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CEU begins recruitment for 2019-2020 academic year

Despite fulfilling all the conditions set by Hungaryʼs amended higher education law, the Central European University (CEU) is still waiting for the governmentʼs approval to continue operating in Budapest. Even so, the CEU Board of Trustees has authorized the university to begin recruitment for the 2019-2020 academic year.

On the question of whether the government will sign an agreement with CEU permitting it to continue its activity in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán responded in Parliament Monday by saying that “a good decision needs time” and “the quality of the decision is more important than the date.”

Last month, CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff said that the university has fulfilled its obligations “and now it is time for the government of Hungary to fulfill theirs.” He added that “CEU cannot go into another academic year in a situation of legal uncertainty. We call on the government to sign the agreement without further delay.”

While this has still not happened, CEU released a statement Tuesday saying that the university’s Board of Trustees, at its June 23 meeting, had authorized CEU to open recruitment in Budapest for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to the university’s regular recruitment schedule. They also strongly re-affirmed their commitment to the university in all circumstances.

However, the situation is still not totally clear, as the statement adds that, following the Board’s decision in March to authorize the opening of a campus in Vienna, “the Board also approved the rental of an appropriate site in Vienna and recruitment for that site for September 2019.”

Waiting game

In a lengthy analysis of the situation, online current affairs site hvg.hu cites unnamed sources as saying that the CEU management decided last fall that unless there was a change of government in spring 2018, or if no change were to subsequently occur in Fidesz policy with regard to CEU, then the university would shift its headquarters to Vienna within the next two years.

At the same time, the article also notes that Orbán has become, in a certain sense, a “prisoner” of the situation, as widespread press reports indicate that the fate of CEU could determine whether Fidesz is expelled from the European Peopleʼs Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament.

An unnamed Fidesz source, described as influential and well versed in the details of the issue, told hvg.hu that Orbán had made a promise to EPP leaders not to hound CEU from Budapest, although the source was also quoted as adding that “he also undertook no guarantee that the university would not leave of its own accord.”

The hvg.hu article concludes by speculating that both sides are playing a waiting game. On the one hand, it says, Orbán is waiting in case CEU indeed exits of its own accord - given that Ignatieff himself has said the institution needs certainty by mid-summer - and that he is therefore under no pressure to have an agreement with the university signed before the end of 2018.

On the other hand, according to the analysis, CEU is itself biding its time - despite the rectorʼs earlier pronouncement - as there is still enough time for the institution to get ready for the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year in Vienna. With a suitable venue located in the Austrian capital, and a memorandum of understanding signed, CEU can observe Orbánʼs dilemma in relative security, it adds.