Date: 30 September 2020 Author: Paweł Paszak

China Plans to Build the First University Campus in Hungary

On December 16, 2019, the Minister for Innovation and Technology of Hungary – László Palkovics, and the rector of Fudan University – Xu Ningsheng, signed an agreement in Shanghai to establish the first foreign Fudan campus in Budapest. In mid-September 2020, there were also reports in the Hungarian media that the campus is to be completed by 2024 with a goal of educating 5-6 thousand students. These plans should be approached with great caution, as there is often a gap between the Chinese authorities’ ambitious announcements and their actual actions. This is reflected in the limited progress of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, the political failure of the 17+1 format and the low level of direct investment in CEE countries, among others. However, the efforts of both sides to deepen educational cooperation require attention, as the implementation of these plans would result in Fudan gaining a strong position in Hungarian higher education.

SOURCE: ALVA CIEN/FLICKR

Educational cooperation with the Chinese Fudan University may seem to be an attractive opportunity due to potential financial gains and strengthening the international position of Hungarian universities. According to the QS Global World Rankings 2021, Fudan was ranked on 34th position among the best universities in the world. The education would take place in five faculties (economics, international relations, medicine, engineering sciences). Chinese academics would also be responsible for “training” their Hungarian counterparts.

The Hungarian side hopes that establishing new contacts would bring know-how to higher education, which would allow to improve the quality and internationalization of the education process. Simultaneously there are plans to develop cooperation in the most innovative areas, such as fintech or artificial intelligence. One of the main patrons of the project and a former graduate of Fudan University – Levente Horváth, drew attention to these themes in an interview with the Index website. He is currently the Head of Department at the National Bank of Hungary (Magyar Nemzeti Bank) and Head of the Budapest office of the European Investment Bank (EIB). It is worth noting that the initiative has a strong support not only from the Bank, but also from Prime Minister Viktor Orban. On October 31, 2019, he hosted the delegation from Fudan, led by Rector Xu Ninsheng, in Budapest and expressed political support for the idea. The official announcement stated that the campus would be located in the former Buda City Hall (Úri utca).

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The focus of Shanghai-based University on business and management degrees also opens the way for building an informal network of personal connections that can facilitate business cooperation. Moreover, founding a new campus is an opportunity to attract students from other CEE countries within the 17+1 format. The best universities in the region are located at the end of the third (University of Tartu, Charles University) or at the beginning of the fourth hundred (University of Warsaw, Jagiellonian University) of the aforementioned ranking. In turn, the best Hungarian university – the University of Szeged – is on the 501-550 position.

In addition to economic opportunities, this initiative also generates additional risks associated with the construction of informal influence, which can be used to promote the political agenda of the PRC, to gain operational contacts and reduce criticism of the CCP. A symbol of such risks is the fact that the December cooperation agreement was supervised by the CCP Party Secretary of Fudan University – Jiao Yang (焦扬). In 1986-1995 she served as deputy director of the Foreign Propaganda Department of Shanghai Municipal Party Committee (中共上海市委宣传部), and in 1995-1997 as director of this institution. If formal authority over the development of cooperation is given to party officers, it is reasonable to say that it will also be subject to the objectives of the CCP. This line of action is also indicated by the removal of the “freedom of thought” passage from the University’s constitution in December 2019 and the addition of numerous paragraphs concerning the subordination to the Party, commitment to Marxism and devotion to the consolidation of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

At present, there are also five Confucius Institutes in Hungary, the most recent of which was opened in November 2019 at the University of Debrecen. The Institutes are active in the promotion of Chinese culture and Chinese language learning as well as are recognized as a tool for building a “soft power” in Europe and the world. Unlike their Western counterparts, such institutes are established on the basis of a bilateral agreements between foreign universities and the main center in Hanban, China. On the basis of the agreement, the Confucius Institutes formally become part of the foreign universities, in fact reporting to the Chinese Ministry of Education.

This article is a part of the project “The Role and Influence of the People’s Republic of China on Visegrad Group Countries” funded by the International Visegrad Fund.

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