Strasbourg - In a preliminary opinion issued today, the Venice Commission notes that in general the regulations of Hungary’s higher education law are in line with usual European practice but criticises that many requirements of the law are overly stringent or even unjustified if applied to already existing universities.
The Venice Commission does acknowledge the right of a state to regulate foreign universities on its territory, especially in the absence of unified European norms or models in the field, and that it is up to Hungarian authorities to assess when and whether this framework needs to be updated and adapted to new challenges.
But while the new regulatory framework introduced by the law may be applied legitimately to foreign universities which are not yet active in the Hungary, it is not the same case for those already existing.
The Venice Commission opinion – based on visits and consultations in Hungary – first determined that the law was adopted under an excessively expedited process that did not allow for a transparent and inclusive legislative procedure that would have offered appropriate opportunities for consultations with all concerned parties, and which would have been beneficial to the law’s democratic legitimacy.
Although the new law is worded neutrally and does not name any particular institution, the Venice Commission’s opinion notes that the law does indeed directly affect mainly the Central European University (CEU).
Specifically, the new law requires the conclusion of an international agreement between the United States and Hungary to enable CEU to continue to function and obliges the CEU to establish a campus in its country of origin. The law also prohibits the use of identical names in different languages. Out of the 24 foreign universities currently operating in Hungary, CEU (and its Hungarian KEE partner) seems to be the only university that will seriously be affected by this requirement, because to comply, either KEE or CEU would have to change its name, which would be detrimental to the image of the institution, according to the opinion.
Among its recommendations, the Venice Commission calls on the Hungarian authorities to exempt operating universities from the obligation that the foreign university should provide education in the country of seat, and to remove the prohibition on the use of identical names in different languages. The opinion also seeks assurance that new rules on work permit requirements do not disproportionally affect academic freedom and are applied in a non-discriminatory and flexible manner, without jeopardising the quality and international character of education already provided by existing universities.