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Oct 12, 2020

Letter to the FT: Hungary's universities row has never been political

State Secretary says Hungary’s 2017 amendment of its higher education bill has never been about politics, or even about George Soros.

 

Zoltán Kovács, State Secretary for International Communications and Relations, has written a letter to the Financial Times explaining how Hungary's universities row has never been political.

In the letter, published online yesterday, the state secretary states that Hungary’s 2017 amendment of its higher education bill has never been about politics, or even about George Soros. In fact, it was about an administrative question all along, as it required foreign universities operating in Hungary to abide by clear, rational regulations.

Here is the letter in full:

No, “Lex CEU” is not a political question, nor an “EU affair”

Central European University Rector Michael Ignatieff tips his hand in his determination to link the decision handed down by the European Court of Justice on Tuesday to the EU tying its upcoming budget to a “rule of law mechanism.” In reality, the CEU issue has always been an administrative, regulatory issue.

Despite what Mr. Ignatieff would have readers believe, Hungary’s 2017 amendment of its higher education bill has never been about politics, or even about George Soros. In fact, it was about an administrative question all along, as it required foreign universities operating in Hungary to abide by clear, rational regulations. Two dozen foreign-based institutions in Hungary had no problem complying with the new rules, including another US college. The sole exception: the George Soros-funded CEU.

Sadly, CEU’s reluctance to fulfill its administrative obligations, combined with Mr. Ignatieff’s increasingly political behavior, escalated the conflict to a political, hence EU, level. And he does so once again in his recent op-ed, which took the unexpected detour from the topic of the ECJ ruling to how the EU “should seize the moment” to withdraw funds from countries like Hungary that “breach” European “rule of law.”

However, as Prime Minister Orbán said in an interview Wednesday evening, our personal views on the decision aside, “[Hungary] will execute the ECJ ruling as we always do.”

The ECJ decision is a bit odd, considering that there are, in fact, a several other European states where almost identical laws regulate the operation of foreign universities.

Bavaria’s higher education act, for example. It explicitly states that the local higher education authority may only recognize institutions that are registered in Germany or the European Union. Exceptions to this rule, just as in the case of the Hungarian legislation, are only possible through the signing of an international agreement between Bavaria and the institution’s country of origin.

Similarly, in Spain, foreign institutions are required to carry out de facto educational programs in their home countries. In Slovakia, only universities registered within the European Economic Area are allowed to operate.

While the Czech regulations permit the operation of a university from outside the EU, CEU could not lawfully operate in Czechia either, due to the requirement of carrying out educational activity in one’s home country.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Dr. Zoltán Kovács

Read the article here.