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Dispute over Hungarian Academy of Sciences funding

June 30th, 2018

A liberal weekly accuses the government of trying to curtail the autonomy of research by funding the Academy’s research institutes through the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. A conservative pundit dismisses such accusations, and welcomes the government’s efforts to make research funding more productive and transparent.

In next year’s draft budget, the government proposes funding the costs of research institutes, including salaries. This would amount to 20 per cent of the total state funding of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS), and would happen through the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. The Praesidium of the HAS has called on the government to withdraw the proposal which, they claim, would limit the freedom of research. There have been conflicting statements on the contested amount of money. HAS President László Lovász said over two thirds of research budgets (including R and D subsidies and university research programmes) will be controlled by the Ministry. Magyar Idők says two thirds of those two thirds have always been under government control. It quotes the draft budget where direct funding for the Academy is set at 56 billion Forints for next year, with an additional 20 billion to be allocated through the Ministry.

Quoting researchers at the HAS in Heti Világgazdaság, Judit Windisch interprets the plans as an effort by the government to discipline and force scientists into submission by curtailing the financial autonomy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Windisch quotes researchers who fear that the government wants to advance themes that are ideologically close to the current government, and also to appoint pro-government researchers to key positions, and sideline intellectuals who criticize the government. 

Mandiner’s Dániel Oláh finds it reasonable for the government to try and have more say in how public research funds are being spent. The pro-government blogger thinks that despite lavish public funding, the HAS has not properly advanced innovation through ground-breaking research. By directly interfering in research funding decisions, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology wants to facilitate research that can be applied by Hungarian companies and boost competitiveness, Oláh suggests. Under the current practice, the HAS decides in a non-transparent and ad hoc manner which projects to fund from tax revenues, without having to bear public responsibility for the results, Oláh explains. He adds that the HAS agreed with the government two years ago that the Academy would coordinate its activity more closely with the Ministry.