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Lex CEU: “Very Concerned” U.S. State Department Urges Hungary Not To Implement Controversial Higher Education Law

The United States Department of State is urging the Hungarian government to suspend implementation of an amended law on higher education, acting spokesman Mark Toner (pictured above) said at a press briefing in Washington, DC on Monday, local time.

He said the US government is “very concerned” about the legislation which was passed by Hungary’s parliament last week and signed into law by the president this week. The US Department of State believes it threatens the continued operations of Central European University, Toner said. “So we’re urging the [Hungarian government] to suspend implementation of the law. We want to see a review and discussion in order to address any concerns through dialogue with the university itself and other affected institutions going forward,” he added. He described CEU as “a leading academic institution” and “an important conduit for intellectual and cultural exchanges between Hungary and the United States”.

“And frankly, it’s at the center of freethinking and research. The legislation, we believe, can also similarly threaten the operations of other American universities with degree programs in Hungary, so it goes beyond just Central European University,” he said. The law stipulates that foreign universities operating in Hungary must also pursue educational activities in their country of origin and an intergovernmental contract should be signed to regulate their operations.

Critics of the law say that its aim was to make the operation of CEU, founded by US financier George Soros, impossible. The US charge d’affaires in Budapest had also previously expressed concerns about the amendment proposal before it was passed by parliament.

Brussels talks

Hungary’s state secretary for education László Palkovics said in Brussels on Tuesday that the Hungarian government had no intention of closing down CEU and the amended law on higher education only served to resolve certain issues. Hungary and the European Commission (EC) have moved closer in their views on Hungary’s amended law on higher education, he said after discussing the law with EC Vice President Frans Timmermans in Brussels on Tuesday.

Speaking to MTI after the talks, Palkovics said he had told Timmermans that contrary to press reports, the amendments do not affect the autonomy or operations of universities in Hungary. Palkovics said Timmermans had understood the Hungarian government’s reasoning behind the amendments, which tighten regulations on foreign universities operating in the country. The state secretary said he had stressed that the government had no intention of closing down any universities.

This includes the university registered and accredited in Hungary under the name “Közép-Európai Egyetem” and the Central European University (CEU), which he noted is registered and accredited in the US while operating in Hungary. Palkovics also told the vice president that the operations of neither the CEU nor the university registered in Hungary would be endangered even if the former were unable to find a way to comply with the amended law. Should this turn out to be the case, the CEU would still be able to continue its operations in Hungary, albeit in some other form, Palkovics insisted, adding that the university’s business model could also potentially remain intact.

He said he believed there was a “very good chance” that the CEU could continue to operate in Budapest in a similar fashion to how it does now. Palkovics added that the government was open and willing to hold talks on the matter in an effort to find a solution to the situation. Palkovics also held talks with European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics, who had served as minister in Viktor Orbán’s government between 2010 and 2014.

Hungary appoints CEU negotiator

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has appointed deputy state secretary Kristóf Altusz as the government’s negotiator on the operation of foreign universities in Hungary, the prime minister’s press chief said on Tuesday. It is the government’s conviction that the conditions set in the higher education act are easily achievable by all well-meaning universities, Bertalan Havasi said.

via hungarymatters.hu and MTI