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CEU ‘forced out’ as deadline for govʼt agreement passes

As Hungary’s amended law on higher education prevents the Central European University (CEU) from being able to accept new students after January 1, 2019, the university will be obliged to launch all U.S.-accredited degree programs in Vienna from September 2019, says a CEU press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal on Monday.

CEU said it is making the announcement today in order to guarantee that it can recruit students in time for the beginning of the next academic year.

Hungaryʼs amended higher education act, passed in April 2017, requires foreign colleges and universities in Hungary to operate on the basis of an interstate agreement and to run a campus in the country in which they are based. The legislation was widely seen as being aimed at CEU in particular, which was founded by Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist George Soros, the target of increasingly hostile Hungarian government rhetoric in recent years on account of his positions on migration and other issues.

CEU asserts in the Monday press release that over the course of 20 months, it has taken all steps to comply with Hungarian legislation, launching educational activities in the U.S. that were certified by U.S. authorities. Despite this, it adds, the Hungarian government has made it clear it has no intention of signing the agreement that it negotiated over a year ago with the State of New York, which would ensure CEU’s operations in Budapest for the long term.

“The government has never even tried to pretend that there were academic grounds for their actions,” continues the press release, noting that the U.S. Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the New York State Education Department and the Hungarian Accreditation Committee have all certified the excellence of CEU’s academic programs.

“CEU has been forced out. This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.”

CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff

“Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “The government has done an injustice toward its own citizens, the hundreds of Hungarians who work and study at CEU, and thousands of Hungarian alumni and their families.”

The press release notes that CEU - in Hungarian, Közép-európai Egyetem - retains accreditation as a Hungarian university, and will seek to continue teaching and research activity in Budapest as long as possible.

While thanking everyone for the support CEU has received, the press release “observes with dismay” that the government of Hungary refused to respond to various representations from members of the U.S. Congress, the Office of the Governor of the State of New York, the Venice Commission, members of the European Parliament, leaders of universities around the world, over two dozen Nobel Prize laureates, and “above all, the thousands of Hungarians from all walks of life who demonstrated peacefully and called for ‘free universities in a free country’.”

Welcome in Austria

CEU is registered in Austria to issue U.S.-accredited degrees, and will welcome all incoming students to its Vienna location in September 2019. Enrolled students will complete their studies in Budapest, the press release notes.

“The City of Vienna and the federal government of Austria have welcomed us with open arms as part of their commitment to academic freedom and research,” said Chairman of the Board of Trustees Leon Botstein. “Despite our consternation at being forced to leave Budapest, we are excited to offer our students the opportunity to study in another great Central European city.”

CEU is a graduate institution accredited in the U.S. and Hungary with 1,200 master’s and doctoral students in the humanities, social sciences, business, law, cognitive and network science. The press release states that the university employs 770 staff and faculty and contributes EUR 25 million to the Hungarian economy each year in taxes, pension and health contributions, and payments to suppliers.

The press release adds that CEU is Central Europe’s most successful applicant for competitive European Union research grant funding, with more than EUR 19 mln awarded for the 2018-2026 period.

U.S. expresses disappointment

In a press statement released by the U.S. Department of State late Monday, cited by Hungarian news wire MTI, a spokesperson said the U.S. government was "disappointed" that the Hungarian government and CEU had not concluded an agreement that would allow the university to continue its U.S.-accredited programs in Hungary.

"Since the Hungarian government amended its law on higher education in April 2017, we have worked diligently with both parties to find a solution that would allow CEU to preserve these programs in Hungary," spokesperson Heather Nauert said in the statement.

"The United States values the role that CEU and other American educational institutions play in building connections between the Hungarian and American people and strengthening the transatlantic bond. The departure of these U.S.-accredited programs from Hungary will be a loss for the CEU community, for the United States, and for Hungary," Nauert added.