The right-wing government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is taking steps that could cause a popular American university in Budapest to close.
Under a bill submitted to the Hungarian Parliament late Tuesday, non-EU universities issuing diplomas in Hungary would be required to have a campus in their home country.
Central European University — which was founded in 1991 by liberal philanthropist and investor George Soros and is widely considered to be the top private university in Hungary — does not have a campus in the United States, even though it is registered in New York state. Students from scores of countries are enrolled in the university’s English-language, graduate and post-graduate programs.
Orban and the Hungarian-born Soros have a strained relationship, even though the prime minister received a scholarship from the Soros foundation that allowed him to study briefly at Oxford.
Hungarian officials say the legislation doesn’t have anything to do with Soros or CEU, even though the new requirement doesn’t affect Hungary’s 27 other non-EU universities, which all have campuses abroad.
They say the changes are needed because foreign-funded universities are operating outside the law. But many Hungarians, and certainly Orban’s critics in and outside of the country, believe the legislation is a clear attempt to shut down CEU.
If the legislation passes, the law would take effect in September and CEU would have to open a campus in the United States by Feb. 15, 2018, if it wants to stay open. That is something the university says “would have no educational benefit and would incur needless financial and human resource costs.”
The bill “is a threat to our continued existence in Hungary,” Michael Ignatieff, CEU’s president and rector, told reporters at a news conference. He vowed to fight back, adding: “This university is not going to close under any circumstance and we won’t be pushed around.”
Ignatieff met with Hungary’s…