Austrian Daily Interviews CEU Provost Matei About CEU's Move to Vienna

CEU Provost Liviu Matei was interviewed by Austrian daily Der Standard about the progress made regarding CEU's move to Vienna. The English translation is below. For the original article, see

The first expulsion of a university in the European Union

Central European University (CEU) is moving to Vienna. Provost Liviu Matei explains the reasons - and the consequences.


For a good week, the letters CEU have been shining from the roof of the building at Quellenstrasse 51 in Vienna. In the middle of Favoriten, Vienna's tenth municipal district, Central European University, which was expelled from Hungary, has found its new home - at least for the time being. Since July, founded by the Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros College is not only accredited as a US university, but also as an Austrian private university.

"In October, we will at least partially start operations in Vienna," explains Liviu Matei, professor of public policy at CEU and also Provost. "But 2019/20 will be a kind of transitional year." Liviu Matei, an internationally renowned expert on higher education policy, was one of the main lecturers of the Summer Discourse, which takes place every year as part of the Summer University of Vienna in Strobl am Wolfgangsee and which was thematically dedicated to Europe and its future.

Unifying factor science

Matei lectured on "Science as an Unifying Factor for Europe" and brought with it many positive examples: from the Bologna Process through the European Research Council to the more than ten million participants in the student exchange program Erasmus. The fate of CEU, founded in Budapest in 1991, is out of line with this unifying role of science.

This is not so much because CEU has been structurally oriented towards the US higher education system, but because its recent history sets a precedent in the EU: never before has a university in the EU been forced to move to another country to move. A law tailored to CEU by Viktor Orban's right-wing conservative government made the flight to Vienna the last resort.

Shattered protests

Why the European protests ultimately helped little, explains Matei in his presentation and in the interview above all by the fact that at the European level, the freedom of research and teaching is not anchored by law. In this respect, Orban could ignore all protests from Brussels, because ultimately they were not justifiable by legal texts.

The corresponding constitutional law in Hungary has been changed, as Matei explains: "The basic principle of academic freedom has been replaced by that of national pride, so if you teach something that does not suit these people, you can not do that." This includes gender studies - which, on the one hand, indicates how important such subjects are if Orban is apparently afraid of them.

Humiliation of the intellectuals

How CEU, and most recently with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was handled, has something very cynical for Matei: "Of course, they also wanted to humble the intellectuals." In addition, Matei from Romania diagnoses that Orban and his people are simply seeking total control: "They want to control the intelligentsia, the bureaucracy and the jurisdiction, and the last thing they need is independent thinking people."

Among the latter are undoubtedly the staff and students of the CEU, who will commute between Vienna and Budapest in the next academic year. In the academic year 2020/21, the first bachelor degree programs based on the Austrian accreditation will be added in Vienna-Favoriten.

Then you will try to combine the best of the US system and the European one. Whether and how long CEU would then remain in Vienna's favorites is also not yet clear, Matei says: "The plan that we move to the Steinhof grounds in five or six years persists, but we are still involved in negotiations in this respect the city of Vienna."

Hungary is not yet a dictatorship for Matei, "but the government clearly has dictatorial features." Typical of this is also an intellectual modesty or "primitiveness", which fixes the university expert, inter alia, repeatedly repeated remarks by the Hungarian Parliament President: He has repeatedly said that his granddaughters please do not want to become an engineer or a doctor, but children and get him a good meal to cook.

Worldwide recruited students

According to Matei, there will be little change in content orientation with a strong focus on the social sciences, but also on the origin of the students: recruiting continues to be worldwide, and so far only about 15 percent of the students came from Hungary. Perhaps their number will not be much lower in the future.

What Matei painfully observes is the emigration of scientists and other qualified persons from Hungary, who have taken dramatic forms not only because of the expulsion of CEU. Almost every day he hears from colleagues who are not working at CEU that they want to leave the country.

His very personal story basically explains everything: "Eight or nine years ago, my eldest daughter graduated in Hungary, she was the only one in her class to leave the country to study, two years later, when my next younger daughter graduated, About three years later, my son graduated and was the only one in his class to stay in Hungary for another year, when he left the country. "