Hungarian Government Takes Control of Research Institutes

On July 2, 2019, Hungarian lawmakers passed a controversial legislation “described” as academic reform, but widely perceived as the continuation of the Orban’s efforts to seize control of higher education institutions. While the government claims that its aim is to make research more innovative, the law, which transfers ownership of the institutes’ properties to the new government-run Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), has prompted international outcry and has raised concerns about academic freedom in Hungary.

Hungary's president has signed a bill paving the way for the government to take control of scientific research, a move that researchers see as a threat to scholarly freedom.
Participants of the demonstration titled 'Academic Workers' Forum Life Chain for Science' gather in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) headquarters to protest against the planned reorganisation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019(Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File)

The bill creates a new organizational and financing model for the research, development, and innovation sector and was passed by 131 MPs, with 53 votes against and 3 abstentions in the 199-seat Parliament.

László Palkovics, Minister of Innovation and Technology, the person who submitted the bill, said the goal of the planned changes is to boost Hungary’s competitiveness by facilitating more efficient operation and creating a performance-based distribution of resources.

The bill gives the government control of a vast network of research institutes currently run by the two-century-old Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA). Their research funding will be allocated by the newly established Eötvös Loránd Research Network, the board members of which will be appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

In order for its operation, this “new” network would absorb the Academy’s properties, part of its central administration, and its winning grants and scholarships.

Palkovics stressed that the new body is not controlled or directed by the government.

In a statement, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences stated that,

The government justified its move, which would transform the entire system of Hungarian scientific life, by saying that the bill would pave the way for the framework of a new science and innovation policy. Furthermore, it would also contribute to the renewal of the RDI system and lay the foundations for the funding of this new innovation and science policy as well as for exploratory and applied research.