BUDAPEST — Lawmakers from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party on Tuesday approved a draft education bill that critics say targets a university founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
The move prompted thousands to protest outside the Central European University’s campus in Budapest, and drew swift criticism from the top US diplomat in Budapest.
The bill modifies rules regulating the 28 foreign universities in Hungary. CEU says parts of the bill directly target it, and could force it to close.
The bill requires the governments of the United States and Hungary to agree on new terms for the university’s operations within the next few months. If a deal doesn’t materialize, CEU would be banned from enrolling new students after Jan. 1, 2018, and would have to conclude its educational activities by 2021.
‘‘The United States is disappointed by the accelerated passage of legislation targeting Central European University,’’ said a statement from David Kostelancik, the charge d’affaires at the embassy. ‘‘The United States will continue to advocate for its independence and unhindered operation in Hungary.’’
CEU rector Michael Ignatieff said the institution would appeal to President Janos Ader to review the legislation, which it considers to be a violation of Hungary’s constitution, the Basic Law.
Ignatieff has said that the bill aimed to ‘‘send a chill through Hungarian higher education and eliminate one of the few remaining institutions in Hungary that can stand up to the government.’’
‘‘CEU will continue its operation and maintain the continuity of its program in all circumstances,’’ Ignatieff said. ‘‘We want to remain in Budapest. We’ve done nothing wrong.’’
Orban, a former Soros scholarship recipient, has been increasingly critical of the Hungarian-born philanthropist, accusing him of trying to influence Hungarian politics.
Orban said last week that CEU was ‘‘cheating’’ because it did not have a campus in its country of origin and because it issued diplomas recognized both in Hungary and the United States. CEU is accredited in New York state but does not have a US campus.
Despite protestations from the US State Department, Orban insists that the future of the Soros-funded institution should be negotiated with the administration of President Trump.