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In blow to academic freedom, govʼt to nationalize research

The government is planning to tighten the reins on funding and control of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) by introducing legislation in Parliament that enters into effect on August 1, after the MTA repeatedly refused to give in to demands by the state, according to a report by news portal Index.hu.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA)

According to Index, the legislative proposal includes taking away all 15 research institutes from the MTA and the creation of a new state research network (Eötvös Loránd Kutatási Hálózat), to which the 15 institutes will belong. The network will be controlled by a 13-person controlling body, with six appointees from the academy, and six from the government, but with a president appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán personally, based on a joint proposal. These 13 people will decide on the reorganization, abolition, or creation of research bodies, and the appointment of their leaders.

Furthermore, the state will create the National Council of Scientific Policy (NTT), headed by Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics, who will be in charge of suggesting appointments. MTA will only have a single representative on this body. The council will be in charge of making proposals about the main directions of research that it judges should be funded.

Additionally, the MTA will be obliged by law to hand over the buildings of its research facilities, as well as its infrastructure, tools, and possessions for “free use.”

Earlier, the MTA Presidium had decided unanimously that while it would submit to the Academy Assembly alternatives for the future management of the MTA research network, “the Presidium unambiguously favors reforms made within the Academy.” The Presidium specifically stated that it sees it as indispensable for the research network itself to delegate one third of the members of the future directing body, with one-third each to be delegated by the academy and the government, respectively.

Waiting for the EP vote

According to Index, the plan has been ready for some time but the government decided to wait until after the European parliamentary elections to avoid political fallout. The proposal to take control over MTA comes after a long period of trying to convince the academy to submit to the demands themselves without success.

With the proposed changes, MTA will lose most of its power over research. Index says that the representatives of MTA were not even invited to the latest rounds of negotiations over its fate, with the government even failing to answer their letters of inquiry.

The news portal notes that while both Palkovics and Orbán denied nationalizing research institutes, forcing MTA to hand over its assets for “free use” against its will means that the government is effectively nationalizing the dominant part of the research sphere.

In February, the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA) repeated its call to protect the institutional autonomy and academic freedom of the MTA, expressing solidarity with its member academy and calling for support of all researchers and staff affiliated with the MTA, and denouncing “recurring” and “unfounded” interventions by the Hungarian government.

ALLEA said that it shares the MTAʼs position that the proposed reorganization of the academy structure would gravely endanger the future funding of all scientific disciplines, and may particularly threaten research in the humanities.