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Hungarian govʼt prepares agreement with U.S. university

While Budapestʼs Central European University (CEU) has been waiting for months for the government to sign and ratify the agreement allowing it to continue its activity in the wake of controversial changes to Hungaryʼs law on higher education, another American university will reportedly be able to launch its education program in Budapest from next September.

According to a statement published on official government website, the University of Notre Dame, a private Catholic research university in the U.S. State of Indiana, has concluded a cooperation agreement with Pázmány Péter Catholic University, a private university of the Catholic Church in Hungary.

“Cooperation between the two institutions has been ongoing for the past two decades, but this March the two universities decided to conclude a new education agreement, within the framework of which the University of Notre Dame will be launching faculties in Budapest in 2019, while the courses of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University, which are also accredited by the Vatican, will also be on offer at the Indiana institution,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó was cited as saying.

The two universities are currently finalizing the agreement on the launching of Notre Dame’s courses in Hungary, the coming into force of which is dependent on the conclusion of an inter-governmental agreement between Hungary and the United States, in accordance with the Act on Higher Education, Szijjártó told the press.

“According to the U.S. legal system, the Hungarian government must conclude these agreements with the State of Indiana,” he pointed out, adding that he will be holding talks on the subject with the state’s secretary of commerce on Friday.

Meanwhile, CEU has been waiting since last year for the necessary agreement to be concluded with the government to permit its continued operation, having fullfilled all the required conditions. Last month Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would only briefly comment on the case by saying that “a good decision needs time.”

In what has proven a controversial move internationally, Parliament approved amendments to the Act on Higher Education in spring 2017, requiring 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.

Founded by Hungarian-born investor and philanthropist George Soros, a strong critic of the Orbán government in recent years, CEU has complained repeatedly that it has been specifically targeted by the amendments to Hungaryʼs education law. The university received strong support from academics and governments worldwide in the wake of the legislation, as well as in the form of a series of mass public demonstrations of solidarity in Budapest.

In addition, the European Commission is pursuing infringement proceedings against Hungary due to the amendments, having referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last December. 

In what appeared to be a symbolic move designed to signal U.S. support for CEU, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador David Cornstein visited the CEU campus at the end of June, less than a week after his arrival in Budapest.