Nature | News

Efforts to save leading Hungarian university hit hurdle

US-registered Central European University faces another year of uncertainty over whether it can continue to operate in Hungary.

Article tools

Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images

A sudden change to Hungarian higher-education law in April led to widespread protests.

The threatened Central European University (CEU) in Budapest has been dealt a blow in its efforts to avert possible closure in Hungary.

The country’s parliament voted on 17 October to postpone for a year a decision that would allow the university to keep operating there. At a press conference held by the university shortly after the vote, CEU rector Michael Ignatieff called the delay “unacceptable” and “unnecessary”.

In April, the Hungarian government unexpectedly amended its higher-education law to require that all foreign-accredited universities there had to operate as higher-education institutes in their countries of origin by 1 January 2018.

The change drew protests and was widely believed to be politically motivated. Critics saw it as an attack on billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who founded the university in 1991 and has openly criticized Hungary’s strict refugee policies.

The CEU took steps to comply with the new requirements and on 3 October sealed an agreement with Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, to provide educational activities there. Accredited courses run jointly by the universities would be launched next year, the CEU said. The agreement still needs to be signed by the Hungarian government and ratified by the country’s parliament.

But on 16 October the government proposed delaying the implementation of the amendment until 1 January 2019, and the parliament approved the delay the next day.

A government spokesperson told Nature that the purpose of the delay was to give other foreign higher-education institutions time to comply with the new requirements, adding that three institutions, including the CEU, are still in negotiation.

Zoltan Balogh, Hungary’s minister for human capacity, suggested on 16 October that government sign-off of the CEU’s agreement might have to wait for the new deadline.

“We are being deliberately kept in legal limbo,” said Ignatieff, who fears the uncertainty will make it hard to retain faculty and recruit students. “We are being slowly strangled in this battle for academic freedom.”

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
550,
Pages:
442
Date published:
()
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature.2017.22855

For the best commenting experience, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will see comments updating in real-time and have the ability to recommend comments to other users.

Comments

Commenting is currently unavailable.

sign up to Nature briefing

What matters in science — and why — free in your inbox every weekday.

Sign up

Listen

new-pod-red

Nature Podcast

Our award-winning show features highlights from the week's edition of Nature, interviews with the people behind the science, and in-depth commentary and analysis from journalists around the world.