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Jun 14, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Q&A on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The Hungarian Government’s ultimate goal is to have more funding for more research.

Q: What’s the deal with the current research funding framework? Does it really have to be reformed?

Currently, research funding in Hungary is governed by a framework that was established more than 80 years ago. It’s quite odd to expect innovation and development from such an obsolete, outdated system.

Under current regulations, the Government has no say in how taxpayer money is spent on scientific research. Our goal is to promote research that contributes to Hungary’s economic growth and overall development, one that turns knowledge into tangible results. And in order to do that, the existing system that is now hindered by division and inefficient management, should be brought under a new, more productive structure and made more accountable. Because we’ve already seen some worrying signs.

In all the hyperventilating about academic freedom recently, you probably haven’t heard that the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has been underperforming. In 2018, for example, the number of starting grants awarded to Hungary in the European Research Council’s support program was zero. Meanwhile, Israel won 23 in the same year. 23:0.

Similarly, an EU report on one of the most important indicators of scientific performance, the number of highly cited publications compared to all publications, shows that the work of the Academy (widely known by its Hungarian abbreviation, MTA) is well below the average, scoring somewhere in the bottom 20 percent.

Q: But won’t this restructuring limit scientific freedom in Hungary, curb the MTA’s autonomy and slash research funding?

Specifically, according to the government’s proposal, the research network would be governed by a council comprising 13 members, with an equal number of members nominated by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The government must nominate at least four of its six nominees from the accomplished scientific community.

Contrary to what the MTA has said, research funding will be expanded. Already in the 2020 budget, the Orbán Government has set aside an extra 32 billion HUF (99.3 million EUR) to support scientific research. But more money won’t do the trick alone, funds will have to be utilized more efficiently. This is why we proposed to implement a unified, performance-based distribution system.

Q: Did the Government try to find common ground with MTA?

That’s right. The Government, and more specifically the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, has spent more than a year trying to come to a compromise with the leadership of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences – but it hasn’t been easy. However, we still believe that the expanded budget and its more efficient distribution serves Hungary’s growth as much as the interests of the scientific community.

Once again, with the restructuring of the research funding framework, the Orbán Government’s goal is to have more research from more money, research that benefits Hungary’s development.