The Hungarian government is working with a Chinese state-owned megacorporation to achieve one of the biggest investments in the last few decades of Hungary’s higher education; the creation of a Fudan University campus in Budapest’s IX. District. While the government believes the decision can only benefit the two countries, it has caused in uproar from opposition leaders.
Government critical investigative site Direkt36 reported, based on a government document, that Hungary would finance 100-billion-forint (roughly 279 million EUR), while China would provide a 450-billion-forint (around 1.25 billion EUR) loan for the 540-billion-forint (roughly 1.5 billion EUR) construction cost of the university.
Fudan University is an internationally well-reputed university based in Shanghai, China. It ranked
70th in 2021’s World University Rankings and 51-60th in 2020’s World Reputation Rankings. According
to 2020’s Asia University Rankings it is the 17th best university in Asia.
Construction Planned on Student City Site
According to the investigative portal, this investment follows the same path as the Budapest-Belgrade railway plan, which is also a joint Chinese-Hungarian project.
Direkt36 said that according to the government document, construction will take place at the site of the Budapest Student City – Southern City Gate Development Program.
The purpose of this development program, according to its website, is to “implement a livable urban development project in the region of South Budapest, in a classical brownfield area, where housing will be created, in several phases, for nearly 12,000 university citizens in the future Budapest Student City.”
Adding to the university’s controversial location is that China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd., the Chinese corporation responsible for constructing the university campus, has been suspected of corruption and unlawful surveillance a number of times.
Ferencváros Mayor: Fudan Uni’s Construction Against Public Interest
Posting to Facebook, Ferencváros mayor Krisztina Baranyi said the investment would exclusively serve the interests of a private university “since [the government] is not only handing over the property, but is also building on it, then handing over the university and its associated facilities to the Chinese.”
The mayor told RTL News that Ferencváros will certainly not hand over its own property for the building of a Chinese university, but according to liberal weekly hvg.hu, 80-85 percent of the unused, formerly industrial area is in private hands.
MSZP Says There Is No Profit for Hungary’s Economy
MSZP (Socialist Party) made a statement criticizing the government’s decision to build the Fudan campus from Chinese loans, especially after it had kicked out Central European University. According to their statement the government is spending more on this one investment than it did in the entirety of Hungary’s higher education in 2019.
They are picking up a huge sum from China, which Hungarians will have to pay back so that the Chinese state can build a Chinese university in Hungary. They are doing this in a way that does not bring any profit to the Hungarian economy, and they are taking away the Budapest Student City investment’s promise to provide thousands of Hungarian students with housing.”
Jobbik: Govt should support Hungarian youth instead of Chinese university
The opposition Jobbik party has called on the Orbán government to support the housing of Hungarian youth rather than establishing a Chinese campus in Budapest. Deputy party leader Dániel Z Kárpát called it “outrageous” that the government would spend 540 billion forints (EUR 1.5bn) on the project from taxpayer money and loans, and scrap the plan to build a student city with sporting and recreation facilities for the accommodation of 8,500 Hungarian young people on the land in question. Kárpát Z insisted that the government should immediately revise the project. Jobbik, he said, would only welcome foreign universities here if they served the interests of the Hungarian economy and its youth.
The past ten years of Fidesz rule, the Jobbik politician said, had witnessed a “brutal emigration spiral”, with the cream of Hungarian youth forced to find their future abroad. He called the government’s policy of using “Chinese mega loans to pave the way for Chinese investment projects” a “betrayal of young Hungarians”.
Budapest Mayor: China to Have Increased Power In EU
Budapest mayor and leftist green party Párbeszéd co-leader Gergely Karácsony criticized the investment on Facebook, saying that it goes against the plans made by the Metropolitan Assembly’s decision on the Student City Program, and it goes against the words of the prime minister. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had previously announced that nothing will be brought into effect without the support of the Metropolitan Assembly.
Karácsony argued that instead of making housing cheaper for Hungarian university students and following the Budapest leadership’s, as well as European values, “the building of a Chinese university could be a tool for China to build its political influence, power, and secret service in Hungary and Europe.”
PMO Head Supports Fudan as “Elite University”
In the government’s most recent press conference on Thursday, Head of the Prime Minister’s Press Office Gergely Gulyás said that the construction of Fudan University’s Budapest location is not in conflict with the Student City program. He emphasized that one of the “elite universities of the world” would “give meaning” to the student quarter and should have a place in Hungary.
Featured photo illustration by Balázs Szecsődi/MTI/Prime Minister’s Press Office