Scientists demonstrate against government's plans to centralise funding for Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Scientists demonstrate against government's plans to centralise funding for Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Gov't plans to reorganise Academy of Sciences triggers opposition protest
By bne IntelliNews February 13, 2019

Demonstrators formed a human chain around the headquarters of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) on February 12 to protest against the Orban government’s takeover of the research funding and the reorganisation of the structure of research networks.

The Ministry of Innovation and Technology aims to restructure research institutes affiliated with the academy, which would lead to the elimination of some research units, would further curtail academic freedom.

MTA’s network of research units had seen funding cut under the new budget, threatening ongoing projects.

The government argues that the MTA’s research network, doing mostly basic research, is not efficient and Hungary's entire R&D should be overhauled.

The research institutions of the academy receive HUF17bn (€531mn)in state funding, yet the number of patents they have submitted is "minimal", the ministry said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in an open letter to young scientists who protested against the planned changes, said increasing the value added of domestic industry is not possible unless research institutes concentrate their resources both on basic research and innovation. Scientists would be provided state financing for "clear-cut areas" of research. 

The innovation and technology ministry said it wants to optimise spending on scientific research and it does not question the importance of basic research. It proposed the establishment of a separate fund for financing innovation and research funded directly from the central budget that would not automatically be earmarked for researchers.

The plan to fund the academy fully from tenders is actually an austerity measure, that will thwart the operation of the MTA and lead to its collapse, said one young scientist at the rally. "We understand that reforms are necessary but not without the consent of MTA employees and not to their detriment," she said. 

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences supports the government’s efforts to enhance Hungary’s RDI performance. However, this aim can only be reached if the research network of the academy is preserved. The audit of the academic research network already started with an extremely tight schedule, according to a statement.

The MTA’s research network employs 5,000 people, including 3,000 researchers.

So far some 800 intellectuals have signed an open letter protesting against the centralisation of the funds and curbing of academic freedom.

Palkovics's "Bolshevik-type exercise of power" has caused irreparable damage to 21st-century Hungarian science, opposition Jobbik said.

Leftist Democratic Choice (DK) said that Hungarian scientists and their workshops could be destroyed by cuts in MTA funds. The party is asking the head of the parliament's budget committee to revisit issues concerning the MTA budget. The arbitrary modification of the MTA's budget could potentially be a violation of the law, it said.

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