In accordance with a December 2022 Council of the European Union decision to protect “the Union budget against breaches of the principles of the rule of law in Hungary”, the European Commission has ceased to enter into legal commitments with public interest trusts under Hungarian law and the entities that they maintain.
This affects the participation of 21 Hungarian higher education institutions representing around 85% of the Hungarian student population, which are maintained by such trusts, in vital EU programmes such as Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe.
The Board of the European University Association (EUA) deeply regrets that students and scholars will be negatively impacted by any exclusion of Hungary from EU programmes, and consequently urges the Hungarian government to take the necessary measures to rectify this situation. The steady decline in university autonomy observed in Hungary in recent years has damaged university communities in the country. This latest development is perhaps the clearest illustration yet of how this dynamic has negatively impacted institutions, their students and staff.
The reform of university governance initiated in Hungary in 2019 has led to significant divergences from European university governance practices, notably concerning the configuration of the boards of trustees of public interest trusts, undermining the autonomy of Hungarian universities. EUA is keen to play a constructive role in helping to bring university governance in Hungary closer to European norms, by recommending concrete changes. In particular, the university community should have a formal role in the selection of trustees, whose terms should also be limited in time, which is not currently the case. In addition, exclusive and irrevocable decision-making rights on core academic issues should clearly lie with the university senate.
The EUA Board sincerely hopes that such steps will be taken as soon as possible and looks forward to the resolution of the issue and the full participation of Hungary’s universities in crucial EU programmes. The Board welcomes reports that the government of Hungary may be willing to make changes regarding public trust foundations, but stresses that the precise nature of such amendments must be clarified.
Institutional autonomy remains a key focus of EUA’s work and is particularly high on the Association’s agenda for 2023. A forthcoming update to EUA’s Autonomy Scorecard will include a specific analysis of Hungary.
This article was first published on 1 February by EUA.