Unarguably in the past weeks, the topic of Chinese Fudan University was one of the central points of contention for both left and right-wing media outlets in Hungary. Although cooperation was made with the university years ago, following an article exploring the background of campus construction, the opposition parties slammed on the topic. ‘Spy School’, ‘Marxist training place’, ‘[…]dormitory places are taken from Hungarian students’ – left-wing representatives say on Facebook, TV shows, and press conferences. On the other hand, the government’s view is that such an opportunity should not be missed, as both Hungarian higher education and the economy benefit from the Chinese university coming to Hungary.
China has become an unavoidable factor in both the world economy and scientific life in recent decades. The rise of the Chinese education system, which has produced internationally renowned universities, such as Shanghai-based Fudan University, has also played a key role in this development. According to QS World University Rankings, Fudan University is considered the 34th best university in the world.
The idea for the Hungarian campus of Fudan University was born in 2017.
As a first step in the cooperation, in October 2018, the Hungarian National Bank, Corvinus University of Budapest, and Fudan University agreed to establish the first educational training between China and Central Europe. The aim was to address middle and senior managers in the private sector and public administration to train as many skilled professionals as possible in the Central European region. The joint MBA programme of Corvinus and Fudan University, with the professional support of the Hungarian National Bank—leading to a Hungarian-Chinese double degree—started in February 2019, but this is not the first western bastion of Chinese education. Fudan has had an international MBA programme with MIT in the United States since 1996, and it also has degree courses at the London School of Economics and the University of Sydney.
At the end of 2019, the Minister of Innovation and Technology László Palkovics signed a cooperation agreement with the President of Fudan in Shanghai. It established that the Chinese institution would create a new Budapest campus. Palkovics emphasized that the appearance of prestigious foreign professors would accelerate the internationalization of Hungarian higher education, bring further Chinese investments to Hungary and help the research and development centres of Chinese companies to settle in Hungary.
‘Fudan University is one of the leading universities, an outstanding educational institution in many disciplines, and at the same time one of the bearers of China’s international influence. This is not new: all great powers use the tools of soft power’ says Sándor Kusai, Hungary’s former ambassador to Beijing, and an honorary associate professor at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University.
According to China expert Gergely Salát, ‘It is not the Chinese communists who will set foot in Hungary, but (hopefully) world-class science. A Chinese university is not an “autocratic brainwashing”, but rather will train professionals equipped with expertise for the international market. Undoubtedly, the founding charter of Fudan does indeed talk about ideological control, but it also states that the university respects and protects the freedom of science.’
In the last thirty years—like other prestigious Chinese universities—Fudan has acquired diversified relations, which is, therefore, highly present in the western world. China may or may not be loved, but it must be recognized that a country with such strong economic and intellectual capacity cannot be bypassed in the twenty-first century.
Lidia Papp, Danube Institute research fellow