Studies kategória bejegyzései

Modifications of the Academy Act (Summary)

The Hungarian Parliament passed the new law on July 2, 2019. This amends and modifies the Academy Act and numerous others drastically.

The most important modifications regarding the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS):

1. Separating the Research Network (RN) from the independent Academy and establishing a distinct RN under the name Eötvös Lorand Research Network (LERN).

  • The RN is supposed to be autonomous from the Academy as well as the government, but at its core structure it is heavily influenced by the gov. at the highest level.

2. The starting date of 1st of August/Sept, 2019 was/is highly questionable.

  • The Act has been enacted on July 2, thus leaving less than a month for preparation and execution.
  • During this period it was the Ministry for Innovation and Technology that organized the execution of the Act, however it is not its responsibility under the Act.
  • Miklós Maróth, the new leader of the LERN himself admitted that until January 1, 2020 (or for a year) the new Governing Body will not be able to make major decisions, because the new Secretariat will need time to settle.
  • The rush creates uncertainty among the employees of the Academy, affecting researchers as well as the public servants of the Secretariat.

3. The Act creates a new Governing Body (GB), which is highly influenced by the Government: it consists of 13 members, all appointed by the Prime Minister.

  • 6 members nominated by the President of the HAS (László Lovász)
  • 6 members nominated by the Minister of Innovation and Technology (László Palkovics)
  • The President of the LERN jointly nominated by the President of the HAS and the Minister, but appointed by the Prime Minister
  • But the joint nomination cannot be considered as a real guarantee, since in case of a disagreement between the two, the Prime Minister may appoint whoever he wishes as the head of the GB for an indefinite time period, with the full power of the whole GB. This creates an opportunity for the govt. to force the HAS President into an agreement, as the only way to have the 6 nominees of the Academy appointed and involved in the decisions.

The GB has the power to decide about:

  • the finances of the RN,
  • organization and reorganization questions
  • the general directors of the 15 research centres, with a simple (non-qualified) majority
  • some questions will be decided with ⅔ majority, according to promises, but nothing is written, yet.

Concerns:

Without the necessity of qualified majority decisions on structural changes institutions can be abolished, cut off from the network, or new ones established, or existing external ones attached to the network.

This implies (contrary to prior agreement) without any moratorium, that is, right or soon after the start of the operation of the network and its governing body. (Promises on a moratorium are not guarantees.)

There is no possibility to appeal against the decisions of the GB or the president of the LERN.

4. As required by the new law the properties and buildings are to be given for free use to the new research network without compensation, which is a violation of the HAS’ property rights protected by the constitution.

  • By a unilateral legal act of the state, the draft law obliges the HAS (“charges the HAS with the task”) to transfer the right of use over its assets, establishing a dangerous precedent for nationalization that is highly destructive to the legal order.
  • HAS’ obligation to transfer its real estates (buildings serving to house the research network) and its research facilities, assets, and equipment to the new research network for free (without any compensation) violates the HAS’ rights to private property guaranteed in the Fundamental Law of Hungary (the constitution) and in many international treaties.

President of the Academy László Lovász filed a constitutional complaint in this regard. In the complaint he states that the Academy’s right to private property has been unconstitutionally limited and that the Academy’s academic freedom (more precisely its right to carry out research) has been interfered with.

This is an Article 26 (2) procedure under the Act on the Constitutional Court (CC), which means that there are no strict time limits regarding the procedure of the CC. The Act says that “The Constitutional Court shall decide on constitutional complaints within reasonable time.”

However according to the Rules of Procedure of the CC (internal regulation), the Court shall decide in 120 days about the admissibility of the petition. And the rapporteur shall submit in 180 days upon admission the first draft. Still this does not guarantee that the Court will deliver a decision in the near future.

MPs also filed a petition to the CC, asking for the ex post review of the Act. However, regarding this procedure there is no time-limit on the Constitutional Court, not even in the Rules of Procedure.

About the maintenance of the assets of the Academy

  • the responsibility of the maintenance of these buildings, equipments, machines falls on the research centres using these
  • but according to the Act, funding has to be guaranteed in the state budget act for these goals
  • the Facility Management Service of the HAS is responsible for the operation of the buildings and other facilities.

