Central European University to carry on in Budapest – for now

26 Jun 2018 | News

In the face of prolonged legal limbo, the university decides to continue recruiting students for its Budapest campus. In parallel, a new site in Vienna will open for students in 2019 academic year

The Central European University (CEU) intends to continue operations in Budapest, but has also given the go ahead to a back-up plan to set up a new campus in Vienna where it will host two undergraduate programmes and one interdisciplinary Master’s programme.

The recruitment campaign for the class of 2019 will start in August and both Budapest and Vienna will be advertised as venues. The board of the CEU also announced on Tuesday that it approved the rental of a facility to house the Vienna campus.

CEU is still waiting for the Hungarian government to confirm if the university is in compliance with a law passed in April last year, and is free to issue both Hungarian and US accredited degrees from its Budapest campus.  

“If the Hungarian government doesn’t sign the agreement and CEU cannot award US accredited degrees, we will have to issue those degrees from Vienna,” Éva Fodor, CEU pro-rector for social sciences and humanities told Science|Business.

In order to get both degrees, students applying to CEU in Budapest for the 2019-20 academic year will be informed that they “may have to spend some time in Vienna,” said Fodor.

The new Hungarian law requires foreign universities to maintain a campus in their home country – which in the case of CEU is the US - and was widely interpreted as a direct move against CEU.

In a bid to satisfy the requirement, in September 2017 CEU signed a memorandum of understanding with New York State’s Bard College, to establish a base there. However, the Hungarian government is yet to confirm the arrangement is in compliance with the law and that CEU can issue both Hungarian and US accredited degrees.

“The assumption is that they will sign it,” said Fodor but the university wants to pre prepared for all eventualities, including the worst case scenario: a full relocation to Vienna.  

On Monday 25 June, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán told journalists, "It takes time to make a good decision.”

“The agreement exists, they simply have to sign,” said Fodor.

Coinciding with the decision of the CEU board, the New York State authorities published an official letter to the Hungarian government, confirming once more that CEU is indeed offering higher educational activities in the US and that it complies with Hungarian law.

The decision to continue recruiting students for the Budapest campus for another year is surprising, given the state of play.  Fodor has previously warned that the class of 2019 would be recruited to Vienna if agreement with the Hungarian government is not reached soon.

The board has also approved extending and developing education programmes developed by CEU at the Bard College in New York.

The CEU board calls on the Hungarian government to sign the agreement with the State of New York, which it previously promised to do once CEU was in compliance with the new law. “Now is the time for Hungary to follow through on these commitments,” said Leon Botstein, chairman of the board.

In his speech at the CEU commencement ceremony on Friday 22 June, rector Michael Ignatieff told graduates, “Let us show fierce determination tomorrow, the day after, the day after, for as long as it takes.”

This article was updated June 28th to reflect new developments.

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