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CEU calls for talks, refutes allegations

The Central European University (CEU) has called on the Hungarian government once again to “stop playing games” and to launch negotiations with the institution, according to a press statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal. At the same time, CEU has refuted “false allegations” made by the government.

While various government officials have come up with various explanations for the fast-tracked amendment to higher education legislation that appears to hurt Central European University (CEU) the most of the foreign universities operating in the country, CEU claims that the government has not yet contacted the university under the pressure of closing doors. For its part, CEU says it has urged the government from the beginning to meet at the negotiating table.

“From the beginning of this episode, CEU has called on the Hungarian government to sit down and begin confidential negotiations for a mutually acceptable solution to enable it to continue operations in Hungary. Instead, CEU has been subjected to a barrage of incoherent statements and false allegations. It is time for the government to stop playing these games, figure out its negotiating positions, and begin talks with the university,” reads the press statement put out by CEU. “As a matter of fact, no consultation or meeting has taken place between the government and university leadership, despite repeated requests by the university to the relevant government officials,” CEU adds.

CEU, in the present statement, appears to answer allegations made on Wednesday by Lajos Kósa, leader of the parliamentary group of governing party Fidesz, in which the politician suggested that four CEUs operate in Hungary.

“There are not 4 CEUs. As with other institutions of higher education, there are separate legal entities (for example, handling academic publishing activity, managing the dormitory, or managing real estate), but these do not function as universities – they have no teaching functions,” CEU says in the statement.

Whatʼs in a name?

Somewhat vaguely, government officials have recently communicated that CEU cannot operate in Hungary because it is registered in New York, but Közép-európai Egyetem (KEE), the exact translation of the English title, can.

“The new law closes a strange loophole that had allowed the CEU to effectively issue two diplomas for completing the course work for one degree,” Government Spokesman Zoltán Kovács wrote on his personal government blog About Hungary. “Under the new law, the Hungarian university, KEE, can continue to teach as before with no change whatsoever,” he claimed. In the blog entry, Kovács accused CEU of running “17 courses without first registering them … It’s a sign of both the negligence of these institutions and the loopholes of the previous legislation that allowed them to operate unlawfully.” 

Kovács himself holds three CEU qualifications, according to his publicly available CV on government website kormany.hu. At this time, it is unclear whether his degrees were issued “unlawfully.”

Such accusations have been dismissed by the university. “Allegations regarding CEUʼs U.S. accreditation and awarding of diplomas are also false. CEU, registered in New York State, is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The program registration and the Middle States Commission on Higher Educationʼs institutional accreditation do not only cover what is known in Hungary as program accreditation, but also require more of CEU in terms of quality assurance. The Hungarian Education Authorityʼs report also notes this,” the university says in its press statement.

Negotiating channels

While CEU insists that no negotiations have been launched between the institution and the government, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said Hungary is open to “negotiations with the United States government and consultations with the Central European University (CEU),” according to About Hungary. According to the minister, “a U.S. deputy state secretary visited Hungary last week, conveying the standpoint that the U.S. does not wish to interfere with talks about CEU’s future. Up until now, however, this position has not been confirmed on higher levels of the U.S. administration,” About Hungary reported.

Nevertheless, CEU is still urging the government to meet for dialogue.

“Hungarian and international representatives of the higher education sphere have requested that the government begin negotiations with CEU. The President of the Republic of Hungary requested this when he signed the bill into law. CEU repeats its call for dialogue, together with experts in the area of higher education,” the CEU press statement concludes.

Last week, Mark C. Toner, Acting Spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, said the U.S. has called on the Hungarian government to suspend the recently passed amendment on higher education. In Brussels, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans warned Hungary that the country risks being sued in court over the changes to higher education law, policies with respect to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and asylum rules, as reported by wire service Reuters.

CEU is a graduate-level, English-language university accredited in the U.S. and Hungary and located in Budapest, offering degrees in the social sciences, law, public policy, business management, environmental science, and mathematics. It has more than 1,500 students from 100 countries, and 300 faculty members from more than 30 countries. CEU was founded in 1991 by Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros, a vocal critic of the present Hungarian government, which in turn has persistently and publicly criticized his activities.