Hungary denied on Wednesday that a new education law was aimed at shutting down a university founded by U.S. financier George Soros, and suggested a possible compromise in a dispute that has drawn protests at home and criticism from Washington.
Central European University (CEU) found itself in the eye of a political storm after Hungary’s parliament passed the new law last week, setting tougher conditions for the awarding of licenses to foreign-based universities.
Critics said the new terms would hurt academic freedoms and were especially aimed at CEU, founded by the Hungarian-born Soros after the collapse of Communism and considered a bastion of independent scholarship in the region.
In an apparent change of tack, Education Secretary Laszlo Palkovics said CEU could continue to operate if it delivered its teaching and issued its degrees through its existing Hungarian sister school.
“We never wanted to close down CEU,” Palkovics told news website HVG.hu.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the government would not suspend the disputed law but added: “If the Soros university is driven by good intentions, it will be able to solve the problem.”
The dispute has provoked some of the largest demonstrations against the seven-year rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.