Central European University is moving from Budapest to Vienna

The Soros-founded Central European University's legal status has been in limbo for more than a year. — Reuters pic

Soros-founded Budapest university 'forced to move to Vienna'

The Central European University (CEU), a private, graduate-level institution founded by Hungarian billionaire George Soros, on Monday said it has been "forced" out of Hungary and will enrol new students at its Vienna campus.

CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff said Monday that the university "has been forced out" of Hungary, calling it an "unprecedented" act against an American university by a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally and against a European university by a member of the European Union.

Founded by the Hungarian-born Soros in 1991 and chartered in the U.S. state of NY, the CEU says it was the target of a law passed April 2017 that placed tough requirements on foreign universities.

Orban has openly targeted Soros, a philanthropist who promotes liberal causes, in his nationalist and anti-immigration reelection campaign.

The US State Department issued a statement saying the US government was "disappointed" that no agreement had been concluded between Mr Orban's government and CEU, which has an enrolment of over 1,400 students from 118 countries, as well as almost 400 permanent or visiting faculty.

The eviction is a violation of academic freedom, the university president said.

Ignatieff, who spent a turbulent three-year tenure as leader of Canada's federal opposition between 2008 and 2011, said the fate of CEU should serve as a warning sign to all democratic countries including Canada. "The changes came about when George Soros announced a programme about having to open Europe's borders and call in a million immigrants a year".

Set up in 1991 and chartered in the state of NY, the CEU says it was the target of a law passed in April 2017 that placed tough requirements on foreign universities. "It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary", CEU's statement added. "It is now for the Court (of Justice of the European Union) to clarify this matter".

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and his party have fought the school for years, citing a law that requires universities to have a location in NY, where they are accredited.

The EU's executive commission a year ago referred Hungary to court in the CEU case, saying that amendments Hungary made to its higher education law - some of which clearly targeted CEU - were counter to academic freedom and other EU rights.

The university retains accreditation as a Hungarian university and will seek to continue teaching and research activity in Budapest as long as possible.

Hungary's government has dismissed the university's move as a "Soros-style bluff".

But the Hungarian government had made it clear it had no intention of signing the agreement that it negotiated over a year ago with the State of NY, which would ensure CEUs operations continued in Budapest for the long term, CEU said.

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