Hungary’s loss — Central European University moves to Vienna

On Monday, Central European University announced that new students enrolling starting in September 2019 would begin their studies in Vienna, rather than Budapest, after Hungary’s highest ranked university was forced out of the country by the regime of Viktor Orbán. “CEU has been forced out. This is unprecedented. A U.S. 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,” remarked CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff on Monday. For the past 20 months, CEU has tried to negotiate with the Orbán regime and even launched a program in the United States, in order to comply with newly implemented Hungarian legislation. Despite the fact that CEU is accredited and lauded by the US Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the New York State Education Department, as well as by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, CEU has no option but to leave Hungary and begin recruiting new 2019 students at their new home in Vienna.

Journalists and observers listen to a news conference on Monday at CEU about the university’s forced move to Vienna.

According to the current plan, only already enrolled students will be permitted to complete their studies in Budapest, with most others studying in Austria. The Hungarian economy will feel the hit of CEU’s forced departure. CEU employs 770 staff and faculty members in the Hungarian capital and contributes 25 million euros to the Hungarian economy through payroll deductions and purchases from Hungarian suppliers alone. The impact on the Budapest economy, especially local accommodation, apartment rentals and restaurants will be significant, as the university’s 1,200 students (many foreign) and staff relocate to Austria.

Hungarian publicist Péter S. Föld suggested, not without reason, that forcing CEU to leave Hungary is tantamount to treason. It’s an attack against the Hungarian economy and Budapest’s reputation as a centre of scholarly inquiry. Mr. Föld added that the opposition parties would have had a duty to explain to the average Hungarian, especially in rural areas, why CEU is important to Hungary. The opposition failed miserably in this regard.

Nearly everyone, regardless of political views, who has had experience with higher education understands the magnitude of the loss of CEU–this includes the thousands of Hungarian academics of all stripes from other institutions who have relied on CEU’s superior research facilities for their work. Five CEU programs were ranked among the top university programs in the world in March 2018, including political science, social policy, history, sociology and philosophy.

In its initial reaction to CEU’s announcement, the Hungarian government’s spokesperson, István Hollik, claimed that the university was “bluffing” when it said it is relocating to Vienna, adding that “this is a Soros-type bluff and the government does not wish to concern itself with it.” The 2.5 million Fidesz voters will mostly believe this, as they are oblivious to the outside world. Everyone else, including Hungarian conservatives, will understand what Hungary has just lost.

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