Yesterday, the Chinese and Hungarian governments signed an interstate agreement to ensure the continued operations of the Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine in Budapest under Hungary’s amended higher education law, the controversial “Lex CEU.”
Speaking at a press conference after the signing ceremony, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó claimed that cooperation between Hungary and the People’s Republic of China was “better than ever” with education being one of the most important pillars of the two countries’ relations.
The minister noted that the Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine was the second higher education institution whose future in Hungary had been secured under the new higher education law, after McDaniel College, based in the US State of Maryland.
He claimed that “this proves” that the criteria of the “Lex CEU” higher-education amendments can be met. Szijjártó added that there are five universities in Hungary whose home countries still need to sign interstate agreements with Hungary in order to secure their continued operations in the country.
The Foreign Minister’s comments were a clear reference to the Central European University, CEU. The “Lex CEU amendments” require each foreign-based university operating in Hungary to have an ‘intergovernmental’ agreement between their country of origin and Hungary, as well as a campus in the country in which they are based.
These amendments to Hungary’s higher education law, passed in the beginning of April, were seen as deliberately targeting the Central European University, and came to be referred to as “Lex CEU.” The government’s attack on CEU comes amid a larger attack on the university’s founder, Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, whom Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party is currently portraying as the enemy of the Hungarian people.
Recently, the government extended the deadlines for complying with the new legislation by one year, a move criticized by CEU, which argued that this was an excuse to prolong the state of uncertainty over the university’s future. CEU also called on the government to sign an agreement already negotiated with the state of New York, in order to bring a “speedy conclusion to this affair.”
Szijjártó called the agreement with China’s Communist government a milestone in Hungarian-Chinese educational cooperation. He noted that the 50-year-old Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine has had a school at Budapest’s Semmelweis University since 2010. He also noted that in May, Hungary and China elevated their bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, the highest rank in China’s diplomatic relations. The Foreign Minister argued that Hungary’s interest lies in upholding this tight cooperation with one of the world’s strongest economies.
The minister said that Chinese language learning was available at all levels of Hungary’s education system, noting that Hungary is home to the regional centre of Confucius Institutes as well as the highest number of such institutes in the region.
Asked about the progression of intergovernmental talks concerning the remaining foreign universities in Hungary, Szijjártó said Hungary would sign agreements with the states in which those institutions are based once all matters are agreed upon.
He expressed hope that an agreement would eventually be reached on the future of Budapest’s Central European University as well.
Xu Mei, head of the Provincial Education Commission of China’s Heilongjiang province, attributed the significance of the agreement to Hungarian-Chinese relations being based on cultural and educational cooperation.
Via MTI and Hungary Matters
Images via MTI