CEU threatens to move to Vienna

The Central European University (CEU) has said that unless the university can emerge from its current legal limbo in Hungary by December 1, the new student intake for its American accredited masters and doctoral programmes will study at the CEU’s new campus in Vienna.

Michael Ignatieff, the CEU’s president and rector, told a news conference in Budapest on Thursday that the decision by the institution’s board of trustees will come into effect on December 1, though, he added, hopefully a solution to the stand-off was still possible to ensure that courses continue in Hungary. But if a solution is not found, the CEU will move to Vienna “given we cannot continue to operate legally in Budapest,” he said. Ignatieff said the CEU had fulfilled the Hungarian government’s conditions, but the government did not want to sign the related international convention.

In response to the CEU press conference, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs branded Ignatieff’s statement as “a political bluff” on the part of US billionaire George Soros, the CEU’s founder and main benefactor. He said the CEU “will continue to operate in Hungary today, and, in our opinion, in the future too.” He said the government “does not respond to political bluffs”. Asked about any future negotiations between the government and CEU, he said the CEU should deal with the facts of the matter “which have been made clear to them a thousand times”. “The university very well knows what the Hungarian regulations are, but instead of actually complying with them, their response is political bluster,” the spokesman said.

At the CEU’s news conference Ignatieff said that students who have already begun their studies in Budapest will finish them here, and as much education and research as possible would remain in the Hungarian capital. Ignatieff said the CEU had fulfilled the conditions set by the Hungarian government and that a Hungarian examination had found that expectations had been met. Further, as far as the CEU’s accreditation in the United States is concerned, the university has met its obligations, he added. A few weeks ago, however, the American ambassador signalled that the Hungarian government does not want to sign the related international convention, he added.

The rector said the CEU wanted to comply with Hungarian laws and remain in Budapest.
In response to a question, he said Soros had attended a board meeting on the potential move to Vienna. He said the CEU “respects and admires” Soros and thanks him for his support but it would be against the university’s basic rules to take instructions from him, he added.

Last week, the university’s leadership met Hungarian officials but they failed to reach a satisfactory outcome. The CEU would welcome further talks but wants its academic freedom as a US institution operating in Hungary to be recognised, the rector said.
Ignatieff added that the US Congress also underlined the importance of the CEU remaining in Hungary.

He noted that the European Commission and the European Court had been asked to assess “Lex CEU” in light of the university’s position that the law raises concerns about constitutionality. No response has been received so far, he said, adding that the CEU hopes the Hungarian government would respects any future ruling that protects the CEU. At the same time, the university cannot wait for such a decision and must take further steps, he added.

Ignatieff said the Vienna campus has been preparing to open for several months. This will go ahead even if the CEU can retain its freedoms in Hungary, he said. Vice Rector Liviu Matei said that around two thousand people would be affected by a possible move. Vice Rector in charge of Hungarian affairs Zsolt Erdei said the CEU’s activities were supported by the representatives of international academic life and by the Hungarian people. The university still believes that relations between the CEU and the government can be resolved, he added.

The US ambassador to Hungary is working to resolve the issue of the Central European University’s status in Hungary, the embassy said in a statement

Source and photo: MTI

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