Hungarian Ministry Manipulating Public Opinion about Bill Passed in Parliament

Budapest, April 5, 2017 – The Ministry of Human Capacities statement of April 4 concerning Central European University (CEU) and Közép-európai Egyetem contains a number of inaccuracies and errors. The fact that our university is not referred to by its official name but, alluding to the founder, is referred to as “Soros University,” shows the statement is a piece of political propaganda.

The Ministry’s statement claims that the amendment to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education (currently known as Amendment T/14686) does not affect the Hungarian-accredited Közép-európai Egyetem. That is not true. The passage related to the similarity in names in the amendment would, indeed, require us to change the name of Közép-európai Egyetem.

The second claim in the statement says “CEU can continue to operate, as soon as the two countries agree to it in principle in a bilateral agreement.” In fact, the bilateral agreement is just one of a number of new conditions, which all have to be met in order for the university to be able to continue to operate. For the time being, these conditions seem impossible, or highly unlikely to meet by the end of the year. Therefore, we say that the new legislation will practically force CEU to close down.

The third claim in the statement says that our university enjoyed certain privileges, as “it could issue two different degrees, a Hungarian and an American one, while students pursuing these degrees were required to complete only one single program.” This statement is also false. The majority of our students receive only one, American-accredited degree at our university. Only 29 per cent of the students receive a Hungarian degree, and these students are required to take part in Hungarian-accredited programs and complete additional assignments for this degree. The programs accredited in Hungary include a number of requirements that are not parts of the American programs (see regulations on comprehensive exams, deadlines, credit numbers and requirements). Students who wish to obtain an additional Hungarian degree need to work hard to get it. Granting two degrees for the successful completion of a program (see joint programs) is a general and legal practice in Hungary and across the world.

The fourth claim is that “while this was a good business for George Soros, it is an unfair advantage [for CEU] in the competition among [Hungarian] universities.” The truth is that students do not represent “good business” for CEU, and even less so for its founder. On the contrary, students come with expenses, as the funds spent on them exceed incomes from tuition fees multiple times. Naturally, the founder does not receive the tuition fees paid by students, using the fees is in the university’s discretion.

Furthermore, the university is required to comply with American accreditation regulations for these so-called “advantages,” to be allowed to issue American degrees. There is work behind our American accreditation, it is not some kind of privilege. For Hungarian society it represents an added value that distinguished international academics come to Hungary and that students can receive American degrees without having to move to the U.S. to study. Today, everybody appreciates this [in Hungary], including our partner universities, which the Ministry of Human Capacities’ statement portrays as our competitors. It seems that the Ministry is not only disregarding CEU’s opinion, but it disregards the opinion of other Hungarian universities as well.

The fifth claim references a 2005 letter written by George Soros, stating that in the letter he was pursuing certain privileges, “not considering the interest of Hungarian universities and students.” The then Chairman of the CEU Board, George Soros, asked for keeping in force the law that established the university in 2004. By that time, the 2004 law had been incorporated in the Higher Education Act. He considered it important that the preamble of the 2004 law sheds light on the lawmakers’ original goals. The above completely legitimate request was not approved, and the 2004 law was repealed in 2010. Amendment T/14686, which was accepted in 2017, cannot target a privilege that was never granted, or legislation that was repealed in 2010.

Finally, the sixth claim in the statement says that our university “was caught out when citing the permit issued by the Educational Authority, and had to amend our previous statements.” That is not true. We clarified (and not amended) our reference to the Educational Authority’s document only to make it clear to the public that the Educational Authority did not directly respond to the Hungarian Prime Minister’s false statements made earlier that day. Our reference to the document was nevertheless factual. Contrary to the Ministry’s statements, the university’s accreditation and legal status conforms to Hungarian law according to declarations previously published by relevant Hungarian authorities (Educational Authority and the Hungarian Accreditation Committee).

In conclusion, all points of the above analyzed statement are false. We urge the Ministry to start negotiations with CEU already, and stop the circulation of misleading information.