On recent government actions against CEU


I stand with CEU.

I am writing this post because I’ve found the recent government actions against international higher educational institutions with foreign foundations operating in Hungary very worrisome. More concretely, I have grave thoughts about the discriminatory acts, offensive discourse and highly ideological rhetoric against Central European University. Although I had not been enrolled in the degree programs of the university, my personal research activity and professional collaborations have been closely connected to this institution, and its incredible library has helped me attain materials I could not have done so elsewhere. In my view, CEU represents not only an internationally recognized standard that our country should be very proud of, but also forms an academic hub greatly affecting intellectual and cultural life in Budapest and Hungary. Most of the students and staff are Hungarian, working on projects closely linked to Hungary, organizing conferences and events addressing Hungarian issues, and in collaboration with a range of international and domestic universities and research institutions. Many of my friends, fellow scholars and students are working on amazing projects there, and the professional opportunities and international contacts have a decisive impact on their careers. The function of CEU in Hungary and Eastern Europe is also critical if we consider that its work is devoted to Cold War and Post-Soviet Studies, and perhaps its most important aims are developing civil society and influencing a democratic and inclusive society. CEU and the Open Society Archives have been important facilitators of my research on understanding socialist era Hungary and postsocialist processes. I believe that for many of us CEU is a window to the international world, a window that must remain open.

The No. T/14686 planned modification of the Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education broke the news on 28 March. Its paragraphs on “international” universities was not negotiated with any relevant and affected actors, but came by their total surprise, and is planned to be voted upon next week (Monday or Wednesday), which is an ultrarapid process. After one meeting with CEU on 30 March, the government authorities declared that no further negotiations will be possible and they are determined to put through the legislation.

Apart from this context, the modification plan includes in its “general justification” an argument that declares international scientific activity in the country to conform to the foreign policy goals and national security interests of the Hungarian state:

“the related provisions of the National Higher Education Act must ensure the enforcement of the Hungarian government’s motives, foreign policy goals, and the timely national security aspects concerning student and lecturer mobility under functioning international relations, in supporting and determining the directions and field of international higher education cooperation.” (p. 5)

“az Nftv. vonatkozó rendelkezéseinek biztosítania kell a nemzetközi felsőoktatási együttműködés irányát, területét meghatározó, támogató magyar kormányzati szándék, a külpolitikai célkitűzések, valamint a nemzetközi kapcsolatok működtetésével járó hallgatói, oktatói mozgás, beutazás során az időszerű nemzetbiztonsági szempontok érvényesülését.” (5. o.)

Thus this legislation would be a precedent of an important shift in government policy towards higher education with unforeseeable outcomes, signaling that the accreditation process is linked not to concrete scientific or educational standards but to ad hoc political principles enforced by the government.

The legislation also states that the operation of a foreign university from outside the EU, which offers courses and degrees accredited in both countries, must be based on bilateral agreements, have two campuses with comparable degree programs, have all academic staff from non-EU countries receive working permits, and should meet all requirements by 15 February 2018. CEU’s framework is based on a legislation that enables OECD countries (such as the US) to offer programs and courses in Hungary. Since CEU cannot meet the requirements of this legislation, it follows that the university should be closed.

In a radio interview, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán accused CEU (reffered to as “the Soros university”) of cheating by not conforming to the laws of the Hungarian state. He was already referring to a legislation plan that has not even been voted upon. The Minister of Human Capacities declared that “no university can stand above laws”. Meanwhile some media in support of government propaganda in the past few years have also accused CEU of being disrespectful to Hungarian laws, accusing it of crimes and cheating on students. Curiously, the article of Origo was published right after the modification plan of the National Higher Education Act, stating:

“CEU, Közép-Európai Egyetem, which in everyday language is also called “Soros university”, also functions illegally. It did not attain program accreditation and failed to meet their obligations of reporting data on public registers. And it is concrete cheating, if they engage in offering courses that are not even registered.”

“A CEU, a Közép-Európai Egyetem, amit a köznyelv Soros-egyetemnek is hív, szintén szabálytalanul működik. Nem rendelkeznek programakkreditációval, és közhiteles nyilvántartásba történő adatszolgáltatási kötelezettségüket is elmulasztották. Az pedig konkrét csalás, hogy olyan képzésekkel is foglalkoznak, amelyeket nyilvántartásba sem vettek.”

The planned legislation and these statements referred to a report (published on 28 March) by the Ministry of Human Capacities about the results of their investigation conducted since summer 2016 of 28 international higher education institutions, on the occasion of 5-yearly reporting obligations based on the 76. § (3) of the Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education. The report states that 27 institutions, including CEU, failed to meet official requirements. In the case of CEU, the program accreditation is under rectification, failed to meet data-reporting obligations of public registers, and offers non-registered training. But it also should be noted that the act was modified in 2015, and according to CEU, their negotiations were in progress and also hampered by the Ministry. In spite of accusations, CEU has a clear record of the government’s approval of its activities and accreditation for the past 25 years even until now. See the official responses of CEU to false accusations here.

This should not only be seen in the context of heavy attacks by the Hungarian government on NGOs and some parts of higher education (e.g. recent attacks on gender studies), but also the post-Soviet region’s successful offensive against NGOs and specifically institutions funded by George Soros on a political basis (e.g. Belarus, Uzbegistan, Kazahstan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Poland, Macedonia). Several Hungarian NGOs have pointed to the fact that these steps of the Hungarian government are constitutionally invalid.

Apart from 14 Nobel Laureates, the Foreign Ministry of the United States of America, international scholars, scientific institutes and universities, the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a large portion of Hungarian scientific institutions, universities and student colleges have shared solidarity with CEU and urged the government to withdraw their legislation plan and enter into dialogue with affected institutions.

If you wish to support CEU, please read their call for support.