Research community deplores threat of closure of Hungarian CEU

Andra Jugånaru comes from the threatened CEU university in Hungary. After three months as a visiting doctoral student at LU, she is not sure whether she will have any university to return to.

Andra Jugånaru and Samuel Rubenson. Photo: Jenny Loftrup

“If the university is closed down, it is a very big step backwards, a step towards the higher education of the Communist era in these countries”, says Andra Jugånaru, who is in continuous contact with CEU of doctoral students from CEU who are currently abroad.

 A new law in Hungary could force the top-ranked Central European University, CEU, to close down. It is now hoped that the EU will introduce sanctions against Hungary that will make its government repeal the law.

Romanian Andra Jugånaru is one of many doctoral students admitted to CEU via a scholarship. Her supervisor here in Sweden, Professor Samuel Rubenson at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, is trying to support her and has done what he can to raise awareness at LU about the implications of the new law for CEU and higher education in Europe.

“The CEU university is a bridge between west and east. Its closure would entail Hungary becoming more isolationist and less open to influence from other countries”, says Samuel Rubenson.

The law tightens the rules for foreign-controlled universities in Hungary and CEU is run from the USA.

If those protesting against the law do not prevail and get it repealed, CEU will eventually be forced to close.

“This is not only about closing down an institution. It will prevent people from getting an education based on the idea of academic freedom and evidence-based knowledge, and it limits people’s right to think freely”, says Andra Jugånaru.

The university has gained a great deal of support around the world. LERU, an association of European universities to which LU belongs, has expressed its consternation and almost 1000 universities have stated their disagreement. No less than 18 Nobel Prize winners have also signed a petition.  In Sweden, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has protested.

The law is part of a major turnaround by Prime Minister Victor Orbán, who believes that he is defending Hungary’s interests, but whose critics claim is undermining freedom of thought, open society and academic freedom. Orbán has long been critical of the liberally run CEU and its founder, philanthropist and financier George Soros. Ultimately, the change in the law is aimed against the liberal mindset in the EU, which fosters free movement, globalisation and human rights and freedoms.

The University was founded after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. The idea was to create a university that gave people in Eastern Europe the opportunity to study at a free, democratically run and global university. The university currently has around 1800 students from over 100 countries and is ranked among the top 200 in the world.

Bridge between east and west

The study programmes at CEU are recognised both in Hungary and in the USA. The university has major resources and is one of few eastern European universities to have many collaborations with academics from other universities in Europe and the USA.

Meanwhile, Samuel Rubenson sees the closure as a loss for higher education in Europe, as CEU is one of few universities in Europe capable of contributing with an eastern European perspective.

“As Pope John Paul II said, Europe needs to breathe with two lungs – the perspective and temperament of both east and west are required. Without CEU, we run the risk that one of Europe’s academic lungs will stop working”, says Samuel Rubenson.

Gisela Lindberg