On 28.03.2017, the Hungarian government proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, which target foreign University, and in particular the English-based graduate level Central European University (CEU). Eventual adoption of the proposed amendments would require 1) Prohibition of Central European University’s operations under its present name, unless it changes the name of its Hungarian entity; 2) Imposition of work-permit vetting by the Hungarian government on non-EU faculty; 3) Prevention of CEU from issuing US degrees to its students through its Hungarian entity even though Hungary and the US are both OECD members; and 4) Requirement for opening a campus in the state of New York (whereby CEU is accredited, apart from Hungarian accreditation). With these amendments, the future functioning of CEU as a higher education institution in Budapest would ultimately no longer be possible.
What is the CEU?
CEU was founded in 1991 with an initial mission to promote the values of democracy and open society in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. CEU, accredited in both Hungary and the United States of America, offers various masters and doctoral degrees in the field of social sciences and humanities. With over 1000 students coming from more than 100 countries, CEU is one of the most international and multicultural universities in the world, known for its teaching and research excellence. However, CEU has recently been a target of attack in the pro-government Hungarian media due to its connections with George Soros, the famous philanthropist, business magnate as well as university’s founder and benefactor.
According to many, the attacks on CEU are just a continuation of the attacks on the Soros-funded NGOs orchestrated by Viktor Orban, the current Hungarian prime minister known for his Euroscepticism, fierce anti-refugee rhetoric, and advocacy for illiberal democracy. The university argues that these amendments would restrict its possibility to accredit students in both Hungary and USA despite the 2004 bilateral declaration between the Hungarian authorities and the State of New York and 2004 Act LXI by the Hungarian Parliament on State Recognition of Közép-európai Egyetem (Central European University) . Furthermore, if passed, the new law may force CEU to change its name, move out of the country, and restrict the employment of non-EU professors who will have to seek work permits .
In response, CEU’s President and Rector, Michael Ignatieff, stated that “[a]ny 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” . Ignatieff called the Hungarian government to negotiate in order for both sides to find a common-ground solution that will allow CEU to stay in Budapest and maintain its academic freedom, which is essential for its operation . Nonetheless, it is understood that the Government asked the Parliament to pass the bill using an expedited procedure as early as Tuesday (April 4th), disregarding the regular consultative steps and the large demonstration in support of CEU that took place on Sunday, April 1st.
Why does this matter?
CEU has been intended to be a bastion of liberal thought, a laboratory for democracy . More than 25 years after its establishment, the university continues to provide a space for debate, encouraging freedom of speech and critical thinking among the plethora of student diversity. It promotes multiculturalism and teaches the students to respect and cherish diversity. The institution has wholeheartedly welcomed refugees and provided free courses for registered refugees and asylum seekers in Hungary in the midst of the refugee crisis in Europe. It has a program dedicated to supporting Roma students in pursuing their academic and professional goals. The university promotes academic excellence through more than 20 schools, departments and research centers. With other words, CEU fosters an environment where the democratic values thrive and critical debate is encouraged, shaping future world leaders:
“An alumna is now Minister of Environmental Protection in Georgia, while another advises Iraqi government officials on public policy development, implementation, and evaluation, and helps set up policy units in ministries and provincial governments. Yet another alumna was the first woman of Roma origin to be elected to the European Parliament, representing Hungary. CEU alumni live in more than 120 countries, and include EU and national parliamentarians, ambassadors, UN officers, international affairs experts, economics, policymakers, business leaders, academics, international law scholars, and human rights activists.” 
Therefore, the newly proposed amendments to the Hungarian Parliament do not only represent an attack on CEU and an attempt to shut the University down, but a direct attack on an academic institution, on academic freedom and autonomy. Fidesz’s proposed amendments are an attack on democracy and democratic values, on freedom of speech.The efforts by the Hungarian Government to shut down one of Europe’s top universities goes against the fundamental democratic and European values and is something that should not happen under the watch of the European Institutions. In letters sent to Commissioner Navracsics and President of the European Council Tusk, JEF Europe and AEGEE-Europe call to immediately engage with the Hungarian government, asking it to withdraw the amendments and to consult and negotiate with all the affected universities. As students, alumni and JEF members, we also call for action on behalf of other European institutions in preserving academic integrity and autonomy.