The philanthropist and former financier George Soros has announced that he is to donate $1bn to fund a new global network of universities designed to promote liberal values and his vision of an open society.
In what he hailed as the “most important and enduring project of my life”, Soros said it was important to fund institutions that would help resist the drift towards growing authoritarianism in the US, Russia and China. He also launched a fresh attack on Donald Trump, calling the US president “the ultimate narcissist”.
Soros, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said his new Open Society University Network would build on his Central European University, set up after the collapse of communism 30 years ago.
The CEU has been forced to move from Hungary to Vienna after Hungary’s rightwing leader, Viktor Orban, stripped it of the ability to issue US degrees.
Davos is a Swiss ski resort now more famous for hosting the annual four-day conference for the World Economic Forum. For participants it is a festival of networking. Getting an invitation is a sign you have made it – and the elaborate system of badges reveals your place in the Davos hierarchy. The meeting is sponsored by a huge number of international banks and corporations.
For critics, “Davos man” is shorthand for the globe-trotting elite, disconnected from their home countries after spending too much time in the club-class lounge. Others just wonder if it is all a big waste of time.
The 2020 meeting is being advertised as focusing on seven themes: Fairer economies, better business, healthy futures, future of work, tech for good, beyond geopolitics and how to save the planet. Young climate activists and school strikers from around the world will be present at the event to put pressure on world leaders over that last theme.
Soros – the man responsible for the run on the pound that led to sterling leaving the European exchange rate mechanism on Black Wednesday in September 1992 – said the CEU had not been strong enough by itself to become the educational institution the world requires. “That requires a new kind of global educational network.”
He added that the time had come for his Open Society Foundation – the vehicle for his philanthropy – to embark on an ambitious project that would build on the CEU and develop “a new and innovative educational network that the world really needs”.
Soros said: “OSUN will be unique. It will offer an international platform for teaching and research. In the first phase it will connect closer together an existing network. In the second phase, we shall open up this network to other institutions who want to join and are eager and qualified to do so.
“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 around the world to join us in this enterprise.”
Soros said that while the political situation was quite grim, it would be a mistake to give in to despair. He attacked Trump, who he said was a “con man and the ultimate narcissist who wants the world to revolve around him”.
He said: “When his fantasy of becoming president came true, his narcissism developed a pathological dimension. Indeed, he has transgressed the limits imposed on the presidency by the constitution and has been impeached for it.”