

On Sunday, April 2, thousands of people turned out in the streets of Budapest to protest the bill. And the hashtag #istandwithCEU has been used on social media to show support.

“We’re stunned that this is actually happening, but we’re also stunned by the outpouring of support,” said Fodor. “We’re in fighter mode. We hope that this can win not just for ourselves but also for the larger principle of academic freedom.”

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