Professor resigns from Hungarian Higher Education body

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Professor resigns from Hungarian Higher Education body

A prominent academic has resigned from a Hungarian higher education body, accusing the top European standards organisation of turning blind eye to waning academic freedom in central Europe.

Andrea Pet a professor at the Central European UniversityEuropean University in Vienna, resigned last week from the Hungarian Accreditation Committee's humanities subcommittee after she was asked to change part of an article she wrote that was due to be published in an academic journal.

Academic freedom in Hungary has been under pressure since Viktor Orb n returned to power in 2010. Under the prime minister's self-proclaimed illiberal democracy, the Fidesz party has tried to take control of courts and public institutions while shrinking the space for independent media and NGOs. In 2018 the Central European UniversityEuropean University had to leave Budapest for Vienna and observers have expressed concern about a tax on institutions that help refugee students and researchers.

Pet asked the director of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, MAB Prof Valeria Cspe, to withdraw a statement in the draft article criticising the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) for failing to confront a slide to illiberalism in educational policy in Hungary and Poland.

MAB is a member of the ENQA, a Brussels-based body that promotes quality standards in higher education across Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia.

In her first interview with international media since her resignation, the historian and specialist in gender studies says you can feel how dictatorship works. This is not the state, this is not Prime Minister Orb n who is giving orders. The ordinary people who are running the institutions are the ones who make this system work. The whole story looks like it had happened in communist Hungary well before 1989. Pet said that the request to withdraw her criticism of ENQA was unacceptable against my values, against my professional conviction, against everything I have been working for in the last 30 years.

The president of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee wanted to change what I think about the European accreditation process, namely that the ENQA is unprepared for the illiberal attack, as they are just accepting what is reported to them as the truth. She accused ENQA of being silent while academic freedom was under pressure in Hungary, citing the examples of the Hungarian government s decision to close gender studies programmes and policies that have forced her university to leave Budapest for Vienna for the first time in decades.

The professor said that the European infrastructure was so focused on box-ticking requirements that it was failing to recognize a paradigm shift in higher education in central Europe.

MAB joined the pan-European ENQA in 2002 and had its membership reconfirmed in September 2018 under a regular five-year review.

She resigned after a very stormy discussion on academic responsibility inside the MAB s humanities subcommittee over a government plan to cut teacher training by one year, which she opposes.

The professor believes that the episode illustrates a wider problem, and she hopes other academics will resign. MAB wouldn't say anything publicly. Senior sources do not dispute that the director requested a change to Pet's article, but characterise the change as a technical correction relating to MAB's relationship with ENQA.

In a statement, ENQA said that the purpose of its agency reviews was to assess compliance with external quality assurance activities relating to learning and teaching in higher education. Academic freedom is not specifically covered by the standards and review process, but is a reference to a wider policy of cooperation in European higher education spanning 48 countries.

The ENQA review process assesses the agency's policies and practices, not the education system of the country in which it operates, according to the agency. ENQA has full confidence in the independent experts who receive training to carry out reviews. Since the review in 2018, ENQA remains satisfied that MAB continues to meet the standards of the ESG, a reference to its standards and guidelines on quality assurance.