Diplomats’ Roundtable at the University of Pécs

Rector József Bódis of the University of Pécs on 5 April 2017 hosted a Diplomats’ Roundtable at the Regional Library and Knowledge Centre in Pécs. The university this year celebrates its 650th anniversary. In other words, the university was established in 1367! Ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives from many countries took part in the roundtable, and engaged in active dialogue with university staff and students. Ambassador Olav Berstad delivered a short speech as follows.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank rector Bódis for bringing the issue of the Central European University up front in the way he did at the beginning of the meeting (i.e. by reading the statement of the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference, 3 April 2017).

I’d like to congratulate the university and city of Pécs with the anniversary. We Norwegians understand the importance of having a university. We got our first in 1811, after a long struggle with the Danish-Norwegian kings for greater autonomy, which also of course included a demand for a national higher learning institution of our own. Instead of sending our students to Copenhagen and other places. Today we have a very large and decentralized system, with 8 universities and 17 regional and specialized colleges, 285 000 students, 60 % of whom are women. There are about 25 000 foreign students in Norway and approximately an equal number of Norwegian studying abroad. One of the attractiveness for foreign students in Norway is that tuition is still free.

There are about 900 Norwegian students in Hungary, many of them here in Pécs, - and unfortunately, one in serious condition now in hospital after a traffic accident a few days ago.

The Norwegian government encourages and financially supports Norwegian students abroad. They eventually bring in new knowledge, language skills and a multicultural attitude which has been a big boost to Norwegian economy and culture, making Norway even more dynamic and interesting.

Norway is fully integrated into the European educational and research space. The backbone of the Norwegian economy is the exploitation of energy, minerals and marine biological resources. The success of our industries is based on continuous development of knowledge, innovation, market access and adaptation.

In our foreign and development policy we stress and support education, - and education for women and girls in particular.

Cooperation in education and research is also part of a government sponsored programme with Hungary, the so-called Norway and EEA grants. For the next funding period, perhaps 50 million EUR will be allocated for research, exchanges etc. out of a total 214 million EUR funding program. In the last period, which is now ending, 24 mill EUR was allocated for research cooperation. Unfortunately, the programme was cancelled, not least because of what the Norwegian side perceived as political interference in academic freedom and free choice of research areas and institutions in Hungary.

And here we are at a pressing point.

The attack on CEU and the adoption of the new law yesterday makes a profound impression, and cast doubts over the sincerity of the Hungarian government.

Here I’d like to conclude by quoting the new German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in the European parliament yesterday, he talks about Europe:

“If we want to be a lighthouse in the world for the rule of law and for human rights, then we cannot ignore, when these foundations are shaken in the midst of Europe. Europe, then, must not be silent, when civil society, even academia - as now at Central European University, Budapest - are deprived of the air to breathe”.

Sorry for bringing up this. 650 years of university life in Pécs is a great, very great thing to celebrate. Unfortunately, today the celebration has been tarnished by politics in Budapest. But, as an optimist I believe that also this issue will eventually be resolved.