University founded by George Soros ‘forced out of Hungary on dark day for Europe’

The Central European University (CEU) describes the decision as 'an arbitrary eviction' that violates academic freedom 

Monday 03 December 2018 18:38
Students at the Central European University campus in Budapest
Students at the Central European University campus in Budapest

A university that was founded by billionaire George Soros said it has been forced out of Hungary in what has been described as a “dark day for Europe”.

The Central European University (CEU) described the decision "an arbitrary eviction" that violated academic freedom and confirmed plans to open a new campus in Austria.

For nearly three decades CEU has been a gateway to the west for thousands of students from ex-communist eastern Europe, offering US accredited degree programmes in an academic climate that celebrates free thought.

The university, which is regularly ranked the best university in Hungary, said it would leave Budapest if it had not secured guarantees of academic freedom by 1 December.

CEU's statement is the culmination of a years-long struggle between Hungarian-born Mr Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and the nationalist, anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

"CEU has been forced out," said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff in a statement. "This is unprecedented. A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.

"Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary," CEU's statement added.

Prof Ignatieff told a news conference later that the CEU had received a "clear and unequivocal" welcome in Austria.

The US said it was "disappointed" that CEU was unable to remain in Hungary.

"The departure of these US accredited programmes from Hungary will be a loss for the CEU community, for the United States, and for Hungary," Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the State Department, said in a statement.

CEU's legal status has been in limbo for more than a year since changes to a higher education law that meant a foreign-registered university could no longer operate in Hungary unless it also provided courses in its home country.

Mr Orbán's critics have said the legal changes deliberately targeted CEU and he is often accused Mr Soros of encouraging mass immigration into Europe, a charge the philanthropist denies.

Earlier this year, Open Society Foundations, Mr Soros' main funding network, was also forced to leave Hungary.

Agencies contributed to this report

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