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May 17, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Hungary’s big increase in funds for research and innovation

Research and innovation are key factors in many countries’ strategy to boost economic growth, add value to their economies and attract more foreign direct investment (FDI). Hungary has long recognized the importance of its research and development (R&D) sector and, as announced by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in his speech at the Hungarian Academy of Science, is planning to invest some 1.2 billion HUF (3.8 billion EUR) for R&D until 2020.

As a result, Hungary’s research spending as a proportion of GDP will reach 1.8 percent, catching up to the EU average of 1.9 percent.

Hungary has come a long way since 2010, when the country struggled to keep its economy afloat after the financial crisis. Since then Hungary has recovered and repaid its bailout from the IMF, but the government has made it a goal, indeed a constitutionally mandated requirement, to further reduce the public debt. So earmarking such an amount for research and innovation is in itself remarkable and the sums spent so far on science have proved to be good investments.

As the prime minister put it, Europe was the world’s leading political and economic power for centuries, but it seems to have forgotten where this competitive advantage came from: “an alliance between science and politics.” Hungary does not have a nuclear arsenal, major oil reserves or a population of a hundred million, the prime minister stated, but it does have a very special mentality and deeply rooted scientific traditions.

The world stands before great technological changes, the prime minister highlighted in a radio interview recently, after a meeting with Deutsche Telekom. Digitalization is changing the way we work, study and live. He expressed that it would be a great achievement if Hungary could shape this change and not just be subject to its forces. During his speech at the Academy, he emphasized that the future and quality of Hungarian science are a policy issue and not a party issue.

Hungary has been home to several Nobel laureates and many international experts in various fields of science, while many international companies have decided to invest, convinced by the high level of expertise they encounter here.

Since the government entered into an alliance with the Academy a few years ago, several grants were created: HUF 9.5 billion (EUR 30 million) for completion of the Science Research Center’s new building; HUF 8.5 billion (EUR 27 million) for CERN’s remote data center hosted at the Wigner Research Centre for Physics; and HUF 12 billion (EUR 38 million) to the National Brain Research Program for the period 2014–2017. In addition, funds dedicated to research rose from one percent of the budget in 2010 to 1.4 percent by 2016.

In today’s world the competition for top scientists is cutthroat, the prime minister pointed out, with countries across the globe providing various opportunities for talented researchers. Hungary should not be satisfied with playing an intellectually subordinate or vulnerable role, he added. The government aims to make Hungary Central Europe’s most competitive economy, for which an increase in research funds is a necessary and wise decision.