Hungary may approve a new law as soon as Tuesday that could force a university founded by financier George Soros out of the country despite a protest against the plan in Budapest and condemnation abroad.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a staunch critic of liberal civil organizations funded by Soros, said on Friday the Central European University had violated regulations in awarding its diplomas, an allegation the college firmly rejected as false.
The CEU, which was founded in Budapest in 1991 following the collapse of communism and has 1,400 students, said it operated lawfully and was accredited to award Hungarian and U.S. degrees.
Thousands of students, professors and supporters rallied in Budapest on Sunday demanding the government withdraw the draft legislation, which they called an attack on freedom of education.
Orban’s government, which faces an election in just over a year, submitted a bill to parliament last week to regulate foreign universities setting several new requirements, which could force the CEU to leave Hungary.
Under the bill, foreign universities must have a campus in Budapest and in their home country. CEU, which only operates in the capital, is the only international college with no arm elsewhere.
Parliament, where Orban’s Fidesz holds a comfortable majority, could approve the new rules on Tuesday in a fast-track procedure, according to a legislative agenda posted online.
A new passage in the bill also stipulates that foreign universities could award degrees in Hungary only if the governments of Hungary, and in CEU’s case, the U.S., sign an accord on the matter within six months of the law taking effect.
More than 500 leading international academics, including 17 Nobel Laureates have come out in support of CEU, saying it was one of the preeminent centers of thought in the country.
The U.S. State Department said last week that CEU was a “premier academic institution” that promoted academic excellence and critical thinking, and urged the government “to avoid taking any legislative action that would compromise CEU’s operations or independence.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundations, which support democracy, has been active in Hungary for three decades and Soros has financed foreign scholarships for Fidesz politicians, including Orban, at the time when communism collapsed.