Soros-founded university defiant on staying in Hungary

George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations supports the Central European University in Budapest which says it will now stay in Hungary

Hungary's Central European University (CEU), founded by liberal US billionaire George Soros, said Tuesday it intends to stay in the country and called on the government to ensure its future.

A higher education law placing tough new requirements on foreign universities was passed in April last year by the government of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban and was widely seen as targeting the CEU.

The CEU says it is now "in full compliance" with the law, which requires foreign colleges and universities to operate on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and its home country, and to have a campus in that country.

"The Hungarian government has repeatedly said that once we fulfil the conditions of the new law, we will be fairly treated and that CEU will be able to operate in Hungary," Leon Botstein, chairman of the CEU's board of trustees, said in a statement.

"Now is the time for Hungary to follow through on these commitments," he added.

The CEU says it has complied with law by opening a campus in the American state of New York, where it is chartered.

The university's rector Michael Ignatieff had previously said the CEU could not go into the next academic year "in a situation of legal uncertainty" but the university said on Tuesday it planned to recruit students for 2019 as normal for its site in Budapest.

The government denied last year's higher education law was aimed at CEU in particular, but the bill triggered large street protests in Budapest and international condemnation from Brussels to Washington, as well as from academics worldwide.

In April, the CEU said it had signed an agreement with the city of Vienna to open a new campus there, a move some observers saw as a first step towards the university's eventual exit from the Hungarian capital.

While restating its commitment to stay in Budapest, the CEU's board said it had "also approved the rental of an appropriate site in Vienna and recruitment for that site for September 2019".

The CEU was founded in 1991 and is considered a prestigious institution, many of its alumni having gone on to elite positions in Hungary and elsewhere in Central Europe.

Orban's government has run high-profile campaigns targeting Hungarian-born Soros, whom it accuses of orchestrating immigration into Europe, and Hungary in particular.

Soros denies this and the government's critics say the university law, and campaigns against Soros-funded NGOs, are part of an effort by the government to restrict independent civil society.

Last month the Open Society Foundations, run by Soros, said it was relocating to Germany, citing Hungary's "increasingly repressive political and legal environment".

George Soros, founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations supports the Central European University in Budapest which says it will now stay in Hungary