Central European University may yet be saved in Hungary
Thousands demonstrate in central Budapest against new higher education legislation seen as targeting the Central European University. Source: Drone Media Studio / Shutterstock

The elite Budapest-based Central European University (CEU) looks to have been saved after being targeted by what has been seen as politically-motivated legislation in Hungary.

In a press statement released on Tuesday, CEU said that its future in Budapest had likely been secured after progress in negotiations between New York State and the Hungarian government.

“As you know, CEU is not at the negotiating table,” it said. “However, we have been informed that negotiations have created the basis for an agreement.”

Established by American billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who was born in Budapest before he fled Nazi occupation in 1947, the CEU is widely seen to have been targeted by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban with a law introduced in April.

CEU has accreditation in both the United States and Hungary, however does not have an institution in America. The new law requires CEU to also offer educational programs in the US if it wants to continue operating in Budapest.

#IStandWithCEU. Source: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh.

Orban’s government denies claims that the law was specifically created to target CEU. “Contrary to intentionally disseminated misleading information, the CEU will be able to continue its operation as soon as an international agreement has been reached,” it said in April.

Nevertheless, it continued: “For years, CEU has enjoyed specific privileges unavailable to any other institution of higher education in Hungary. Simply put, this legislative amendment brings this discriminative business practice to an end, closes loopholes and will create a level playing field for all universities operating in Hungary.”

The CEU has in recent years been listed in the best 100 universities worldwide for social science on the Times Higher Education rankings. Soros provided an endowment for CEU of US$880 million, making it one of the wealthiest universities in Europe.

In May, the US State Department called for Hungarian lawmakers to engage directly with CEU to find a solution that allows universities to “function freely” and “provide greater educational opportunity for the citizens of Hungary and the region.”

The university has now signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bard College in New York, with which CEU says it has “maintained close relations for decades.” It said it hopes this means there will be a “speedy conclusion to this affair.”

“We await the Hungarian government’s signature of the agreement and Parliament’s ratification in order to enable CEU to continue operating in Budapest, which has always been our goal.”

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