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George Soros in $1bn university donation to tackle ‘drift towards authoritarianism’

Kate Ng
Hungarian-born US investor and philanthropist George Soros delivers a speech on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting, on January 23, 2020 in Davos: AFP via Getty Images

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has pledged to channel $1bn (£764m) into a new university network that will promote liberal values and tackle intolerance.

Mr Soros’ announcement during his annual speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos followed his harsh criticism of “authoritarian rulers” around the world.

Plans for the Open Society University Network (OSUN), which he hailed as “the most important and most enduring project of my life”, would pull together higher-education networks worldwide to offer “an international platform for teaching and research”.

“I believe our best hope lies in access to an education that reinforces the autonomy of the individual by cultivating critical thinking and emphasising academic freedom,” he said.

He also called for other philanthropists to pitch in to make the network “a reality”. The network founding partners include Mr Soros’ Central European University (CEU) in Budapest and Vienna, and Bard College in New York.

“To demonstrate our commitment to OSUN, we are contributing one billion dollars to it. But we can’t build a global network on our own; we will need partner institutions and supporters from all over the world to join us in this enterprise.

“I hope that those who share this vision will join us in making it a reality,” he added.

Before his announcement, Mr Soros focussed his speech on the dangers stemming from the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism.

He said Xi Jinping and Donald Trump were the biggest threats to “open societies”, adding that he believed the US president was “a conman and the ultimate narcissist”.

“Both try to extend the powers of their office to its limit and beyond,” he said.

“Trump is willing to sacrifice the national interests for his personal interests and he will do practically anything to win re-election.

“By contrast, Xi Jinping is eager to exploit Trump’s weaknesses and use artificial intelligence to achieve total control over his people.”

The former financier also took aim at Hungary’s right-wing leader Viktor Orban and India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.

He said India was by far the “biggest and most frightening setback” in liberal society, as Mr Modi “is creating a Hindu nationalist state”.

“We live at a transformational moment in history. The survival of open societies is endangered and we face an even greater crisis: climate change,” he added.

Mr Soros was born in Hungary and is best known for his involvement in the devaluation of the British pound on Black Wednesday in September 1992.

Additional reporting by agencies

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