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Soros to set up worldwide network of universities to ‘fight for democracy’

Budapest, Hungary – After CEU is forced to leave Budapest, George Soros is back with a new plan to combat the rise of authoritarianism through a network of universities and NGOs.

Doubling down on his commitment to academic freedom and the value of education, Hungarian-born Soros committed 1 billion dollars to a network of universities which promote values of an open society: democratic, civic engagement, innovation and inclusivity. 

Announced in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Open Society University Network (OSUN) will establish a cooperative educational framework of world-leading universities, think tanks and NGOs to provide innovative and widely accessible courses, scholarships and dual degrees all over the world.

Even after recent setbacks to his philanthropy, such as the Open Society Foundation relocating to Berlin and the Central European University to Vienna, Soros is still dedicated to promoting the vision of an Open Society, first outlined by his mentor Karl Popper. 

In the light of the rise of authoritarian-nationalistic leaders, their exclusionary rhetoric and aim to limit the free flow of critical ideas, Soros’ aim to strengthen the network of independent educational institutions can be ultimately seen as a step to ‘fight back’ for academic freedom.

Its launch of a ‘scholars at risk’ program, which will ‘merge a large number of politically endangered scholars into this new global framework’ also emphasises the need for the creation of a safety net for independent thinking in precarious political frameworks. 

At least in Europe, gone are the days that wanna-be-authoritarians can limit the flow of information in their societies. Hence the OSUN’s plans to take advantage of online courses to spread high quality, critical educational courses online.

In a situation where a repressive government blocks the operation of an independent educational institution within the territories of its state, such as in the case of Central European University, online courses can offer a way out without losing complete influence or having to face complete closure or relocation. 

While the legal status of the CEU in Budapest remains in limbo, the Open Society University Network allows us to hope for an exciting and bright future for academic freedom in Central Europe and around the world.

By Zsofi Borsi and Viktor Mák

A Budapest-born politics and economics graduate of Durham University, UK, Zsofi Borsi wrote her thesis on conspiracy theories present in Hungarian online political discourse. She currently pursues her graduate studies at Central European University in Budapest and Vienna. Zsofi has worked as an intern at various political and non-governmental organisations in Hungary, such as Political Capital Research and Consultancy Institute, Tom Lantos Institute or Klubrádió. To check out her latest articles, it’s right here!

Born in Jászberény in the Hungarian countryside, Viktor Mák studied and worked in the United States. He recently returned to Hungary and finished a degree in Public Administration at the Central European University. During the day, he works in political communication. In his free time busies himself with activism fighting for a quality, well funded and accessible education system in Hungary. Check out his latest articles right here!

Photo credit: Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP

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