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CEU moves to Vienna

It looks like a saga has come to its end. As closely documented by this news service, the Central European University (CEU) has, over the last 18 months, fought for the right to continue its activities in Budapest. These attempts have been in vain, as the institution’s President and Rector Michael Ignatieff announced on 25 October 2018. The university will move most of its operations to Vienna. The Austrian government had long tried to attract the prestigious institution. 

The CEU was founded 26 years ago, with strong financial support from the Open Society Foundation of George Soros, a billionaire, philanthropist, tireless supporter of ‘open societies’ and arch-foe of Prime Minster Victor Orbán and US President Trump. The institution attracted students from 90 countries of the world. It managed to gain a high reputation in a very short time. But, alas, the liberal outlook of the institution is at loggerheads with the conservative ideals of Hungary’s governing party and Victor Orbán. 

In April 2017, the Hungarian government passed a new law, demanding that foreign universities must be operating as well in the country of origin. The CEU was accredited in Hungary and the US, but it did not operate in the US. The law was perceived by most as a ‘lex CEU’, for CEU was the only institution concerned in Hungary. Since then, CEU has done everything possible to comply with the new legislation. In cooperation with Bard College, it opened operations in the State of New York. But none of this helped. Until today, the Hungarian government has refused to confirm that CEU will be able to continue operations in Hungary. In this situation, the institution’s leadership felt it needed to pull the emergency break. Already as of September 2019, new students will start their academic activities in Vienna, whereas the students currently enrolled at CEU are expected to graduate still in Budapest. CEU says it will not altogether give up its Hungarian operation, though.  

In solidarity with CEU, the EUA and many national rectors’ conferences in Europe issued statements of support for CEU. The analysis of the vast majority of stakeholder and observers is that CEU has become the victim of the Orbán government. Reactions quote also the government’s recent ban on gender studies, the high tax on programmes for asylum seekers and refugees, and generally intimidating threats to academics and academic freedom and institutional autonomy.  More information