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Central European University under threat – latest developments

The Budapest Central European University (CEU) is under threat. A recently-adopted amendment to Hungary’s higher education law might lead to the end of the university’s operations in the country. Parts of Hungary’s public and academia around the world are outraged. The European Commission has launched an official investigation over the possible breach of EU law. 

CEU was founded in 1991, right after the fall of the iron curtain, with strong financial support of Hungarian-born US billionaire and philanthropist George Soros. Soros’ “Open Society Institute” and other activities support democracies, open societies and the rule of law. CEU fast grew to a very reputed and highly internationalised postgraduate university with staff and students from over 100 countries.

What exactly happened? Earlier this month, Hungary’s Parliament passed an amendment to the country’s law regulating higher education. The law requires that foreign universities operating in Hungary must run programmes and have a base in the ‘home country’ as well. CEU does not fulfil this requirement. While it is accredited in the US (as well as in Hungary), it is not running any programmes there. The amendment was viewed around the world as a discriminatory ‘lex CEU’, since CEU is the only Hungarian university of this sort.

After adoption by Parliament, the remaining hope was that Hungary’s President would refuse to sign the law. 60,000 demonstrated in the streets of Budapest against the bill. Universities, academics, Nobel laureates, politicians and ordinary citizens around the world appealed to Hungary’s President and government. All in vain. On 10 April, President János Áder signed the bill. In the meantime, on 26 April, the EU Commission sent a “letter of formal notice” to the Hungarian government, marking a first step in an “infringement procedure” pursuant to article 258 of the EU Treaty. The government has one month to answer the letter. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban defended his policies in the EU Parliament on the same day. On 27 April, George Soros was received by Commission President Juncker and the EU Commissioner for Research.

ACA joins academia and civil society in their protest against the amendment to the Hungarian higher education law, which defies the rules of academic freedom, university autonomy and open societies.