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MTA attacks govʼt plan as ‘against European principles’

The new institutional and financing framework of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) “threatens academic freedom,” says an MTA press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal, arguing that the government has given “no viable reasons” for the separation of the research network from the institution itself. 

MTA President László Lovász

One year ago, the MTA received an e-mail from the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ITM) regarding a new legal amendment governing the future operation of the academy and its research network, recalls the press release, adding that the government provided a mere 54 minutes for evaluating the proposed changes that would fundamentally affect the operation of the institution.

“During the last year we made the utmost effort to keep the debate between the MTA and the ITM on professional grounds,” the press release recalled. “Meanwhile, members of our 5,000-strong research network felt a steadily growing unease because of the events, costing the academy some of its best researchers, and pushing more to the brink of leaving.”

Despite its continuing efforts to negotiate, the MTA says these ultimately proved futile, as the ITM submitted its draft bill, proposing taking away all the research institutes from the MTA and creating a new state research network (the Eötvös Loránd Research Network) effectively under the control of the government. Under the legislation, the academy will also be obliged to hand over the buildings of its research facilities, as well as its infrastructure, tools, and possessions for “free use.” 

In a speech delivered at a press conference on Wednesday, June 12, MTA President László Lovász said that while state support for the new research network would be maintained, there are no guarantees for basic operational costs (staff and tenured researchers, etc.), as previously guaranteed by the law on the academy.

“The MTA has been successful in running its research network, as proven unwaveringly by the fact that, based on output/resources, it ranks among Europe’s finest,” asserted Lovász. “In contrast, however, the government has not presented any strategy that could justify the separation.”

The MTA president noted that the separation of the research network from the academy would also cause “an extremely complicated legal situation,” considering the number of existing contracts.

“The exact rationale behind the creation of this new system is still a mystery to this day; also, there is no indication how these changes would benefit Hungarian science,” he continued, adding: “While reasons and foreseeable benefits are seemingly lacking, there is an obvious increase in government control.”

“The research network will be increasingly reliant on project-based funding available for government priorities,” he noted. “Long-term research agendas, blue sky research and any research beyond government priorities will be increasingly difficult to follow.”

Lovász also observed that while the MTA has been trying to participate in negotiations “in a constructive and professional way,” the same could not be said of its government negotiating partners.

“The government has disregarded resolutions of joint ITM-Academy committees, and also ignored the proposal of the General Assembly of the Academy providing more room for government involvement in the research network,” he added.

In conclusion, Lovász noted that the planned new institutional and financing framework, which he said was clearly and loudly refused by the Hungarian scientific community, “is against European principles of research funding and threatens academic freedom.”

“There is also a concern that an unbalanced role for government priorities and control in science may soon become an alarming example that could be followed by other governments in the EU,” he added.

Regarding the possible role of EU institutions in the dispute between the ministry and the academy, Lovász said that while direct support cannot come from their direction, some elements of the draft bill could yet be altered as a consequence of international attention.

The full press release can be read in English here. A video of the international press conference can be viewed here.