Soros-founded university, an island of liberal thought, can stay open, says Hungary

Opponents of a law that could close Central European University call the measure a way for Hungary's ruling party – proponent of 'illiberal democracy' – to clamp down on academic freedom.

Zoltan Balogh/MTI/AP
A demonstrator chants slogans during a protest against the amendment of the higher education law that could force a Budapest university founded by billionaire American philanthropist George Soros to close in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, on April 9, 2017.

Hungary said on Wednesday there was a way for a university founded by US financier George Soros to continue operations, following protests after opponents said a new law threatened its future.

The law stipulated that the Central European University (CEU) must open a branch in its home state of New York alongside its campus in Budapest and secure a bilateral agreement of support from the US government.

Hungarian Education Secretary Laszlo Palkovics told the news web site HVG.hu on Wednesday the CEU could issue diplomas if it extended a license agreement with its Hungarian sister school to teach its courses.

The government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a critic of liberal civil organizations funded by the Hungarian-born Soros, has said the Central European University had violated regulations in awarding diplomas – an allegation rejected by the college.

The aim of the new legislation, the government says, was to address administrative shortcomings of foreign universities in Hungary. Critics counter that the law is part of a wider crackdown on nongovernment organizations linked to Soros.

The United States had called on Hungary to suspend implementation of the law, which on Sunday drew some of the biggest demonstrations against Mr. Orban’s government by opponents who consider it part of a wider crackdown on dissent.

"We want to see a review and discussion in order to address any concerns through dialog with the university itself and other affected institutions going forward," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said late on Tuesday, according to a transcript of a Washington media briefing posted online.

The law could also threaten the operations of other American universities with degree programs in Hungary, he added.

Hungary also faced criticism from Brussels, with the European Union's executive commission saying the law would be the subject of a debate on Wednesday.

Hungarian President Janos Ader signed the legislation on Monday despite street protests against it in Budapest and condemnation abroad. Another mass rally against the law is planned for later on Wednesday.

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