Soros university says it plans stay in Hungary

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s Central European University, founded by U.S. financier George Soros, said on Tuesday it would recruit students as normal for the 2019-2020 academic year, and demanded the Hungarian government recognize it complied with Hungarian law.

A man sits front of the building of the Central European University, a school founded by by U.S. financier George Soros in Budapest, Hungary, April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

CEU, which offers graduate-level courses taught in English and is frequently ranked as the top university in Hungary, has been under fire from the Hungarian government, which has said it has operated without full legal compliance.

Hungary’s nationalist government has made the demonization of Hungarian-born financier Soros, who promotes liberal causes though his charities, into a central plank of the country’s ruling right-wing ideology.

CEU is based in Budapest but originally accredited in New York State. A change to Hungarian education law last year, widely seen as explicitly targeting CEU, withdrew permission to operate from foreign-registered universities that do not also offer courses in their home country.

The prospect that the university could be driven from Hungary drew street protests and international criticism.

CEU says it has satisfied the Hungarian requirement that it offer courses at home through a program of teaching jointly with Bard College in New York State’s Hudson Valley.

It said in a statement that its trustees, which include Soros, had met on June 23, authorized it to open recruitment for Budapest for the academic year 2019-2020, and pledged to back the university under any circumstances.

“CEU is delighted by this clear statement of commitment by the Board to CEU, to Budapest and to the defense of academic freedom,” the university’s rector, former Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, said in the statement.

CEU’s board chairman, Leon Botstein, who is also president of New York’s Bard College, said: “The Hungarian government has repeatedly said that once we fulfill the conditions of the new law, we will be fairly treated and that CEU will be able to operate in Hungary. Now is the time for Hungary to follow through on these commitments.”

Ignatieff has said that if CEU is driven out of Budapest, it will move to Austria. The board authorized CEU to set up a new campus in Vienna and rent premises there. Students will be recruited to study in Austria from September 2019.

Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban regularly vilifies Soros, accusing him of plotting to destroy European civilization by flooding the continent with immigrants. Soros, who survived the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Budapest, says his support for refugees is one part of a wider humanitarian mission to back open societies around the globe.

The Hungarian government’s anti-Soros campaign forced his charitable Open Society Foundations to leave Hungary earlier this year.

Reporting by Marton Dunai