CEU’s international student body, as well as the Hungarian public, have protested in support of the university [Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP]
The Central European University, a Hungarian-American school that has been under fire from Hungary’s right-wing government, plans to open a satellite campus in Vienna, Austria.
“The memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Vienna, which will be presented to our Board of Trustees at the end of this week, is an initial step toward expanding our university’s operations,” said a statement from CEU.
The university is accredited in the United States and Hungary and issues diplomas valid in both countries. It was founded in 1991 and is funded by George Soros, an American billionaire originally from Hungary known for his support of liberal causes.
The Hungarian government, headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, says the university is in violation of a 2017 amendment to the country’s education law – often called “Lex CEU” – that requires universities to offer classes in every country in which they’re accredited.
The Hungarian accreditation board re-accredited CEU’s Hungarian operations in February, causing many to mistakenly believe the university would continue operations in Budapest.
Also, CEU quietly began offering classes on the Bard University campus in New York State in early 2018, which some thought would fulfill the government’s requirements.
A Hungarian government spokesperson told Al Jazeera there was still no agreement in place that would allow for CEU to continue operations in Hungary.
Opponents of the law said it specifically targeted CEU, which is known for its support of refugees, the Roma minority, and the European Union.
Refugees and the Roma minority decry what they say are discriminatory policies from the Orban government, which has ruled Hungary since 2010.
Soros has also been the target of government-funded campaigns that say he wants to settle millions of refugees and “Middle Easterners” in Hungary to change the country’s demographics.
“The MOU provides the opportunity, but the CEU community will make decisions together on what university activities are appropriate for our third campus, and determine the timing,” the statement said.
It remains unclear whether the university will be welcomed by Austria’s government, which is headed by a centre-right party in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party.
The Freedom Party takes a hardline stance against immigration and is considered a Euro-sceptic group. The Freedom Party controls the ministries of foreign affairs, interior and defence.
However, the city of Vienna says CEU is more than welcome.
“For Vienna as a university city, cooperation with the CEU offers the opportunity of the century,” Vienna’s Mayor Michael Haupl said.