To readers of this newsletter it came as no surprise. But a very sad and emotional moment it was nonetheless. On 3 December, the Central European University (CEU), founded by Hungarian-born philanthropistand earlier financial speculator George Soros, announced it is leaving Budapest and moving to Vienna, after operating more than 25 years in Hungary. This marks the end of an 18-month-long period of fighting with the government of Viktor Orban. An arch-enemy of Soros, Orban is widely seen as the driving force behind a new law which requires foreign higher education institutions operating in Hungary to provide tuition in their country of origin, too. This was not the case with CEU originally, but its introduction in the US state of New York was not seen as sufficient by the Hungarian government to renew its mandate in Hungary. “CEU has been forced out”, its President Michael Ignatieff was quoted in the Economist weekly. “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.”
CEU will move most of its operations to Vienna. All new students on American-accredited programmes entering in 2019 will start in the Austrian capital. Students already enrolled today can finish their studies in Budapest. Also, CEU’s Hungarian programmes will stay in Budapest.
Behind the scenes, the Austrian government had already tried to attract the CEU to Vienna for a number of years. Other countries did so too, but they had the disadvantage to very clearly not be located in Central Europe. We only hope that Vienna will be and remain the better place for CEU to flourish. The FreiheitlicheParteiÖsterreich (FPÖ), the Austrian conservatives’ right-wing coalition partner, has already made unpleasant remarks about the new arrival, calling it a “travelling university”.