The Orbán regime has changed gears in the process of seizing control of universities over the last few days: as if under martial law, five state universities have been rushed into a procedure to transform them into foundations, stripping them of all their remaining autonomy.
During the process, the government used a wide range of illegitimate means: universities were blackmailed that they would only be able to access further funds on condition of accepting their reorganisation into foundations. The rectors of the universities learnt upon arrival at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM) that they would “voluntarily” hand over their universities to foundations, otherwise they could not access any of the 1500 billion in EU development funds. On the day of the vote, the Prime Minister himself warmly recommended that the universities commit to the new “model”. Hungary’s state-owned national public-service broadcasting organization, Media Services and Support Trust Fund (MTVA) announced the transformation of the universities as a done deal days before the respective university senates had even voted on the matter.
All along, government communications were characterized by a tendency to keep those affected uninformed, misled and misinformed, with false promises, the withholding of information, non-disclosure, and doublespeak. In the summer of 2020, László Palkovics claimed that “the largest institutions – including the three largest universities outside Budapest, as well as the Semmelweis University (SOTE), Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics ‒ will be kept and further developed under state support.”
Early January 2021, rectors of institutions now included in the process of being turned into foundations had no idea that it would be their turn, yet by the end of the month they had to push through decisive votes in their respective senates. Only in the middle of January was a document leaked that contained the decision that the legislative amendment would be presented to Parliament on 9 February.
The rectors of the respective universities completed the tasks they were assigned, without even attempting to ask for time to undertake impact assessment and in-depth consultation. The forced pace of the process made it impossible for the universities to conduct a wide-ranging and thorough discussion of the question of transformation within their academic communities. In this extraordinary situation, spontaneous forums were organized at some university faculties, where the majority of those present refused this forced transformation. There were official meetings where some of those wishing to speak were intimidated or silenced, or where the voting procedure was conducted in breach of established rules.
It is a disgrace that the Hungarian government carries out fundamental changes in the structure and ownership in Hungarian higher education with methods last seen in the 1950s. Turning universities over to private foundations suggests misappropriation, since valuable real estate and enormous resources for development will be transferred to FIDESZ oligarchs, losing their “public asset” character.
The projected transformations will annihilate academic freedom in teaching and research; will jeopardise students’ progress to further education; will endanger tuition-free training; and will limit access to university education. The transformation into foundations entails that academic staff lose their civil servant status, which may open the gates to mass layoffs. This is a new stage in the all-out war against intellectuals and, at the same time, against the entire Hungarian society.
Hungary is being hijacked and has been robbed for more than ten years, with increasingly aggressive methods, and ever more shamelessly. The state of emergency and the ensuing restrictions on gatherings are used by the Government to introduce measures that are against the interest of the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian people. The transfer of universities to foundations does not serve the public good, nor does it serve to increase the quality of Hungarian higher education or research – it serves the interests of those in power. These forced transformations make it possible for universities of great tradition to be handed over to private foundations run by FIDESZ party cadres, who will then continue to rule over higher education even after the fall of the ” National Cooperation System” (NER), for eternity …
The Hungarian Network of Academics object to the anti-educational and anti-academic politics of the Hungarian Government, object to their hijacking Hungarian higher education, and object to their trampling upon academic freedom.
We demand that the Members of Parliament block the enactment of the privatisation of public, state owned universities!
We express our solidarity with protesting members of the academic community and demand that all responsible citizens and organisations support their fight with all available means to protest against the process of transforming universities into foundations.