On September 1, 2020, a new law entered into force transferring control over the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest to a group of private individuals connected to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Prior to the legislation, the university had been a public institution with decision-making authority vested in an independent senate. The legislation, passed by Orban’s government earlier in 2020, transferred ownership over the university to a private foundation whose members are closely tied to the Prime Minister. In addition, Hungary’s Ministry of Technology and Information appointed five new members to the university’s board of trustees and rejected the appointment of members proposed by the university’s senate. In effect, the legislation and ministry’s decision strip significant financial and administrative control from the university, and give it to the Orban government or its allies.
The passage of the law led the university’s entire administration and a number of teachers to resign in protest. In addition, shortly after the law took effect, a group of students occupied one of the main university buildings in nonviolent protest.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about legislative and administrative encroachments on the independence of higher education institutions. While State authorities have a right to impose administrative regulations on the higher education space, such actions must comply with States’ human rights obligations, including those relating to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to education, and academic freedom, which includes university autonomy. These and related rights are protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Hungary is a party. Government seizure of control over higher education institutions have a profoundly chilling effect on academic freedom, undermine democratic society generally, and may represent a grave threat to higher education on a national scale.