The government has submitted an amendment to Hungary’s higher education law, aimed at extending the deadline for foreign universities to meet the law’s criteria, enacted in spring, by one year.
Justice Minister László Trócsányi told a press conference on Friday that despite “all pressure lacking any legal foundations” the government upholds its position that
“Hungarian laws apply to all, even to the US-based Central European University” (CEU).
Trócsányi said that the conditions defined in the law’s spring amendment were “predictable, clear and easy to meet”. In spring, parliament set a deadline of January 1, 2018 for subject universities to meet the criteria.
If parliament approves the proposed amendment, the deadline for meeting the law’s criteria will be January 1, 2019, he said.
Hungarian lawmakers approved amendments to the higher education act in the spring that require foreign colleges and universities in Hungary to operate on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement and to have a campus in the country in which they are based.
CEU, which is based in Budapest but accredited by the State of New York, complained in the spring that it was targeted by the amended legislation because it has no campus in the United States. Early in October,
Negotiations between the State of New York and the government of Hungary “have created the basis for an agreement”, it added.
The Hungarian government and the State of Maryland have already reached an agreement on cooperation in the field of higher education that will bring the local campus of McDaniel College in line with the amended rules.
The agreement was reached “recognizing the benefits each of the two countries may gain as a result of strengthening bilateral cooperation in accordance with the rules and regulations applied in each country”.
Trócsányi noted that the agreement with McDaniel College had been published in the latest issue of the official gazette Magyar Közlöny and said other institutions of higher education had been able to comply with the new rules before the original deadline, too.
The original deadline was sufficient for institutions of higher education “that sought an agreement in earnest rather than unnecessary political debate and conflict”, he said.
Talks are still ongoing with other institutions, among them CEU, he added.
The European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the amendments to the higher education act because it believes the legislation runs counter to the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business, as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Hungary has responded to the EC, but the EU’s executive body has asked for further clarification over concerns about the non-compatibility of the legislation with the EU’s obligations under international trade law.
The CEU reacted saying that the government’s amendment proposal would prolong the state of uncertainty over the university’s future.
“The CEU urges the Hungarian government to sign the agreement between Hungary and the State of New York as soon as possible and declares its commitment to comply with every legal requirement,” the university said in a statement. The CEU said it would defend its academic freedom and continue its operations “as a respected member of Hungarian and international academic life”.
It said the agreement that would secure its future was ready to be signed by the State of New York and the Hungarian government. The solution to the matter now rests in the hands of the government, they added.
The CEU noted that the Hungarian government had already signed an agreement with the State of Maryland to ensure the continued operations of McDaniel College in Budapest under Hungary’s amended higher education law.
The university said
it interpreted the lack of an agreement between the government and the State of New York as discrimination on the part of the government.
The extension of the deadline and the failure to sign an agreement “is a step back”, the CEU said, adding that its interests lay in moving forward.