CEU Rector and President Michael Ignatieff sends strong message to Hungarian government at IES-ULB panel discussion

Education Crisis Hungary"Leave us the hell alone". With these strong and straightforward words, Rector and President of the Central European University Michael Ignatieff sent a strong message to the Hungarian government that recently deprived the renowned university of its right to deliver Hungarian diplomas. According to the Rector, Victor Orban's government envisages the Soros-sponsored CEU, which it now considers as a "foreign university", even though it has been operating on Hungarian soil delivering both American as well as Hungarian degrees for nearly a quarter of a century.

In front of a full auditorium at the ULB, Rector Ignatieff declared that his frustration is aggravated by the fact that the government produces "alternative facts" to demonise CEU (e.g. by declaring that there were irregularities with accreditation as advocated by the Hungarian Ambassador who was present and also took the floor - something the Rector fiercely denied). The government also seems to refuse sitting together to solve the problem. To his knowledge, it is the first time in history that a European state issues measures to cut the liberty of a university.

The talk, organised by the two European studies institutes IES (VUB) and IEE (ULB) and represented by their presidents Karel De Gucht and Anne Weyemberg, took place on Monday 24 March and included a panel discussion with ULB Rector Yvon Englert and VUB Rector Caroline Pauwels. Both rectors saw clear signs in the measures of the Hungarian government to infringe academic freedom, especially as the new law is part of a series of measures that affect this freedom: another law on the financing of organisations in Hungary limits the possibilities of obtaining foreign funds, including - dixit Ignatieff - international academic awards and even European funding.

Rectors Pauwels and Englert were in unison to condemn such practices and stand strong in their support for CEU. Rector Pauwels added that unfortunately, academia is not only under pressure in Hungary, but we see tensions all over the world that force us to team up to fight for academic freedom: the closure of universities in Russia, the hunt for academia in Turkey, the denial of science in the US, ... all are signals of the same symptom. Rector Englert further warned for other attacks on academic freedom, namely on the limitations on access to academic education that is at risk worldwide through restrictions in finance for higher education.

Moderator and journalist Jean-Paul Marthoz left ample time for questions – an opportunity that many people in the audience took up.

Next to the IES President, Executive Director Anthony Antoine and senior researchers Atsuko Higashino, Richard Lewis, Florian Trauner and Christof Roos joined their VUB and ULB colleagues, students and a big group of interested participants in this stimulating debate.