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ESU condemns the Suspension of Education Programmes for Refugees and Gender Studies in Hungary

Over the past month, the Hungarian government passed a new legislation attacking some higher education programmes. One of the bills condemns the field of Gender Studies and encourages a ban of the course in Hungarian Universities; the other bill aims to suspend any education programme for refugees and asylum-seekers in the country, among other dispositions penalising any support to immigration. The European Students’ Union (ESU) condemns both of these measures as they are attacking, in a very straightforward manner, academic freedom in the country, as well as many human rights conventions. As the government step by step deconstructs academic freedom, ESU also expressed its concern about the current state of democracy in Hungary and the consequences it has and will have on higher education.

A ban on Gender Studies

The Gender Studies programs currently accredited by the country are to be shut down and such courses are to be kept from opening in the future. Two Universities offered the course: the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and the Central European University.

The European Students’ Union shows its concerns about a government taking such a decision about the courses available at any university. To ESU, this ban is a straightforward attack on the country’s universities’ academic freedom, as the government is using its power to put aside part of the universities’ programmes. Such an attack is in any case not acceptable. Academic freedom should be at the core of a democratic higher education, where all the voices are taken into account.

Moreover, some of the reasons brought up by the government to back the ban are economical reasons, picturing the programmes as too expensive for the few students registered. ESU would like to remind that purely economic reasoning should not lead to any decisions impacting higher education, as higher education is not a product but a common good, whose main goal is to create knowledge, not necessarily economic wealth.

Lastly, Gender Studies are based on critical thinking aimed to question the current dynamics of our societies, to better understand them and to improve them. A government attacking such a field is also making an ideological move, discrediting the whole subject. ESU strongly condemns such an action, as the government has no space in academic and scientific decisions.

Education programmes for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants to be suspended

The European Students’ Union strongly condemns the Bill no. T/625 ‘amending certain tax laws and related laws, and on the special tax on immigration’ as adopted by Hungarian Parliament on 20 July 2018. Chapter X on the Special Tax on Immigration, section 253 states that “the special tax on immigration must be paid after the financial support of an immigration supporting activity taking place in Hungary (…) that carries out activities to promote migration”. In this bill, an immigration supporting activity is understood as “any programme, action or activity that is directly or indirectly aimed at promoting immigration” and results in the imposition of a 25% surtax to be paid by those who support these activities.

This has resulted in the suspension of the Central European University educational programmes for registered refugees and asylum seekers. The effect of this bill violates the spirit behind several of the most relevant international agreements:

  • UN Convention in relation to the status of refugees, chapter 4, art. 22. Public education (1951): “The Contracting States shall accord to refugees treatment as favourable as possible, and, in any event, not less favourable than that accorded to aliens generally in the same circumstances, with respect to education other than elementary education and, in particular (…)”.
  • EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, title II, art. 14. Right to education, paragraph 1 (2009): “Everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training.”
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 20 (1948) “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
  • European Convention on Human Rights, art. 11 Freedom of assembly and association (1994). “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. 2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State”.

These treaties have one principle in common: education is a right and should be accessible for all. It is a sad state in which a government throws these essential values to the wind, solely for political gain. The European Students’ Union strongly requests the Hungarian parliament to reconsider these attacks against the Human Rights core values.

ESU calls on the Hungarian government to take a step back and derogate this bill threatening the continuity of the initiatives led by NGOs, Foundations and other types of organisations aiming to facilitate the access to education for these collectives in Hungary.


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