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Apr 21, 2017

CEU is not being singled out, according to the Guardian editorial

Perhaps CEU should adhere to its own principles and comply with the law, according to an editorial published in the Guardian newspaper.

Hungary's CEU debate has garnered widepsread attention from around the world of late. Despite the wave of denunciations directed at the government for their stance on NGOs and in particular CEU, the highly respected Guardian newspaper in the UK has just published a measured and realistic essay on the current situation.

The editorial, written by Tibor Fischer, starts off by stating that Hungary is a democracy. It has a wide range of political parties (a lot more than, say, the US, which is only one party away from being a one-party state). It has free and fair elections. It has a parliament that passes legislation. The quality of legislation can vary greatly, as in any democracy, but like most legal matters that is a matter of keen debate. If citizens are unhappy about the legislation, they hold demonstrations, as they have been doing.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán states that CEU is not the target of the new law on higher education. It does in fact affect 28 foreign institutions in Hungary, 27 of which were found to be operating with “irregularities” (largely sloppy paperwork, something that will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with university admin). None has been fined or shut down.

Many, probably most, academics at Hungarian universities disapprove of the amendment, which they feel is bad for research, but the Central European University is not being singled out for punishment: it’s asking to be given privileged treatment.

This is not simply about freedom of speech or independence of scholarship, writes Fischer. The CEU is legally a Hungarian university. Under the amendment the same buildings, the same canteen, the same umbrella stands, the same courses, and students can get a qualification recognized in Europe. The government can’t touch them.

What can’t continue, without a new deal, is the practice whereby CEU can also issue a diploma accredited in the US without actually operating a campus. Until now, according to the Guardian editorial, CEU students have been getting double bubble.

Obviously that was an attractive deal for students so, should the CEU lose that option, it will make the university less marketable. However, if it is so much the center of excellence that its supporters claim it is, it should still be able to attract students. The issue is bums on seats and dollars as much as anything else.

The author has followed the progress of this institution since its creation in 1991. One of the salient themes it has been banging on about for nearly 30 years is the rule of law. Perhaps the CEU should adhere to its own principles and comply with the law, he concludes.