Major Chinese University to Open Campus in Hungary

New link pulls Budapest closer to Beijing . . .

Fudan University, one of China’s highest-ranked universities, has confirmed it will open a campus in Budapest, Hungary. While the partnership had been under discussion for some time, last month, the two countries announced concrete plans to open the campus in 2024. This higher education link complements the increasingly close relationship between Budapest and Beijing. In 2015, Hungary became the first European country to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Last year, it accepted a C$2.4-billion Chinese loan to build a rail link with Serbia, another important BRI node in Europe. Hungary also hosts the European supply centre for Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Welcoming environment?

Hungary may be seen as a ‘safe space’ for Chinese universities. Hungarian President Victor Orban has attacked academic and press freedoms in his own country, making it easier for a Chinese university to operate. Fudan, which had been considered one of China’s more liberal universities, dropped “freedom of thought” from its charter in 2019. But the Hungarian public may not be as welcoming. According to a January 2020 poll, only 40 per cent of Hungarians have a favourable view of China. Orban may also face questions about why he pledged C$3.4 million to the Fudan campus rather than using those funds to support domestic higher education institutions. Further, questions are emerging in Hungary over whether Fudan, a large and well-resourced university, will cause a ‘brain drain’ by luring top academic talent away from Hungarian universities.

New node of Chinese influence . . .

Fudan’s Budapest campus will not be the first case of a Chinese university opening an overseas branch. In 2012, Suzhou University opened a campus in Laos, followed by Xiamen University expanding to Malaysia in 2016. And top-ranked Peking University’s launched graduate-level business programs in Oxfordshire, England, in 2018. Chinese President Xi Jinping has moved decisively in recent years to bring Chinese universities under Chinese Communist Party control. These cases of international expansion may show whether Chinese control over academic freedom will extend beyond its own borders.