Chinese loans behind €1.5bn uni in Hungary
The Hungarian government plans to spend an estimated €1.5 billion in constructing China’s first European university campus, with the majority of the money coming from Chinese loans.
According to leaked documents obtained by Hungarian investigative outlet Direkt36, the Fudan University campus in Budapest will also likely be built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) – which is blacklisted by the US and suspected of espionage and corruption in several countries – using Chinese building materials and labour.
The €1.5bn represents more than the entire annual education budget of the country, while Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, a member of the opposition, criticised the government for choosing a construction site which had been earmarked for affordable student housing.
Speaking with AP, he compared the project to the Central European University, which was forced from Budapest by the government and is now operating from Vienna.
“Let’s put the two [universities] next to each other. There was something which has offered an open education, did not cost a penny for Hungarian taxpayers, was a well-established university in Hungary and was exiled,” he said.
“And now, the government brings in another one which represents the ideology of the Communist Party and costs the Hungarian taxpayers billions.”
While the financial set up is common for Belt and Road projects, Hungarian opposition politicians have criticised the huge costs and questioned the value of the project.
“From the educational point of view, this is a step ahead for Hungary… [But] there are actually two problems”
“From the educational point of view, this is a step ahead for Hungary if we compare the position of Hungarian universities and the lack of internationalisation and cooperation,” said Paweł Paszak, an expert in China policy and China-US-EU relations at the Warsaw Institute.
“[But] there are actually two problems. The first one is sustainability. So if, for example, the government is supposed to pay €1.5bn for a campus, that’s a large sum.
“The second question should be about geopolitical impact and about the freedom of speech. In December 2010, Fudan University removed from its constitution some passages about freedom of speech and included some other passages about subordination to the party and the constitution, and dedication to promoting socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán enjoys a close relationship with China, a sharp contrast with his frosty attitude towards the EU, and has promoted a “Eastern Opening” policy while in office that emphasises cooperation with countries like China, Russia and Turkey.
The campus is expected to open in 2024.