Hungary Transfers 11 Universities to Foundations Led by Orban Allies

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tags: Hungary, authoritarianism, academic freedom, Viktor Orban

Hungary’s Parliament voted on Tuesday to transfer control of 11 state universities, along with billions of euros in related state assets, to quasi-public foundations led by close allies of the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orban.

Critics immediately denounced the move as a government handover of both public education and a vast network of public assets — including real estate and shares in Hungarian companies — to Mr. Orban and his supporters.

According to the measure that passed on Tuesday, the foundations will “ensure the realization of vital public goals” by managing the universities more efficiently, regardless of who is in power.

But going forward, any changes to the rules governing the foundations will require a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Practically speaking, this that means any effort to tinker with the new system of oversight will require the same level of political support as overhauling the Constitution.

The minister of innovation and technology, Laszlo Palkovics, said in an interview with Index.hu that the high bar for future changes had been chosen “in the interest of financial and legal stability.”

Critics say the transfer will allow Mr. Orban and his allies to retain significant influence indefinitely — even if he is voted out of office — over universities that have been academically independent. With Hungary’s previously divided opposition mounting a unified campaign against Mr. Orban in elections scheduled for next year, he faces the most significant challenge in over a decade.

Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University, noted that the initial foundation board members are appointed by Mr. Orban’s government. “When openings arise, subsequent members are appointed by this board,” she said. “So in effect, these are endlessly renewing Orban regimes.”

Installing political allies at the helm of these foundations, added Balint Magyar, a sociologist who has twice served as a minister of education, means that “the autonomy of teaching and research staff is not ensured.”

Read entire article at New York Times

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