Many in the higher education research community have spent the last week following the situation that Central European University is facing in Hungary. In this post, one of Hedda graduates, dr Norbert Sabic who is currently working at CEU, comments on the development.

As brief background, the Central European University is graduate level university in Hungary, founded in 1991 by George Soros. The vision of the university has been to contribute to democratisation in the region, and it is now generally recognized as one of the leading institutions in Central and Eastern Europe when it comes to social sciences, with good results also at the European Research Council. The institution operates as a private institution that is accredited in the US and later also through the Hungarian accreditation system. It has about 1500 students from about 100 countries and its faculty comes from over 30 countries.

On March 28th, the Hungarian Minister of Human Resources who is also responsible for educational issues, Zoltán Balog, presented a new bill to the parliament that directly targets CEU and effecively would close it down due to the new requirements. A BBC article noted that this was an “attack on the CEU is the latest battle in a war against liberalism” that the current prime minister Viktor Orban has been fronting.

The situation with CEU has been covered world wide and has received major criticisms. The European University Association expressed that they were extremely shocked and deeply concerned over this development, and a large number of universities, university leaders, academic associaions, politicians and others have expressed their concerns.

To offer some insights on the recent developments, Dr Norbert Sabic from the Central European University has agreed to share a few brief comments. He is one of the graduates from the joint master programme in higher education (universities in Oslo, Tampere and Aveiro) and later did his PhD in political science at CEU on diversification policies in European higher education. He currently works as Strategic Planning Assistant at the same university. In the following, he shares his insights about the situation and possible ways forward.

Dr. Norbert Sabic (CEU)

For those not well acquainted with the Hungarian context, could you shed some light on the background of why this proposal was put on the table to start with?    

Well, you start with the most difficult question, and I am sure nobody could answer this one. The one thing we can do is speculate about the reasons. The official government argument is also continuously changing. They say there were irregularities in how CEU operated, which a report discovered (the report is publicly available but does not name which university did what, but generally described legal loopholes that foreign universities misuse). So the official argument is that they adopt this law to correct these loopholes. Now the interesting part is that the amendment to the law of HE is written in such a way, that it only affects CEU (hence the name lex CEU) and a couple of institutions which have only very few programs in Hungary. Since then the government didn’t provide any proof of CEU’s misconduct, and the Educational Authority confirmed (upon CEU’s request) that the programs realized by CEU were conducted lawfully.