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While Govt Pressure Grows on MTA, Many Express Solidarity

Ábrahám Vass 2019.02.20.

The pressure is mounting on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) according to recently leaked documents which suggest that the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ITM), under the command of László Palkovics, plans to outsource MTA’s institutes and unilaterally take over its assets. While talks have been underway behind closed doors, a growing number of scholars and other Hungarian notables have expressed solidarity with the Academy.

In-Depth Analysis: Why Academy Circles Are Disturbed by the Govt’s Plans for Research Reform

A Corvinus-like model?

According to the leaked documents obtained by Index, ITM plans to cease MTA’s special form of operation. The government would outsource MTA’s research institutes into a brand new foundation which would introduce a trust. According to this, a model resembling the one used in the case of Corvinus University (you can read more about it here, here and here) would be implemented. This would force MTA to hand over its headquarters and all of its assets to the new foundation.

In addition, this new system would cause the staff of the research institutes to lose their status as public servants. More importantly, the government would be authorized to make funding decisions without parliamentary approval.

On Tuesday, László Palkovics assured public channel M5 that the government’s goal is to make research quicker and more relevant. He claimed the changes would pose no threat to basic research as the government would not distinguish between applied and basic research. He also pointed out that academic research institutions spend taxpayer money, and, in the current form, taxpayers have no say in how that money is utilized.

Palkovics also admitted that public resources invested in R&D hadn’t increased since 2002. He argued that “instead of worrying, scholars should focus on the opportunities the changes will bring.”

Growing controversies

In an interview with leftist daily Népszava, MTA president László Lovász said that thus far, he hasn’t heard any well-grounded arguments for the necessity of the reorganization. Earlier, former MTA President József Pálinkás called Palkovics and the government’s actions “blackmail.” In response, Lovász said “he cannot deny” the truth of this statement.

Last week, left-liberal Magyar Narancs revealed that, as an MTA member, Palkovics received a monthly salary of Huf 800,000 (Eur 2,530) for years without publishing. This, in the eyes of many, undermines the government’s arguments.

Image by ADF- Facebook

The Forum of Academic Employees (ADF) has protested against the government’s plan once again: “Taking Hungary’s Fundamental and Academic Law into account, ADF explicitly rejects the Minister’s plan to outsource MTA into private property management foundations.” Furthermore, ADF called on Palkovics “to discontinue his haphazard, daily changing proposals.”

Uproar and solidarity with MTA

Meanwhile, a countless number of international scholars, cultural figures and scientific institutes have sided with MTA and expressed their concern and solidarity.

Domestically, two signature-drives for scientists, public figures and opinion leaders are underway. Thus far, the two have accumulated almost 2,000 signatures in total.

In an open letter, the Slovak Academy of Sciences claimed that it knows from experience “that attempts to control science and research through political or financial instruments have led not only to the decline of scientific institutions but also to the stagnation and international isolation of countries.”

The Czech Academy of Sciences insisted that “the Hungarian government’s gambling with academic freedom, continuity and quality of Hungarian science and research puts not only the Hungarian science and research community in jeopardy but also the country’s economy.”

The President of King’s College London, Babeș-Bolyai University, Romanian Academy, All European Academies (ALLEA), Canadian McGill University and a number of other institutes and notables from scientific life have expressed solidarity with MTA.

MTA and ITM officials are scheduled to meet again on Friday.

featured image: last week’s demonstration; via Mariann Kovács/ ADF- Facebook