Home Business news Chinese university opens Budapest campus as Orban tilts towards Beijing

Chinese university opens Budapest campus as Orban tilts towards Beijing



Hungary will host the only Chinese university operating within the EU, a sign of deepening ties between Viktor Orban’s government and Beijing.

The Hungarian government will donate 2.2 million euros to Shanghai-based Fudan University for its new Budapest campus, which authorities have announced will start operating in 2024.

The announcement comes a year and a half after the Central European University, founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros and previously the country’s top-ranked institution, was forced in exile by the nationalist regime of Mr. Orban, after nearly 30 years in the Hungarian capital.

In October, the European Court of Justice said the ruling against CEU violates Hungary’s commitments under the World Trade Organization and violates the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights provisions relating to academic freedom.

Agnes Szunomar, a researcher at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said the government’s agreement with Fudan “is about the unconditional love between Hungary and China”.

“Many European countries have different agreements with Chinese universities, and many European universities collaborate with their Chinese counterparts,” said Szunomar.

However, she added that the deal to bring Fudan to Budapest was proof that Hungary was willing to undermine its own education system by bringing in a foreign competitor with greater global prestige and more resources than any institution. national. Fudan, said Szunomar, with her huge budget and ability to issue double degrees, could attract top academic talent from Hungarian universities, causing a “brain drain”.

Fudan, who is ranked 34th in QS Global University Ranking, will offer programs in international relations, economics, medicine and technical sciences to up to 6,000 students. Until the opening of the Budapest campus, joint study programs with four Hungarian universities will be offered.

“In terms of prestige, I would have expected [Fudan] move to London, Berlin, Paris ”or a similar world capital, said Tamas Matura, founder of the Center for Asian Studies in Central and Eastern Europe and assistant professor at Corvinus University in Budapest.

But today’s Hungary, in which Mr. Orban’s allies have gradually consolidated control over the media and many of the country’s institutions, is “politically a very secure environment,” he said.

“In Western Europe, they [Fudan] may face political turmoil or scrutiny, but in Hungary they don’t have to be afraid of anything.

The Central European University, founded by philanthropist George Soros, was expelled from Hungary in 2019 © Zsolt Szigetvary / EPA-EFE

Hungary’s ties with China have grown since Orban returned to power in 2010. Hungary is home to the Huawei telecommunications group’s largest supply hub outside of China. The company accounts for 0.5 percent of the country’s employment, 0.4 percent of Hungary’s total gross domestic product and 0.4 percent of its total tax revenue, according to a study by Oxford Economics, a UK marketing and consulting firm.

Last year, Hungary took out a 20-year, $ 1.9 billion loan from Beijing to build a rail link with the Serbian capital, Belgrade. In April, as the Hungarian parliament voted to give the government extraordinary emergency powers, the lawmaker also voted classify full details of the project, indicating that it would be necessary to obtain the loan from the Chinese ExIm Bank.

Hungary also hosts five Confucius Institutes, which China says helps promote language learning and foster friendship between peoples. Critics in the United States and Europe claim that the institutes facilitate the dissemination of pro-Chinese propaganda and are a spy mechanism on students and professors.

A Hungarian government spokesperson said that “the Budapest campus in Fudan will greatly facilitate the creation of high quality educational infrastructure and raise the standard of education”. He also said he expected that the opening of the campus “will give a boost to further Chinese investment, especially the establishment of Chinese enterprise research and development centers in Hungary.”

Following the departure of the CEU, many observers criticized the attacks on academic freedom in Hungary. In 2018, the government removed “gender studies” from the list of diplomas that could be awarded in the country. Some critics are concerned about the effect Fudan’s presence in the country might have.

In 2019, amid a wider crackdown on Chinese academics, Fudan withdrew his commitment to “freedom of thought” from his charter, stirring up protests at University. He added a clause stating that Fudan “adheres to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and will fully implement the party’s education policy.”

Mr. Matura noted that, as the Chinese crackdown continued, “those who tried to be a little even constructively critical about China and its affairs” were penalized. “This is indeed a concern for us too,” he said.




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