The design plans for the student quarter – Photo: BFK

Karacsony: Budapest leadership against construction of Fudan University campus

Minister: Budapest to house both student quarter and Fudan University

A student quarter and the campus of China's Fudan University will both be built in Budapest's 9th district, a project in which the government is offering cooperation and full transparency to the local and the metropolitan councils, Laszlo Palkovics, the minister of innovation and technology, told a press conference on Monday.

Speaking after talks with Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony and Krisztina Baranyi, the district mayor, Palkovics said the government interpreted the project, originally launched in 2017, as containing four elements, “university development, student housing development, student community spaces and research institutions.”

“This is where we differ,” Palkovics said, adding that Karacsony insisted university construction had not been part of the agenda. “The presentation of the talks where the project was approved made it clear that a university quarter, rather than a student quarter would be built,” he said.

At the talks, the government pledged to build the university and the student quarter both, as well as “all facilities serving the students’ wellbeing,” Palkovics said. They also offered to make the entire process transparent and invited the councils and the conference of student councils to sit on the board and a professional consulting body, he said.

Karacsony did not answer to those proposals, and insisted on his interpretation of the original agreement, Palkovics said, adding: “One advantage of agreements is that they can be reconsidered.”

At the same time, Palkovics said it was a “step forward that we could brief Gergely Karacsony and Krisztina Baranyi on how the agreement should be interpreted.”

Later on Monday, the government will publish the documents showing that a university had been part of the original agreement, Palkovics said.

Preliminary estimates put the costs of the construction of the university alone at 440 billion forints (EUR 1.25bn), with an additional 100 billion for “generic facilities”, he said. The estimate would be fine-tuned after the planning phase and after bids have arrived, he said.

The government will review offers from European as well as Chinese investors, and decide “how the Hungarian government can best finance the project”.

The government wants the student quarter and the university to be built simultaneously, he said.

Fudan will offer studies in liberal arts, economics, engineering and medicine, he said.

The ministry said Karacsony would address the issue at a separate press conference.

Karacsony: Budapest leadership against construction of Fudan University campus

Budapest’s leadership opposes the construction of a campus of China’s Fudan University in the city’s 9th district, Gergely Karacsony, the city’s mayor, told a press conference on Monday.

Karacsony and Krisztina Baranyi, the mayor of the 9th district, earlier in the day met Laszlo Palkovics, the minister of innovation and technology, for talks on the project.

Following talks with the minister, the city leadership can say it is “particularly” opposed to the construction of the campus, especially in the area meant to house a student quarter, Karacsony said.

The mayor described the meeting with Palkovics as “long and unproductive”. He said the government had so far been reluctant to share its plans for the university campus, but today it had been revealed that it intends to spend more than 500 billion forints (EUR 1.4bn) in public funds on building an elite Chinese private university in the area of a planned student quarter, which would now have to be smaller as a result.

Karacsony noted that Prime Minister Viktor Orban had said on the night of the 2019 local government elections that the government accepted the outcome of the vote, and vowed not to launch any investment projects in Budapest which the city’s leadership opposed.

“This means that the Fudan project is off the table, because the city’s leadership doesn’t support it,” he said.

He said an agreement signed between the government and Budapest’s 9th district in December 2019 made no mention of the construction of a university, adding that the deal could only be amended if both sides agree to it.

Karacsony said that after the government “drove the Central European University out of the country”, it was “hard to believe” that it would openly welcome any of the world’s universities.

He said that until today, the leaders of neither Budapest nor the 9th district had participated in any meetings where Fudan University was ever mentioned, insisting that they had been “misled”. The metropolitan council strives for a fair working relationship with the government and honours all of their agreements, Karacsony said, adding that the government needed to understand that Budapest did not want to go against the December 2019 agreement.

The metropolitan council “will use all legal and political means at its disposal to ensure that the student quarter is built and Fudan isn’t”, he said.

Baranyi said Palkovics had asked for her and Karacsony’s approval for the Fudan campus to be built by “scrapping” the student quarter project. In response to a question, she said the size of the student quarter would now have to shrink from 26 hectares to a maximum of 7 hectares.

Baranyi added that the metropolitan council feared that while it would be prevented from holding local referendums on the matter due to the special legal order in place because of the pandemic, the government would sign the international treaties cementing the project. The metropolitan council has therefore decided to hold an “online consultation” with Budapesters, seeking their opinion on the construction of the Fudan University campus, she added.

LMP submits budget amendment proposal to ‘restore’ university funding

The opposition LMP party has submitted amendment proposals to the 2022 budget bill, saying they aim to return “funds stripped from universities” to the institutions.

Under the government’s plan to use the European Union’s Resilience and Recovery Facility (RRF), set up to offset the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, universities are slated to receive 119 billion forints (EUR 334.8m), rather than the 1,500 billion promised previously, party group leader Laszlo Lorant Keresztes told a press conference on Monday.

He insisted the government was not going to compensate higher education institutions for the loss of funds, and that universities would face “brutal austerity measures” next year.

Next year’s budget does not cover the two-step wage hike containing two 15 percent raises promised to universities, Keresztes said.

Meanwhile, Keresztes insisted the government was spending double the amount allocated to the entire Hungarian higher education on China’s Fudan University, which is planning to set up a campus in Budapest.

Keresztes pladged to “give back the autonomy of universities after a change of government next year”, after the general elections.

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