CEU, Part I

What George "forgot" to tell the world.



Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, never could tell the truth from a lie.

All right, people. It’s all right; I’m back. I’m here, and even if it’s only in a virtual sense, I’m very much prepared to hold your hand in case you get scared.

So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, and now that you’re all able to sit back and stop fearing that which was caused you terror, we can make a start, can’t we?

Yes, all right, but before we can get stuck in, there is a minor problem that we have to address. That problem is the one of how much of Hungarian politics is less than completely opaque. Now, and tell me if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick with this one, I’m assuming that this isn’t just a novel way of passing your time, something akin to flappy bird, or candy crush. I assume that you’re reading this stuff because there is a link, somewhere, between you and Hungary. I may be wrong, but I’m basing this theory on the fact that I’ve got nothing but the most fleeting interest in North Korea, and as a direct result, that leads me to not pay any attention to it in general. Again, tell me if I’m barking up the wrong tree here.

All right, so in real terms, what does that mean? Well, that means that we’re going to split this article into pieces to make it more digestible. Rather than bombard you with more information than you fancy tucking into, let’s break it up a little, and make it easier to swallow. OK? Are you with me? Good. In that case, let’s make a start.

So, the CEU, the Central European University, the American "university" that is forever crying wolf. This is the “university”, for want of a more accurate term, which offers two degrees to each graduate instead of one. If you graduate, you get a Hungarian degree, and, and here’s the clincher, an American university degree. Now, this is a problem really.

There is no US university behind the CEU. In fact, when the Hungarian government started to insist on foreign universities being able to prove that there was, somewhere back home, an Alma Mater, what was discovered behind the CEU was a shared office space of about 20m2.

So, let’s take this step by step. The CEU, a higher education establishment, organised and funded by American money, located in Central Europe, wooed students from the welcoming arms of other universities with the promise of not one, but two degrees. As if that weren’t enough (and we all know how everyone loves a bargain),  one of the two was from an American university. Stick that on your CV, and just wait for the phone to ring off the hook, eh? Well, exactly. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance?You’d be a fool not to!

But it’s not as simple as all that. There are certain expectations of universities in general, and foreign universities in particular. The main expectation is that there should be something, a parent institution, in existence back in the home country of the university setting up its satellite in Hungary.

Now, is that really such a discriminatory rule? Is it? You can only set up a satellite university in Hungary if there exists a parent institution back home. You want to start a German university in Budapest? Is there a German university in Germany which will operate this Budapest satellite? Yes. OK. Come on in.

Of course, with the CEU, there isn’t. So, immediately the question that springs to mind is this: “Who’s issuing the degrees?” Exactly.

There are two institutions at hand here. One, the one which exhibits all the drama of “BJ and the bear”, the CEU; and another, the Közép-Európai Egyetem, the Central European University. This is where the graduates’ Hungarian degree comes from. Now, the amendment to the higher education legislation in Hungary in 2017 laid down a few conditions relating to foreign higher education establishments operating in Hungary. These included that the institution could only offer education programmes if both countries recognised the binding effects of a relevant international agreement between the two. Further, the Hungarians stated that there had to be a higher education institution in the home country which maintains actual educational operations there. Additionally, the degree programmes organised in Hungary had to be recognised by the state, and the operations of the institution had to be authorised by the Hungarian education authority.

Now, I look at that list, and…to be honest, I can’t see, smell, or feel anything outrageous. To my eyes, all of those conditions seem to be the sort of thing that one might well expect a foreign university operating in another country to bargain on, don’t you think? What is it, in that list of requirements that really stirred up the hornets’ nest?

The Hungarian government passed a law, and that law, if we take it down to the easiest, lowest common denominator, stated that we have a problem with this university using a loophole to woo students through its doors. Either you have an operational university teaching, testing, and issuing degrees on the basis of test results in the US, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t, as they don’t, then on what basis are you issuing degrees? You might as well give out Mickey Mouse club certificates for all the credibility involved.

And the other, most irritating, thing. Everyone else, all the other universities managed to comply with these new regulations. Only Soros’s CEU found that these requirements were just too hard to handle. OK, let’s think about that for a second. In Hungary, the maximum speed limit when travelling on a motorway is 130 km/h.We’re all aware of the implications of travelling above the maximum speed limit, aren’t we? Yes, of course we are. Now, let’s take that idea and apply it to the foreign universities in Hungary. You’re a German university, you’re driving a BMW, or a Mercedes, or a Porsche. Speed, and you run the risk of some sort of punishment. You’re a Chinese university, you’re driving something that looks suspiciously like the same cars that the Germans were driving, but let’s not concentrate on your photocopying talents just now. So, you’re driving your BYD, or your FAW, or your Chang’an, and you, too, just like the Germans, recognise what will potentially happen if you allow your foot to press down too hard on the accelerator. OK. Ah…but who’s this? Look it’s Uncle George Soros, steaming down the highways and byways at 23 times the maximum speed limit. Blimey, George. Take it easy! Now, here’s the thing. When George gets pulled over by the police: what's he going to say? Yes, that’s right:

“It’s all right, officer, the rules don’t apply to me…I’m driving a Buick.”

No. Not on your nelly, George. There’s only room for one rule. And, as you’re here, it applies equally to you.