The Hungarian government has announced plans to eliminate gender studies from the country’s list of accredited university study programmes. The Board of the European University Association (EUA) calls on the Hungarian Ministry for Human Resources to cancel its plans as gender studies are a well-established scientific discipline, taught at the most prestigious institutions around the world, with benefits for graduates and society at large.
Such a ban would pose a serious threat to academic freedom and institutional autonomy in Hungary and would confirm the trend towards increased state control that began with legal reforms in 2014, that have already undermined institutional autonomy in Hungary’s universities (see EUA’s Autonomy Scorecard). EUA calls on the Hungarian government to refrain from further interference in academic affairs.
Under decree 42294/2018, the only two gender study programmes in Hungary, offered at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and the Central European University (CEU), would be shut down. These two internationally-renowned universities are both EUA members. The programmes in question are formally accredited, perform well with high enrolments, and are part of the institutions’ international collaboration and exchange.
The official reason given for the closure is that there is no need for graduates in this field in Hungary. However, it is not clear how the Ministry has arrived to this conclusion: CEU has data that proves the employment success of its international graduates over almost a decade; while the ELTE programme only launched last year.
If the decree is passed, these programmes would be removed from the official list of “licensed” study programmes. As a consequence, while currently enrolled students would still be able to finish their studies, there would be no new enrolments.
In the past, the government has only closed accredited programmes in close consultation with the universities concerned. However, in this case, the National Rectors’ Conference alone was consulted, not the universities, and only with 24 hours to answer. The universities responded via the National Rectors’ Conference consultation and wrote their own letters to the government expressing their discord with the plan.
EUA has received a high number of letters from universities, networks of universities and individual academics from across Europe and around the world, addressed to the Hungarian Minister and to the general public, condemning the proposal.
While the decree has not yet been passed, a decision is expected at any time. If the Hungarian government goes ahead, this would constitute a case of state intervention into higher education that is unprecedented in the European Union.