US renews call for Hungary to talk with Soros-funded school

AP News
Posted: May 23, 2017 2:39 PM
US renews call for Hungary to talk with Soros-funded school

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Hungarian government should "engage directly" with a university founded by billionaire George Soros which may have to leave Budapest because of recent amendments to the law on higher education, the United States said Tuesday.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. government urges Hungary to suspend the implementation of the new "discriminatory, onerous requirements" which she said threaten academic freedom and independence.

"We hope that the government of Hungary is listening," Central European University spokeswoman Colleen Sharkey said.

Some of the new conditions in the law would force Central European University to open a U.S. campus and condition the university's stay in Budapest to a bilateral agreement between the United States and Hungary.

Nauert said the U.S. "has no authority or intention" to negotiate about CEU or other universities in Hungary, as sought by Hungarian officials.

The statement by Nauert, named to her post a month ago, was significant because Hungarian officials had dismissed earlier State Department declarations on CEU, saying they came from U.S. diplomats in place before the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The Hungarian government maintained it had a "strong interest in reaching an agreement" on the university's status. But it said, "Unfortunately, no support for this process has been forthcoming from the U.S. federal government." Previous Hungarian and U.S. governments have reached accords on education issues.

"It is also important to emphasize that no one in Hungary is threatening academic freedom and the independence of universities," the government said, adding that universities from China, Malaysia and Thailand also affected by the amendments had not raised any objections.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the amendments passed in April seek to put all universities in Hungary on equal footing and eliminate "unfair advantages" enjoyed by CEU, such as its ability to issue diplomas recognized both in Hungary and the U.S., where it is accredited in New York state.

Nobel Prize winners, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and dozens of Hungarian and foreign universities have expressed support for CEU, considered Hungary's best university in certain fields. Tens of thousands have attended rallies in Budapest calling on the government to refrain from expelling the university, which enrolls some 1,400 students from over 100 countries.

The Central European University issue is part of a wider government campaign against Soros, a Hungarian-American whose "open society" ideals contrast with Orban's plans to make Hungary an "illiberal state" and his radical opposition to migration.