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Conflicting responses from CEU, Orbán to Academy restructuring

Reacting to controversy over plans for the transformation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA), the Central European University (CEU) announced its unequivocal support for the independence of the institution. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, meanwhile, defended the restructuring.

The building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA)

"CEU follows with great concern the developments regarding the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In the context of the continuing restrictions affecting democratic freedoms in Hungary, we see both the freedom of research and the professional careers of our MTA colleagues as being put at risk," the CEU statement reads.

The statement argues that the MTA has been Hungaryʼs most important scientific institution, with its work greatly benefiting Hungarian society, noting that the Academy is one of the most successful institutional research networks on the whole continent.

"The recent plans aimed at undermining the independence of the Academy are even more radically unproductive and even more politically motivated than known so far," CEU continued. "It is in the fundamental interest of Hungarian society and national authorities to have a solution that respects institutional autonomy and guarantees the capacity of the Academy to deliver new knowledge, as it has done for more than 150 years."

Hungaryʼs government recently mandated a restructuring of the institutional framework and financing of the countryʼs research, development and innovation (RDI) network. As part of the measure, it launched an audit of the research network of the Academy, recalled state news agency MTI on Tuesday.

The MTA has complained of a lack of resources at its research institutes after some funding was moved from its own independent budget chapter to the budget chapter of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology.

In an open letter, awardees of the MTAʼs Lendület (Momentum) Program called on the government to suspend the process of restructuring state funding for research and innovation. Awardees said they were "surprised and deeply concerned" by the aim to restructure the funding scheme for the Academy, urging Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to call on Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics, who is overseeing the restructuring, "to proceed with the reorganization of the Hungarian academic scene in cooperation with the leadership of the Academy."

"The present process is carried out by the ministry without real negotiations with the parties involved," they said, adding that planned budget cuts "threaten the existence of well-established research centers of fundamental national importance, especially in the fields of humanity and social sciences."

Orbán on Tuesday responded to the open letter by arguing that the goal in the area of research and development, as with the restructuring of the universities, is "to establish an optimal system, free of administrative restraints, but one that operates in a manner that is more responsible and more transparent."