CEU signs MoU with Bard College on education in New York

Analysis

The Budapest-based Central European University (CEU) announced Tuesday that it has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bard College to provide educational activities in New York State. The university thus hopes to resolve its dispute with the Hungarian government triggered by changes to the education law.

“For the last several months, negotiations have continued between New York State and the Government of Hungary regarding CEU’s future in Budapest,” said a statement on the CEU website. “CEU has deliberately abstained from comment in order to facilitate successful negotiations. As you know, CEU is not at the negotiating table. However, we have been informed that negotiations have created the basis for an agreement.”

CEU said it has signed the MoU with Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, with which it has maintained close relations for decades, to provide educational activities in New York.

“We hope that this MoU, which does not preclude future agreements with other New York-based institutions, helps to provide the basis for a speedy conclusion to this affair. We await the Hungarian government’s signature of the agreement and Parliament’s ratification in order to enable CEU to continue operating in Budapest, which has always been our goal,” the statement concluded.

Amendments to Hungaryʼs higher education act approved by lawmakers in the spring require foreign colleges and universities in Hungary to operate on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement and to have a campus in the country in which they are based. 

CEU, which is accredited in the United States but has just one campus, in Budapest, earlier said the changes to the higher education act would make its continued operation in Budapest “impossible.” CEU has called the amended legislation “discriminatory” and said that it “targets CEU directly.”

The amendment prompted mass street demonstrations in solidarity with CEU, widespread condemnation from academics and European governments, as well as the U.S., and the initiation of an infringement procedure against Hungary by the European Commission (EC), which is ongoing.

CEU was founded by Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros, against whom the Hungarian government has conducted increasingly personal attacks in recent months, culminating in a new “national consultation” to be dispatched to citizens shortly.

EC seeks clarification

Meanwhile, state news agency MTI reported Wednesday that the European Commission has instructed Hungary to provide it with additional clarification regarding amendments to its higher education law within the framework of the aforementioned infringement procedure.

On July 13, the EC stepped up the procedure by sending the country a “reasoned opinion” on the matter. Although Hungary replied to the reasoned opinion by the one-month deadline, the EC has asked for further clarification on its concerns about the non-compatibility of the legislation with the EUʼs obligations under international trade law.

The EC added that it believes the legislation runs counter to the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business, as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Hungary has two weeks to provide the additional clarification or the EC may refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.

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