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Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, Threatens to Shut Down Central European University | Petition

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

Central European University (CEU) expresses its opposition to proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, tabled in Hungarian Parliament today. After careful legal study, CEU has concluded that these amendments would make it impossible for the university to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Budapest, CEU's home for 25 years. CEU is in full conformity with Hungarian law. The proposed legislation targets CEU directly and is therefore discriminatory and unacceptable. CEU calls on the government to scrap the legislation and enter into dialogue to find a solution that allows CEU to continue in Budapest as a free and independent international graduate university.

“Any legislative change that would force CEU to cease operation in Budapest would damage Hungarian academic life and negatively impact the government of Hungary's relations with its neighbors, its EU partners and with the United States,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff. “I call on the government to enter into negotiations with us to find a satisfactory way forward that allows CEU to continue in Budapest and to maintain the academic freedoms essential to its operation.”

The 2004 joint declaration between the Hungarian government and the State of New York confirmed the parties' joint agreement to support CEU's goal of achieving Hungarian accreditation while at the same time maintaining its status as an accredited American university. Following the 2004 joint declaration, a special law namely Act LXI of 2004 on State Recognition of Közép-európai Egyetem, established Közép-európai Egyetem (KEE); literally translated, this means “Central European University.” KEE was established as the Hungarian entity, which then allowed for Hungarian accreditation of 10 graduate and doctoral level programs at the university. CEU/KEE is one higher education institution with one campus in Budapest. The dual identity of CEU/KEE enables the University to comply with both Hungarian and US laws and award both Hungarian and US-accredited degrees. This is a common model. CEU is one of many American-accredited international universities that do not actually operate any academic programs within the US.

In addition, the amendments would require CEU to open an additional campus in the state of New York. Forcing CEU to do so would have no educational benefit and would incur needless financial and human resource costs.

The section of the amendment that most clearly illustrates discrimination against CEU is the provision that prevents Hungarian universities (in this case KEE) from delivering programs or issuing degrees from nonEuropean universities on behalf of CEU. Existing legislation allows for university programs and degrees from OECD countries (including the US) to function through joint Hungarian entities as CEU/KEE currently does. Hungary itself has been a member of OECD since 1996 and, therefore, should not discriminate against other OECD countries.

Another clear example of discrimination in the proposed amendment is the elimination of a good-faith waiver that currently allows academic staff from nonEU countries to work at the KEE entity without requiring a work permit. The change would create additional and unnecessary barriers to hiring and recruitment. Given that CEU relies particularly on professors from outside of the EU, the new regulation would place the university in a disadvantageous position.

The proposed amendment also forbids the American entity CEU to continue its program under the current name of “Central European University” unless “Közép-európai Egyetem” (KEE), the Hungarian entity, changes its name. This would require both entities to change the names that were established a quarter of a century ago.

CEU celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. It has no other desire than to remain in Budapest. It is deeply embedded in Hungarian academic life, collaborating with other institutions of academic excellence in Hungary from ELTE to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, sharing research projects, teaching, knowledge, and enabling student exchanges. Of the nearly 1,500 students CEU educates each year, Hungarians make up the largest group. The majority of CEU staff and nearly half the faculty are Hungarian. CEU contributes to the Hungarian economy through tax, social security, and health insurance contributions as well as payments to local suppliers.

CEU is a private and independent institution. Many of its degree programs in the social sciences and humanities rank in the world’s top 200, many in the top 100, and some in the top 50. CEU faculty are remarkably successful in earning research grant funding from the European Union and other grant-making organizations in competitive tenders held across Europe or across the globe. From 2011-2016 CEU received €6,955,221 in ERC grants. For 2017-2022 the university will receive €14,988,163 in ERC grants. CEU has a reputation that should make Hungarians proud. It employs Hungarian professors; It has recruited many notable Hungarian scholars back home from posts overseas; the largest component in their student body consists of Hungarian students.

We are proud of our reputation, proud of our contribution to Hungarian academic life for the past 25 years, and we will defend our achievements vigorously against anyone who seeks to defame our work in the eyes of the Hungarian people. The combined entities of CEU/KEE, which deliver 8 master's and 2 doctoral degree programs accredited in Hungary, is deeply embedded in Hungarian academic life and society. It employs over 600 Hungarians and enrolls, on average, 400 Hungarian students per year–the largest national group among our students. These are just a few of CEU's rich contributions to Hungary and to the world. Any legislation that would make it difficult for CEU to operate in Hungary would destroy this fabric of cooperation with Hungarian institutions and the Hungarian public and would damage Hungary's long-held reputation as a center of innovation, academic excellence and scientific inquiry.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide stands with Central European University. We condemn the proposed amendments to Hungary’s law on higher education and call upon all international organizations, academic and professional associations, and other groups and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to protest this injudicious proposition; to call for its immediate withdrawal; and to urge the officials of the Hungarian government to respect, guarantee, and implement the provisions and principles of higher education as specified in international conventions and treaties to which Hungary has long been a signatory.


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