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Government to Impose Total Control Over the Science Academy

Ábrahám Vass 2019.05.29.

According to the draft bill of the restructuring of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) published first by Index, in addition to the rejection of all elements previously agreed upon, the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ITM) will also require MTA to hand over all of its assets for “free use.” In the eyes of many, this will effectively put an end to the academic freedom of one of Hungary’s top research institutes.

The new legislation could come into effect as early as August 1. In accordance with his threats, ITM leader László Palkovics will use the ruling alliance’s two-thirds majority in the Parliament to push through the government’s will.

According to Index, despite finishing the draft, the government elected to put the issue on the back burner until the EP elections. In fact, MTA representatives didn’t even receive an invite to the coordination talks.

A “nationalization” in effect?

The government will strip MTA of all 15 of its research institutes and move them to the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), a newly-formed state research network. This new public body will have a 13-member governing board comprised of six government and academy delegates. The Prime Minister will appoint a chairman based on a joint proposal by the board. This is the exact “parity system” Palkovics desired. Politics will now overpower scientific representatives. As a result, the solution proposed by MTA and its research institutes (1/3 government, 1/3 MTA, 1/3 research network candidates) was rejected.

Academy Hardens Stance Against Govt’s Radical Plans

This body will be in charge of the reorganization, abolishment and establishment of the research bodies and their leaders.

In addition, the National Council of Scientific Policy (NTT) will be set up to help determine which of the main research directions to support. This body will have an even larger governmental influence as its chairman, László Palkovics, will also propose appointments. Meanwhile, MTA will delegate only one representative.

What is more, MTA will be required to hand over its infrastructure and assets for “free use” to the ELKH. Although both Palkovics and Orbán deny nationalizing research institutes, forcing MTA to hand over its assets is indeed proof of the opposite.

Not quite what was agreed upon before.

The leaders of MTA’s research institutes have issued a statement protesting against the draft. According to the statement, the draft “provides full governmental and political control over the research network,” opposes “many of the points previously agreed upon” and is in “stark contrast to the German example” to which Ministry leaders were keen to refer earlier.

Fact

Article X

(1) Hungary shall ensure the freedom of scientific research and artistic creation, the freedom

of learning for the acquisition of the highest possible level of knowledge and, within the

framework laid down in an Act, the freedom of teaching.

(2) The State shall have no right to decide on questions of scientific truth; only scientists

shall have the right to evaluate scientific research.

(3) Hungary shall protect the scientific and artistic freedom of the Hungarian Academy of

Sciences and the Hungarian Academy of Arts. Higher education institutions shall be

autonomous in terms of the content and the methods of research and teaching; their

organization shall be regulated by an Act. The Government shall, within the framework of the

Acts, lay down the rules governing the management of public institutes of higher education

and shall supervise their management.

In their view, the proposal also “violates Hungary’s Fundamental Law” as it requires MTA, an entity governed by private law, to make free use of its property for an indefinite period without compensation or contract.

It also fails to ensure basic funding of the research network, without which, the operation of the research institutes is “impossible.” The newly-formed bodies and their decision-making processes (lacking, for example, real parity) also endanger scientific autonomy. In addition, the proposed amendments fail to guarantee that the research network will be kept together.

The Forum of Academic Workers (ADF) announced a demonstration this Sunday in Budapest. Starting at two p.m., protesters will march from Fővám Square to MTA’s main building in Széchenyi Square.

featured image: Gabriella Csoszó/ FreeDoc via ADF- Facebook