George Soros-backed university claims it was "forced out" of Hungary in an "arbitrary eviction"

"It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary," Central European University's leader said in a statement

Published December 3, 2018 4:30PM (EST)

George Soros (AP/Olivier Hoslet)
George Soros (AP/Olivier Hoslet)

Central European University (CEU), founded by the progressive billionaire philanthropist George Soros, said it would move its U.S.-accredited degree programs from Hungary to neighboring Austria after claiming that it was forced out of the country in an "arbitrary eviction."

"Over the course of 20 months, CEU has taken all steps to comply with Hungarian legislation, launching educational activities in the U.S. that were certified by U.S. authorities," a CEU press release said on the matter. "Nevertheless, the Hungarian government has made it clear it has no intention of signing the agreement that it negotiated over a year ago with the State of New York, which would ensure CEU’s operations in Budapest for the long term."

The University's ouster is tied to the ideological battle between liberal Soros, who was born in Hungary, and the country's far-right, anti-immigrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"CEU has been forced out," said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff in a statement. "This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU."

The statement continued: "Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary."

"The departure of these U.S.-accredited programs from Hungary will be a loss for the CEU community, for the United States, and for Hungary," a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said, according to Reuters, the news outlet that first broke the story.

Already-enrolled students will finish their studies in Budapest, and CEU retains accreditation as a Hungarian university. CEU, which was founded in the capital in 1991 and has attracted thousands of students from all over Europe, says it hopes to continue teaching and conducting research in Budapest as long as the government allows, but that all of CEU's new students will attend classes solely in Vienna, beginning in September 2019.

Leon Botstein, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said "the City of Vienna and the federal government of Austria have welcomed us with open arms as part of their commitment to academic freedom and research. Despite our consternation at being forced to leave Budapest, we are excited to offer our students the opportunity to study in another great Central European city."

CEU's move to Vienna appears to mark the end of a years-long legal struggle after Hungary changed a higher education law in April 2017, barring foreign-registered universities from operating in the country unless it also established educational activity in its homeland.

"Orban’s critics say the changes deliberately target CEU, which is regularly ranked as the top university in Hungary and offers U.S. degrees. Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration into Europe, a charge the philanthropist denies," according to Reuters. "Earlier this year, Open Society Foundations, Soros’ main funding network, was also forced to leave Hungary."

CEU has countered any legal barriers, saying it has produced ample proof and correspondence with the State of New York documenting its educational offerings there only to be ignored by the Hungarian government. "We took all necessary steps to fulfill these new legislative requirements, but the Hungarian government still stands in our way," CEU said in a statement.

By Rachel Leah

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Education George Soros Hungary Immigration Politics U.s. Viktor Orbán