Hungarian arts college offered ‘escape route’ degrees

Budapest, March 17 (AFP/APP):Students from Hungary’s top arts college opposed to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government said Wednesday that several European universities would recognise courses run by a breakaway institution they founded and grant them degrees.
In September, students at the 155-year-old University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE) accused the government of removing its autonomy by imposing an “illegitimate” board whose pro-Orban trustees are appointed indefinitely.
Most of the 400-strong student body, and many staff who went on strike in solidarity, and blockaded the Budapest campus from the new management for 71 days.
Inside they held “free university” classes before leaving the building in November due to a coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
Since then, classes have continued online while a breakaway institution called “Freeszfe” was formally established.
According to a Freeszfe statement Wednesday the new institution’s courses will be recognised by several foreign universities: Austria’s Salzburg Mozarteum University, the Academy of Performing Arts Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg, Germany, the Warsaw Theatre Arts University in Poland and its puppetry faculty in Bialystok, and Switzerland’s Accademia Teatro Dimitri.
“The students will not lose their degrees, even if they do not wish to continue their studies at SZFE,” said the statement.
“The universities have offered to give degrees to over 150 students, recognising the courses they have completed and the work they will conduct with their teachers in future,” said the statement.
“They want to offer an escape route to students…talks are ongoing with other universities to enrol even more students,” it added.
Freeszfe plans to move into a new base in Budapest after the pandemic restrictions are lifted, the statement said.
Staff at the foreign universities will help to jointly assess coursework – including films, performances and final theses – with the Budapest teaching staff, it added.
The reform at SZFE and similar changes at other Hungarian universities were seen by critics of Orban as the latest step in his attempt to reshape Hungary’s public life to fit his own nationalist and culturally conservative agenda.
The new board insisted that the changes — including moving SZFE’s ownership from state to private hands — would improve educational standards, and upgrade infrastructure with a state-of-the-art campus.
Its leader, a conservative theatre director said he wanted a “different kind of thinking” at SZFE, which was seen in pro-government circles as a hotbed of liberalism.

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