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CEU stays in Budapest, but questions remain

With the announcement of the departure of the Open Society Foundations from Budapest, the Central European University (CEU) is reaffirming its determination to remain in Budapest and to fulfill its teaching and research mission in the city that has been its home for the past 26 years, says a statement released by CEU today.

Last year Hungaryʼs Parliament approved amendments to the Higher Education Law – popularly dubbed “lex CEU” - which stipulated several new conditions for foreign-funded universities. The law set January 1, 2018, as the deadline for these conditions to be met.

One condition is that any foreign-funded university institution in Hungary can only operate in the country once the government of the source country and Hungary have signed an intergovernmental agreement, while the legislation also specifies that the given university must have operations in its source country.

CEU duly signed such an agreement with Bard College in New York State and also fulfilled the other requirements set by lex CEU within the deadline. But in a sudden move ahead of elections this April, the government extended the deadline to January 1, 2019, and declined to sign the necessary agreements for CEU to continue its operations in Budapest, arguing that the new deadline means such agreements are not yet necessary.

Following the announcement today of closure of the operations of the Open Society Foundations in Budapest, CEU released a statement in which it reiterates that it is now in full compliance with the lex CEU requirement to conduct educational activities in the U.S. The only remaining step to resolve this issue, it says, is for the Government of Hungary to sign the agreement with the State of New York that has been on the table since September 2017.

“We have fulfilled our obligations under lex CEU and now it is time for the government of Hungary to fulfill theirs,” said President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “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,” the CEU statement adds.

Meanwhile, in an article published today, the Washington Post cites  Ignatieff as saying that without the necessary approval this summer, he will be forced to move the university to Vienna.

“If it goes on, you can’t attract students. You can’t make new hires. You start to bleed,” said Ignatieff. “I can’t go into another academic year in limbo.”

The Washington Post noted that if the government forces out CEU, it would mark the first time an accredited university in the EU has been evicted from a country. Ignatieff said the decision would be “a crucial indicator of the future direction of this government and just how far they’re willing to go.”