April 11, 2017
On April 4, 2017, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a controversial amendment to the Higher Education Act. The new legislation threatens the existence of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, which was founded in 1991 by the wealthy philanthropist George Soros. In an open letter to Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Max Planck President Martin Stratmann expresses his concern, also with regard to already achieved successes in European research cooperation.
Dear Prime Minister Orbán,
dear Minister Balog,
It is with great concern that I have learnt about the threat posed to the existence of Central European University and other academic institutions as a result of the legislation passed by the Hungarian Parliament on April 4 regarding higher education in your country.
As President of the Max Planck Society, I am deeply convinced that science and scientific progress rest, above all, on internationality, openness and the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, transcending boundaries between countries and cultures as well as between scientific disciplines and schools of thought.
While this is true anywhere in the world, it is the particular situation in Central and Eastern Europe that adds to my concern. Following the transformation of 1989, major efforts have been made to stimulate scientific excellence as a way of furthering the future development of the region. However, despite notable progress in this regard, the distribution of scientific performance and capabilities within the European Research Area remains very uneven. For this reason, the Max Planck Society is currently reinforcing its commitment to supporting beacons of excellence in the so-called widening countries. This undertaking can only be successful within a context of scholarly freedom and openness as well as in collaboration with capable and dedicated local partners, including existing centres of excellence.
An internationally renowned and respected academic institution, Central European University has played a crucial role in promoting open scientific discourse and excellent science in Central and Eastern Europe, attracting eminent academics and talented students from the region and indeed from the whole world. Thus, it has become an integral part of the increasingly diverse and interconnected university and research landscape in Europe and globally. Seeing this institution disappear would constitute a serious blow to academic freedom and scientific development and, at the same time, to the prospects for social and economic well-being in your country and in the European Research Area as a whole.
In light of these implications, I respectfully urge you to reconsider the new legislation and to find ways of enabling Central European University to continue its Operation in the future.