The Central European University is likely to close in the light of the new bill passed by the Hungarian government. Apart from being one of the most popular topics in Hungarian politics for the last couple of weeks, it also reflects the international political current. Questionable changes in education – closing institutions, removing subjects, quitting support projects – are becoming more and more frequent both in Europe, and the rest of the world.
In March 2017, the Hungarian government passed a bill regarding higher education, including new criteria that the foreign institutions will have to fulfil. The bill states that for a foreign university to operate in Hungary, an official agreement between national governments must be signed. It also requires of the university to have campuses both in Hungary and in the home country. The new bill strongly affects the activity of the Central European University (CEU) in Hungary.
The CEU has a specific place among the universities in Budapest. By following the American system, it allows students to finish their Masters in one year, rather than having to do the regular two-year course of the Bologna programme. The CEU diplomas are accepted not only in Hungary but in the US as well due to its double accreditation. Given the new bill, the CEU – which has always practiced educational activities solely in Hungary – would be forced to set up a campus in the US in not more than half a year. The bill also poses complications due to the federative system of the US. Although in Hungary the issues regarding education are in the hands of the national government, in the US, education is primarily the concern of each individual state and the US government does not have the authority necessary to fulfil the newly created clause. Consequently, the bill makes it almost impossible for the CEU to remain open.
Some say that it is a rightful decision on the part of the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán to protect national institutions by unifying the laws concerning them. Others call it Orbán’s “longstanding vendetta” against the founder of the school, George Soros.
Soros is a dual citizen of the US and Hungary who has a troubled past with Orbán. At first supporting FIDESZ, Orbán’s party, he slowly turned to the now more liberal opposition as the party started moving in the direction of right-wing populist nationalism. He is also aiding many non-governmental organisations fighting against corruption and opposes the Christian-conservative culture and the idea of the nation-state which are both associated with FIDESZ.
What makes the issue more controversial is the fact that it is communicated to the public as a personal conflict where the steps taken are seen as acts of revenge rather than political measures. Education is another battlefield, where the opponents fight for their own truths instead of the benefits of the younger generation.