BUDAPEST — Hungary’s Central European University announced Monday it had been “forced” to move its most prestigious programs to Vienna after a long and bitter legal battle with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
“CEU has been forced out,” Michael Ignatieff, rector of the university founded by US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros, said in a statement. “This is unprecedented. A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally.”
The university said it would begin teaching all US-accredited programs in a new site in Vienna starting in September 2019.
However, CEU will keep its Budapest campus and those students who have enrolled there will be able to complete their studies.
Attracting students from over 100 countries and mainly offering US-accredited masters programs, CEU has long been regarded by the nationalist Orban as a hostile bastion of liberalism.
Founded by the Hungarian-born Soros in 1991 and chartered in the US state of New York, the CEU says it was the target of a law passed April 2017 that placed tough requirements on foreign universities.
The bill’s adoption, seen by critics as a blow against academic freedom, was cited in a recent scathing EU report on Hungary that prompted the European Parliament to launch unprecedented so-called “Article 7” legal action against Budapest in September.
CEU says it has since complied with the law by opening a facility in New York State that US regulators have confirmed as hosting educational activities.
But a government spokesperson has called the American site “a Potemkin campus” that fails to satisfy the new rules and has refused to sign an agreement with the USA authorities that would let CEU continue to operate.