09 May 2019   |   News

Academy general assembly votes to give Hungarian government more power over its research institutes

The academy says it ‘went into great lengths’ to satisfy government demands on how the research institutes are organised

László Lovász, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Photo: mta.hu/Tamás Szigeti

The general assembly of the Hungarian academy of sciences has voted to keep all research institutes within the Academy, but under a new governing board which will “delegate substantially more power” to the government. In exchange, the assembly is demanding that the basic funding of the research institutes is ring-fenced from control by the ministry for research and innovation.

The governing board structure was voted through with a 78 per cent majority in the assembly, but has yet to be approved by the Hungarian government. If agreed, the academy says it could begin a process of working “hand in hand" with the government to boost Hungary’s research and innovation potential.

The vote concludes months of friction between the government and the academy. Last year, an amendment introduced by research minister László Palkovics to the 2019 budget took 40 per cent of the academy’s budget and put it under the government’s direct control. Researchers saw that as an attempt to limit their freedom to study topics that clash with the government’s nationalist agenda.

While the new arrangement would give the government more say in the academy, the research network and the academy will hold a majority on the governing board. The academy’s general assembly says it disagrees with the “political motivation for the arbitrary restructuring of the institutional network”.

According to the plan voted on in the assembly, the new governing board will have 12 members, presided over by an appointee of the prime minister, who will be jointly recommended by the academy president and the research minister. The academy, the government and the academy research network will delegate four board members each. The board will oversee research institutes, devise organisational and operational rules, and appoint heads of research institutes.

The management structure voted by the assembly is similar to that set out in a memorandum of understanding signed earlier this year by academy president László Lovász and Palkovics.

If agreed by the government, the new structure could be in place 1 January 2020, at the earliest. In addition, the academy said it will not accept the creation of new research institutes or the dismantling of existing ones until 1 January 2021 and demanded that “independent international partners take part” in the development of the research network’s new structure. Any changes to the composition of the research network, the budgets of research institutes and their leadership would require a two thirds majority in the governing board.

The assembly has asked Lovasz to continue talks with Palkovics to ensure future financing and the independence of the research network. In a statement on Tuesday, the general assembly said it “is only participating in this process whilst under pressure to help create and realise a scientific policy for the advancement of Hungarian science and innovation, whilst maintaining its values and releasing its inherent potential and creative energy to this end.”

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up