Hungary intends to find out the exact reasons why the European Commission has suspended over 20 of the country’s universities from the Erasmus+ student exchange and educational cooperation program, said Tibor Navracsics, the minister in charge of EU funds.
The European Commission’s claim that the boards of trustees manually influence the teaching and research work of universities is not true, as the research activities of the institutions are independent of the functioning of the boards of trustees, Navracsics said on Karc FM Radio.
Navracsics, who is also the chairman of the board of trustees of the public foundation that runs Veszprém’s Pannon University, reacted to the European Commission’s response letter, which made it clear that it would suspend the Erasmus+ program. The program allows Hungarian students to study abroad at 21 Hungarian universities that have undergone a requested model change for the 2024 academic year.
The minister recalled that the Hungarian government was indeed aware of Brussels’ concerns, so it amended the rules on public interest foundations in line with the EU body’s request. Accordingly, foundations are now also subject to the Public Procurement Act, and members of the board of trustees are subject to strict conflict of interest rules.
Since then, the Brussels body has not formally notified the government that it is unsatisfied with the reforms made. The former EU commissioner stressed that the Hungarian government is now open to a negotiated settlement regarding the disagreement, which could take place by March or April at the latest.
Navracsics said he will write to European Commissioner for Budget and Administrative Affairs Johannes Hahn and European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel to ask for more information on what exactly their problems are and what solution they propose. The European Commission has recently announced that universities run by public trusts will not be able to participate in direct EU tenders.
In 2020 and 2021, the Hungarian government transferred 21 previously state-owned universities, whose boards also include politicians, to public trusts. The 21 include all of Hungary’s most prestigious universities, such as the Budapest Technical University and the Semmelweis medical university, and teach 70 percent of the country’s higher-education students.