While the Central European University “utterly rejects” comments by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán suggesting it has been operating fraudulently, more than 150 economists, including 17 Nobel Prize winners, have written an open letter to the Hungarian government urging it to withdraw a draft bill that would force CEU to shut its doors in the next academic year.
In his regular Friday morning interview on state Kossuth Radio, Orbán said he believes the “Soros university” - referring to the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest set up by Hungarian-born financier George Soros in 1991 - enjoys an “unfair advantage” over Hungarian universities because it can award both Hungarian and American diplomas. According to online news portal index.hu’s reporting of the interview, when commenting on a draft bill that the government claims will make the activities of all foreign universities more transparent, the PM implied that CEU operates illegitimately, saying that “fraud is fraud no matter who commits it” and “CEU only needs to abide by laws.” The Soros-funded institution claims the new legislation would force the university to close its doors, and is specifically targeted at CEU.
“The Central European University utterly rejects the Prime Minister of Hungary’s false allegations that CEU is ‘cheating’,” the university said in a press statement sent to the Hungarian International Press Association. “Contrary to the Prime Minister’s statement, there is no current Hungarian law that requires universities to have operations in their home countries in order to award degrees in Hungary. CEU is accredited to award Hungarian and U.S. degrees. We have been lawful partners in Hungarian higher education for 25 years and any statement to the contrary is false.”
In a separate report, online news portal 444.hu notes that CEU has received an official paper from the Hungarian Education Authority, claiming that the university abides with all related laws, confirming that the university’s accreditation is also acknowledged by the relevant New York body, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Meanwhile, leading international economists have addressed a letter to Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States, Réka Szemerkényi, Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog and Minister of State for Higher Education László Palkovics, asking them to help defend the operations of CEU.
“We have learned with concern about proposed legislation that would make it impossible or impracticable for the Central European University to continue its operations in Budapest,” the letter starts. “We would like to express our admiration for the Central European University, which is a leading university in the region, and is well integrated in the broader system of Hungarian and European higher education [...] It would be a sad outcome for the training of students from the region, for academic research in Hungary, and for our own cooperation with Hungarian academics, if the proposed legislation came into force. We therefore ask, respectfully but in the strongest possible terms, that your government withdraw this legislation,” the letter concludes. It can be read in its entirety here.