Uni­ver­si­ties warned that EU can’t save them from pop­ulists

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - david.matthews@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The Euro­pean Union is now too full of au­thor­i­tar­ian pop­ulist gov­ern­ments to be re­lied upon to take ac­tion against the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment for forc­ing the Cen­tral Euro­pean Univer­sity out of Bu­dapest, schol­ars have been warned.

In­stead, aca­demics need to stand up for them­selves and should not hun­ker down in the as­sump­tion that anti- in­tel­lec­tual po­lit­i­cal move­ments will sim­ply blow over, ac­cord­ing to the head of a body rep­re­sent­ing Europe’s schol­arly academies.

In an an­nounce­ment on 25 Oc­to­ber, the long-threat­ened CEU said that it would have to start teach­ing new stu­dents at a cam­pus in Vi­enna next aca­demic year un­less the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment signed a last- ditch agree­ment be­fore De­cem­ber to let it con­tinue as a US-ac­cred­ited in­sti­tu­tion.

The move would mark de­feat for the in­sti­tu­tion de­spite 18 months of strug­gle – in­volv­ing pe­ti­tions from aca­demics across the world – against gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion widely seen as tar­get­ing the CEU for its lib­eral stance.

The in­sti­tu­tion is backed by Ge­orge Soros, a fun­der of pro-trans­parency projects in the re­gion who has be­come a bo­gey­man for Hun­gary’s in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment. A Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment spokesman called the CEU’s lat­est an­nounce­ment “an­other wily ma­noeu­vre, a Soros-style po­lit­i­cal ploy”.

An­to­nio Lo­prieno, pres­i­dent of All Euro­pean Academies (Al­lea), which rep­re­sents dozens of academies across the con­ti­nent, told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that the CEU’s forced move “is the sign of an in­tel­lec­tual de­cay that goes to­gether with populism...it’s a very sad day for Hun­gary”.

To will­ingly lose an in­sti­tu­tion like the CEU was a “form of in­tel­lec­tual blind­ness” by the Hun­gar­ian author­i­ties, he said, and the in­ci­dent was “a warn­ing of the dan­gers of...a pop­ulist ap­proach to po­lit­i­cal life”.

“Whether this will prompt some con­crete re­ac­tions I doubt,” he said, as the EU now had sev­eral mem­ber states with sim­i­lar gov­ern­ments to Hun­gary – most notably, Poland and Italy. “I’m not so sure that the EU is the best body” to take ac­tion, he said.

In Septem­ber, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment voted to start so-called Ar­ti­cle 7 pro­ceed­ings against Hun­gary for de­part­ing from EU val­ues. The threat to the CEU was a key part of the case against Bu­dapest.

But MEPs’ cen­sure is not ex­pected to lead to any real sanc­tions, as Poland, it­self fac­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion from Brus­sels over a drift into au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, has vowed to veto any ac­tion against Hun­gary.

In re­sponse to threats from pop­ulist gov­ern­ments, some aca­demics had taken a de­fen­sive ap­proach, hop­ing that the wave of hos­til­ity even­tu­ally “passes by”, said Pro­fes­sor Lo­prieno. In­stead, though, the com­mu­nity as a whole needed to stand up for it­self, he warned.

Michael Gaebel, di­rec­tor of higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy at the Euro­pean Univer­sity As­so­ci­a­tion, said that the CEU move, com­bined with the scrap­ping of ac­cred­i­ta­tion for gen­der stud­ies MA pro­grammes and puni­tive taxes levied on refugee-re­lated pro­grammes, meant that Hun­gar­ian schol­ars might start ex­er­cis­ing “self-cen­sor­ship”.

They would “think twice” be­fore em­bark­ing on any­thing to do with refugees, he said. The re­stric­tions “makes Hun­gar­ian higher ed­u­ca­tion less in­ter­na­tional”, he said.

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