Academic Freedom in an Illiberal Democracy: From Rule of Law through Rule by Law to Rule by Men in Hungary

von Renáta Uitz

October 13, 2017 turned out to be a momentous day for the rule of law in Hungary.

This was an accident, as October 11, 2017 was meant to be the magic day.

October 11, 2017 was set by an amendment of the national higher education act, adopted in the spring of 2017, as major deadline for the continuing operation of foreign private universities in Hungary (Act no. 204 of 2011). By this date the Hungarian government – so not the affected university – was meant to conclude an international agreement with the government of the foreign university’s seat regarding the continuing operation of that specific university in Hungary. Missing the deadline enables the National Education Authority to withdraw the operational license of the offending institutions to operate in Hungary.

Compliance with the October 11, 2017 deadline was not made easy as the amendment expressly requires: in case the foreign university is located in a federation, the foreign federal government is expected to express its in principle prior approval for such an international agreement to be concluded between one if its constitutive units and the Hungarian government by the October deadline (Article 76(1)(a)). That the kind of international treaty or approval required by the Hungarian education may not exist in the law of the foreign federation clearly did not bother the Hungarian lawmaker.

The next magic date set by the same amendment is January 1, 2018. By this time, a foreign private university operating in Hungary is required to “conduct educational activities” in the country of its accreditation by January 1, 2018 (Article 76(1)(b)). The Venice Commission noted in its preliminary opinion on the Hungarian law that this requirement is vague and open to various interpretations (para. 97) ...

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