“The proposed legislative amendment concerning foreign universities serves Hungary’s interests and those of the Hungarian people, the new regulations can be conformed to and “assure rights, not privileges”, Minister of Human Capacities Zoltán Balog said at an exposé launching the debate on the Bill to amend the Act on Higher Education in Parliament on Tuesday.

“It is in Hungary’s interests to have as many autonomous and internationally acknowledged institutions of higher education as possible that facilitate Hungarian knowledge capital, but it is not in its interests to allow international influence attempts aimed at making life difficult for the democratically elected government or President”, he explained. The organisations funded by George Soros are “pseudo-civil agent organisations” and we are committed to preventing such activities using all legal means available”, the Minister said.

Mr. Balog repeatedly stressed that those who are standing up in support of the Central European University are ignoring the strange, dual legal status according to which the Közép-európai Egyetem is a state-approved university that operates according to Hungarian law, the Central European University (CEU), which exists in shared maintenance with it, is a foreign institution of higher education that operates according to American law, but which operates exclusively in Budapest. Technically the two universities are one and the same, he added, stressing that the new regulations would not be affecting the Közép-európai Egyetem, which operates according to Hungarian law.

However, Mr. Balog also emphasised that the Hungarian Cabinet is ready to negotiate with the United States Government, or the leaders of the federal state involved, on the case of the CEU, just as it has also done with the directors of the institution, in view of the fact that the legislative amendment would make the operation of foreign universities form outside the EU in Hungary dependent on an international agreement between Hungary and the higher education institution’s country of origin. This is aimed as forging closer links between the countries involved within the fields of science via the world of higher education, and in fact the institution involved could also profit form such an international agreement in view of the fact that it could receive funding from both countries, the Minister explained.

Mr. Balog said it was unfortunate that George Soros is attempting to use his international connections to place pressure on the Hungarian Government and the country’s Parliament with regard to the affair. “The situation was the same in 2005, when he personally asked the Minster of Education at the time, Bálint Magyar of the since defunct SZDSZ party, to maintain the validity of the “lex CEU”, which provided special rights to the university, despite the new regulations included in the then adopted Act on Higher Education” he recalled, reading an excerpt from George Soros’s letter.

He also said that the Government is facing “strong business circles”, because “we should have no illusions, higher education is also a business”.

The Minister also drew attention to the fact that the America’s Chargé d'Affaires in Budapest had not stood up for any of the other American universities affected by the Bill.

Concerning the precursors to the Bill currently under debate, he recalled that the Education Authority began examining foreign universities in the autumn of 2016 and discovered several discrepancies and serious irregularities during the course of the investigation. These included, for instance, that courses are not held within the correct legal framework, the university has no Hungarian partner, has no programme accreditation, “which is especially true in the case of the CEU”; they in fact are only holding training courses and the certificate they give students is not in fact a university degree; universities are not state-approved institutions of higher education in their country of origin; they fail to provide data for the public record - the CEU itself does not know exactly how many students it has-, and they hold courses that they have not previously registered officially, of which 17 were found at the CEU, he listed.

“The majority of cases are being handled by the Education Authority and operating licences have been revoked in a few cases, while in others new licences have been issues to reflect actual operating conditions”, the Minister said, noting that discrepancies and irregularities were found at every one of the 28 foreign universities examined, with the exception of just one.

According to Mr. Balog, it is not impossible to abide by the law, and the regulations are valid for everyone. “Not even George Soros’s organisations stand above Hungarian law”.

The Minister rejected claims that academic freedom in Hungary was in danger. “We have never interfered in what methods and principles an institution wishes to apply when organising its courses in any way beyond the framework provided for by Hungarian law”, Mr. Balog declared.

Hungary’s National Assembly is expected to already vote on the Bill, which is being debated within the framework of an exceptional procedure, on Tuesday.