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The Hungarian government is modifying the higher education law that led to Central European University ending its academic operations in Budapest. In October of 2020, the European Court of Justice ruled that ‘lex CEU’ violates Hungary’s commitments under the World Trade Organization and infringes on academic freedom in the European Union. However, CEU will not return to Hungary.

Lex CEU was an eight-paragraph modification to Hungary’s 2011 higher education law, which targeted the operation of foreign universities in Hungary. It ruled that such universities could only operate in Hungary if they do so in their country of origin as well.

CEU in Hungary- A Story Cut Short
CEU in Hungary- A Story Cut Short

On Monday, Michael Ignatieff rector of the Central European University (CEU) declared that since no compromise has been reached with the Hungarian government, CEU is moving to Vienna. “Dark day for freedom,” says the rector, “political bluff,” says the government. Anyhow, Hungary lost an important part of a prestigious institution with a number of world-class professors. […]Continue reading

While the law seems a bit confusing now, at the time it rendered it impossible for CEU to continue its operations in Budapest, a statement which rector Michael Ignatieff made one day after it had passed.

Hungarian Gov’t Modifies Higher Education Law

Minister of Innovation and Technology László Palkovics has now submitted a modification to lex CEU which, he says, allows for “Diplomas and degrees awarded in the state of the higher education institution’s origin to be awarded,” in Hungary.

State Secy to FT: Hungary's Universities Row 'Has Never Been Political'
State Secy to FT: Hungary's Universities Row 'Has Never Been Political'

Michael Ignatieff, head of the Central European University, seeks to link a recent European court ruling concerning Hungary’s higher education law with plans to tie receipt of European Union cohesion funds to compliance with standards regarding the rule of law, Zoltán Kovács, Hungary’s state secretary for international communications, said in a letter to the editor […]Continue reading

The modification allows for universities based outside of the European Economic Area to operate in Hungary

  • if they are “equivalent” in values to the education from Hungarian institutions,
  • if their admission requirements are the same as those of other state-recognized institutions,
  • if their respective governments have come to an agreement around the equivalence of their higher education qualifications and degrees,
  • and if the Education Office allows the higher education institution to operate

A Favor for Fudan?

CEU reacted to the proposed new law, saying that it changes nothing for them, and “it remains a political decision-certain to be taken at the highest level-whether to allow foreign universities to operate.”

According to the university, the new modification was created in invitation of the Chinese Communist Party’s Fudan University in Budapest.

Fudan University’s Budapest location is an increasingly controversial topic in Hungary, especially since it is being built with a 450-billion-forint (1.25 billion EUR) loan from China which will eventually need to be paid off by Hungarian taxpayers.

Ideology and Competition Key Issues Around Fudan University Budapest
Ideology and Competition Key Issues Around Fudan University Budapest

The ideological impact of Fudan University’s Budapest campus, as well as its potential to overpower Hungarian universities, are both key issues in Hungary’s current discourse. While the Trade Union Association of Intellectuals  (ÉSZT) warns about Hungarian universities falling into Fudan’s shadow, Minister of National Innovation and Technology László Palkovics says that the Chinese state-run university […]Continue reading

CEU professor, political scientist and sociologist Zsolt Enyedi posted to Facebook about the modification, explaining that while in 2017 it had done so to force CEU out of Hungary, it is now requiring uniformity from foreign universities in Hungary.

Minister László Palkovics has submitted a ruling recommendation according to which foreign universities can only come to Hungary if they teach the exact same material that we already do.”

The similarity between Fudan University and Central European University’s Budapest operations is that László Palkovics was the one responsible for dealing with them. The difference in context between them is that while CEU was forced out of Hungary in 2017, Fudan is now being invited in.

Featured photo illustration by Alexander Chitsazan/MTI/CEU