Opposition Parties Decry New Higher Education Bill

  • 30 Mar 2017 1:00 AM
Opposition Parties Decry New Higher Education Bill
Opposition parties on Wednesday spoke out against a new bill submitted by the human resources minister aimed at amending the law on higher education in order to clarify and tighten rules on foreign institutions of higher education that operate in Hungary, saying that it was a threat to close down the Central European University (CEU).

The opposition Socialists said CEU, founded and financed by American billionaire George Soros, is a national asset, and the government’s “threat” to close it down is tantamount to “treason”.

The Socialists said in a statement that the Orbán government “is always looking for new enemies” in order to distract attention from its “sins”, and after its attacks against NGOs and Brussels, it has now launched an attack against the CEU.

CEU is among Hungary’s topranking universities each year and several Hungarian leaders have been among its graduates, including ruling Fidesz government members and one of the party’s MEPs, the Socialists said.

The Socialists will stand up for CEU and call on all opposition parties and educational institutions to follow suit, the party added.

The human resources ministry said on Tuesday the measures were needed after a government probe found violations and shortfalls at the “majority” of foreign colleges and universities that offer instruction in Hungary.

In the future, the law will allow universities outside of the European Union to operate in Hungary only on the basis of an international agreement, the ministry said. The ministry noted that Hungarian law requires foreign universities that award diplomas in Hungary to operate in the countries in which they are based.

In the bill’s justification, Zoltán Balog, the minister of human resources, noted that “educational cooperation with countries outside of the EU is an important goal of cultural policy in Hungary” but added that provisions in the Higher Education Act must define the “direction of international cooperation in higher education” by drawing boundaries, supporting the intentions of the government and its foreign policy goals, and ensuring that the entry of students and educators into the country complies with aspects of national security.

The leftist Democratic Coalition (DK) opposition party said the higher education bill announced late on Tuesday evening was “unacceptable”. Ágnes Vadai, the party’s deputy leader, told a press conference that the bill targeted the CEU.

The bill is an “underhand, ideologically based” attack on the highest-ranking university in Hungary, Vadai said. Instead of attempting to close it, “any normal government” would strive to open up such an institution to benefit as many people as possible, Vadai added.

The Együtt party said the government’s “xenophobic campaign which paints George Soros as the devil” was an attempt to discredit the CEU. Együtt lawmaker Szabolcs Szabó told a press conference that he called on the government to “take its hands off Hungarian higher education and respect its autonomy”.

He said he would propose expressing solidarity with CEU colleagues and peers to Hungarian higher-education leaders, employees, researchers and students. The LMP party said pushing the CEU out of Hungary would be “a shameful milestone in the history of [Hungarian] education and culture”.

LMP said in a statement that the proposed amendments to the highereducation law could severely damage its institutions. “This clearly points in the direction of undermining [the sector],” the statement said, adding that it was “scandalous” that universities could be the victims of a political attack in Hungary.

State secretary for education László Palkovics said in a press briefing on Wednesday that foreign institutions would only be allowed to award degrees in Hungary if their work here is regulated by an inter-state agreement. The universities have to comply with the new regulations by February next year, Palkovics said.

Those failing to adjust will be allowed to finish running courses but would be barred from launching new ones from September 2018, he said. The state secretary said the new legislation aims to apply Hungarian law to all the 28 higher-education institutions operating in the country.

Republished with permission of Hungary Matters, MTI’s daily newsletter.

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