EUA denounces dismantling of university autonomy in Hungary

26 October 2018

The European University Association (EUA) is dismayed by the latest developments in Hungary involving attacks on university autonomy and academic freedom. On 25 October 2018, the Central European University (CEU), a long-standing EUA member, announced that it will move a large part of its activities out of Hungary. In a statement, the university said that “incoming students for its US-accredited masters and doctoral programs will study at a new campus in Vienna beginning in the academic year 2019-20.”

This comes after the Hungarian government amended higher education legislation in April 2017 in a way that would exclusively impact CEU and force its closure. The amendments require a university issuing foreign degrees to establish educational activities in its country of origin. To meet the conditions, CEU set up programmes at Bard College in New York. Despite being in compliance, the Hungarian authorities are delaying their decision on whether to accept the agreement, forcing CEU to make this difficult decision.

The announcement comes against the backdrop of serious and growing concerns about the negative trajectory of university autonomy and academic freedom in Hungary, as evidenced by a recent government ban on gender studies programmes, an unusually high tax on programmes for refugees and asylum seekers and the intimidation of academics in the Hungarian media. These developments represent violations of academic freedom and institutional autonomy that are unprecedented in the European Union.

Furthermore, on 12 September 2018, the European Parliament invoked Article 7, triggering a procedure to determine if Viktor Orbán’s government has systematically breached the EU’s core values, including academic freedom.

EUA calls on the Hungarian government to be mindful that freedom from political intervention and pressure is a condition sine qua non in enabling universities to fulfil their critical role in our societies. For over 25 years, CEU has played a crucial role in educating young people and fostering critical thinking and its move away from Budapest will inflict significant damage on academic excellence in Hungary. The Hungarian government’s actions are not only damaging the country’s reputation and standing, but they have worrying implications for research and higher education, both in Hungary and in Europe as a whole.

EUA will continue to monitor events in Hungary and stands by its members.

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