Business school profile: Central European University

The Budapest business school founded by billionaire George Soros is now spreading its wings

Mel Horwitch, dean of CEU Business School

Small is beautiful, or so believe those at the Central European University business school in Budapest. But although the business school is tiny, with just 150 students and 20 professors, the Hungarian university has one huge selling point: it was established by billionaire investor George Soros.

Since the university opened 23 years ago it has proven to be a magnet for students from emerging economies and in particular from former Soviet states – 50 per cent of students are from central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. University president John Shattuck, a legal and human rights scholar, says the university was set up “out of the embers of both fascism and communism”. Its mission, he says, was to promote freedom of thought, open society and critical thinking.

The business school and the school of public policy are the two schools that are most closely connected with the world outside the US-style university. It is something business school dean Mel Horwitch wants to develop further. “Being a small school we can’t be everything,” he admits. But one real focus for the school is developing entrepreneurs – Mr Soros gave the business school $7.5m to fund the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation there in 2011.

Although the business school is small, Prof Horwitch hopes it will grow through alliances in the region. “It is an ecosystem approach. This is an important piece of our strategy.”

The school runs a full-time MBA and Executive MBA and two masters degrees, in IT management and finance. “We want to educate people who return to their countries and understand finance,” says Prof Horwitch. “We want people to have a support system in place.”

The school is also planning to launch as Masters in Business Analytics, run jointly with the university’s economic department. And perhaps more unusually, the business school is running a masters degree jointly with the school of medieval studies, for managers of museums and other cultural institutions. Joint degrees with the school of public policy on not-for-profit and governmental management are also potentially on the cards.

The fees for the one-year MBA degree are just €13,000, but cheap does not mean low quality, says Prof Horwitch - “We give a terrific MBA”. The degree has design school input, is taught through action learning and incorporates a module in New York, he adds.

The school is also investing heavily in technology says the dean. “What we want to do is mimic what the professional manager will do in five to 10 years.”

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Central European University was established in Budapest more than 20 years ago as a laboratory for critical thinking in an open society. Among its founders were some of the great moral and political heroes of modern central and eastern European history, such as Václav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, while investor George Soros provided financial backing. Professors and students were recruited to build a unique institution for graduate studies, with both deep regional roots and an international perspective.