An international university in Budapest that has been at the centre of a struggle between Hungarian liberals and the country’s right-wing government has decided to transfer its next batch of master’s and doctoral students to Austria.
The students will be taught at a new campus of the Central European University (CEU) in Vienna, a 1.5-hour train journey away. Students who are already enrolled will remain in Budapest to complete their degrees. “We will maintain as much research and educational activity in Budapest as possible,” Michael Ignatieff, rector of the CEU said on 25 October in a statement announcing the move.
The decision ends an 18-month struggle to keep the university fully in Hungary after the government passed a law in April 2017 requiring international universities to operate as higher-education institutes in their country of origin, as well as in Hungary.
Founded by philanthropist billionaire George Soros, the CEU has been based in Budapest since 1993, even though it is legally registered in New York state.
The change in the law sparked outrage in April, when 70,000 protesters took to the streets, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences expressed its concern. An investigation by legal experts at the Council of Europe, a powerful human-rights organization with 47 member states, published a preliminary opinion in August stating that the law was inappropriate.
The European Commission is also pursuing an infringement procedure against what it sees as an illegal restriction of academic freedom.
The CEU had quickly complied with the law’s requirement by setting up a partnership with Bard College in New York. But the Hungarian government has still failed to countersign that agreement, leading to the 25 October announcement.
In his statement, Ignatieff referred to various laws introduced by the Hungarian government earlier this year that also impinged on CEU activities — and which Ignatieff described as a crackdown on academic freedom.
In August, one US-accredited CEU course was forced to close following a government ban on gender-studies programmes at Hungarian universities.
And the same month, a new law imposing a 25% tax levy on education programmes for refugees and asylum seekers forced the suspension of such courses that the CEU had offered. The law also prompted the CEU to end a European Union-funded research project on migration policy in central and southern Europe.