Opposition parties decry government ‘threat to close down CEU’
Budapest, March 29 (MTI) – Opposition parties on Wednesday slammed the government for what they say is a threat to close down the Central European University (CEU).
The opposition Socialists said CEU, founded and financed by American billionaire George Soros, is a national treasure, and the government’s “threat” to close it down is tantamount to “treason”.
The party reacted to human resources minister Zoltán Balog’s recent bill to amend the law on higher education in order to clarify and tighten rules on foreign institutions of higher education that operate in Hungary.
According to press reports, President and Rector of CEU Michael Ignatieff said in a letter to students and teachers that in his interpretation the amendment would also apply to CEU.
The Socialists said in a statement that the Orbán government “is always looking for new enemies” in order to distract attention from its “sins”, and after its attacks against NGOs and Brussels, it has now launched an attack against the CEU.
CEU is among Hungary’s top-ranking universities each year and several Hungarian leaders have been among its graduates, including ruling Fidesz government members and one of the party’s MEPs, Balog said.
The Socialists will stand up for CEU and call on all opposition parties and educational institutions to follow suit, he added.
The human resources ministry said on Tuesday the measures were needed after a government probe found violations and shortfalls at the “majority” of foreign colleges and universities that offer instruction in Hungary. In the future, the law will allow universities outside of the European Union to operate in Hungary only on the basis of an international agreement, the ministry said.
The ministry noted that Hungarian law requires foreign universities that award diplomas in Hungary to operate in the countries in which they are based.
In the bill’s justification, Zoltán Balog, the minister minister of human resources, noted that “educational cooperation with countries outside of the EU is an important goal of cultural policy in Hungary” but adds that provisions in the Higher Education Act must define the “direction of international cooperation in higher education” by drawing boundaries, supporting the intentions of the government and its foreign policy goals, and ensuring that the entry of students and educators into the country complies with aspects of national security.
The leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) opposition party said the higher education bill announced late on Tuesday evening was “unacceptable”. Ágnes Vadai, the party’s deputy leader, told a press conference that the bill targeted the CEU. The bill is an “underhand, ideologically based” attack on the highest-ranking university in Hungary, Vadai said. Instead of attempting to close it, “any normal government” would strive to open up such an institution to benefit as many people as possible, Vadai added.