Soros-backed CEU says it has been forced out of Hungary

The Central European University (CEU) has announced that it has been forced to launch all new United States-accredited degree programmes in Vienna, Austria, in September 2019 instead of Budapest in Hungary.

It said it had no choice but to announce the decision because Hungary’s ‘Lex CEU’, a 2017 amendment to the higher education law that exclusively affects CEU, forbids the university from accepting new students after 1 January, and the switch is therefore necessary to guarantee that it can recruit students in time for the new academic year.

Over the course of 20 months, CEU had taken all steps possible to comply with Hungarian legislation, including launching educational activities in the US that were certified by the US authorities. But the Hungarian government had made it clear it had 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 continued in Budapest for the long term, CEU said.

“CEU has been forced out,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “This is unprecedented. A US 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.”

According to a statement published by CEU, the Hungarian government has never even tried to pretend that there were academic grounds for their actions. The US 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 programmes.

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, CEU said.

“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,” Ignatieff said.

CEU was founded in 1991 by Hungarian-American philanthropist and financier George Soros, a strong critic of the Orbán government.

The university retains accreditation as a Hungarian university and will seek to continue teaching and research activity in Budapest as long as possible.

Refused to listen

CEU said the government of Hungary had refused to listen to the representations they received from members of the US 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 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”.

CEU is registered in Austria to issue US-accredited degrees. It will welcome all incoming students to its Vienna location in September 2019. Students already enrolled will complete their studies in Budapest.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Leon Botstein, declared that “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. 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 US and Hungary with 1,200 masters and doctoral students in the humanities, social sciences, business, law, and cognitive and network science.

The university employs 770 staff and faculty and contributes €25 million (US$28 million) to the Hungarian economy each year in taxes, pension and health contributions, and payments to suppliers. It is Central Europe’s most successful applicant for competitive European Union research grant funding, with more than €19 million awarded for the 2018-26 period.