Orban goads Soros with Hungarian university laws
Central European University, founded by the billionaire, faces closure
Hungary has sparked a row with a university founded by billionaire George Soros by drafting laws that the institution says could force it to shut down.
Central European University was founded 26 years ago in Hungary’s post-Communist era and is one of the highest-ranked postgraduate institutions in central and eastern Europe. Michael Ignatieff (pictured), the university’s president, said it was being targeted by “punitive and discriminatory” legislation.
The proposed changes to Hungary’s higher education laws extend a battle between Mr Soros and prime minister Viktor Orban, who has cast the Budapest-born billionaire as an ideological enemy.
Citing national security considerations, Hungary’s government late on Tuesday presented draft amendments that would require universities offering degrees with non-European accreditation — such as CEU — to open campuses abroad, change their legal status and tighten enrolment and hiring policies for non-EU applicants. These institutions would also have to strike government-level international agreements to cover their operation inside and outside Hungary.
CEU — which offers dual US and Hungarian accredited diplomas to 1,800 students from 117 countries — says the changes mean that CEU would have to close to new enrolments in February unless Hungary and the US agree a binding international treaty.
Mr Ignatieff, a former leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, said the legislation “attacks CEU and is an entirely unacceptable assault on academic freedom”. He demanded the government withdraw its proposals and negotiate an agreement with the state of New York, where CEU is also registered, to guarantee CEU’s existence. He said the US federal government had no jurisdiction over university accreditation.
David Kostelancik, US chargé d’affaires in Hungary, said the US “opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the university”.
Mr Orban, a one-time Soros scholarship beneficiary, has steadily tightened his grip over political institutions, media and the economy since he returned to power as prime minister in 2010.
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