 

5. The new Act violates the exclusive entitlement of scientists to evaluate scientific research

  • Two points of the new act are in breach of the Fundamental Law of Hungary in this regard, as it claims that the governing body “will determine the evaluation principles of the research network” and “will evaluate the achievement reports of the research institutes”.
  • The assessment of research is in itself a research activity which is confirmed in the Fundamental Law (X. (2) par) stating that “only representatives of the scientific community are entitled to evaluate the research activities” and “the State shall have no right to decide on questions of scientific truth”.
  • In the governing body, according to the law, representatives of science will be in majority, but there might be also members without academic background, and they will evaluate research activity, too. (The term – representative of science – is vague in itself. Any politician, with a past of academic research can fall under this requirement.)

 

6. The Act establishes the National Science Policy Council (coming into effect on January 1, 2020) that will be responsible exclusively for the prime minister.

  • The Council will have 11 members, its chairman is going to be the concerned Minister, appointed by the Prime Minister together with the co-chairman.
  • The co-chairman and the regular members will be nominated by the minister as well. 3  members should be chosen from the economic sphere, 3 members from the academic field, and 3 members from the public sector.
  • Since the Council will have serious effect on national research grants, it has to be noted that no professional competency is rendered to this body to perform its professional function.
  • The Council will operate in all aspects under ministerial direction with ministerial veto, and only the minister can submit proposals to the government.

7. The Act further increases the centralization of science funding in Hungary

  • All funding for research and innovation as well as higher education will be under the direct or indirect control of the Ministry.
  • The RN was financed by the autonomous decisions of the independent Academy so far, a practice that will be replaced by the funding policy of the government.
  • There is a risk  that academic freedom, normally guaranteed by scientific and financial independence and to a large extent achieved at institutional level in modern times, will be limited by the government’s science policy.

 

8. No guarantees in the law: Only the benevolent operation guarantees that there will be no abuse of power or political interference of the government.

 

Questions and concerns regarding the operation of the Governing Body of the LERN

  • According to the Act the Secretary General of the RN should be chosen after an open call for the position, and the open call and its content should be decided upon by the GB.
  • The Secretary general and his deputy should be elected by the GB.
  • Still the GB decided to give up this right and agreed to appoint Ádám Szigeti (previous assistant secretary of state of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology) as acting Secretary General for 1 year/or the time while the open call will be decided about, however such call has not been published by the GB.
  • This decision of the GB contradicts to the Act.
  • The appointment of Ádám Szigeti again proves that the government is eager to get influence over the RN.
  • The GB also agreed to appoint Márton Lacsny as deputy of the Secretary General, who previously has been working at various positions beside Minister Pakovics.

Lack of transparency:

  • The LERN has no publicly available webpage. Information about the Secretariat, its operation, or even its phone-number or e.mails are not available for public, neither any information about its management.
  • so far it has failed to enact its internal regulations – subsequently the research centres are also unable to enact their internal regulations, because these documents should be harmonized.
  • the only channel of information between the LERN and the researchers are the general directors of the research centres.

Promises:

  • according to promises for 2020, core funding will be provided for the research centres;
  • the document on internal regulations of the LERN GB – once it is ready – will require a ⅔ majority of the votes for some fundamental questions
  • In our opinion qualified majority (two thirds of the votes) should be required at least for the following major or strategic decisions:
  • electing the Chair of the Governing Board
  • establishing a new unit (centre or independent institute) as part of LERN
  • closing an existing unit (centre or independent institute) of LERN
  • distribution of core funding among the units (centres or independent institutes) of LERN
  • appointing the directors of the centres and independent institutes of LERN

 

 

Summary of the Situation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

THE SITUATION OF THE HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (MTA)

1. In 2018, the Hungarian Government decided to reorganise the entire sector of research, development and innovation in Hungary in order to improve Hungary’s innovation and competitiveness positions in the EU. However, the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (MIT), entitled to carry out this plan, introduced its arbitrary and permanently changing plan without proper reform-planning and the necessary consultations with those affected. At the end of a year-long struggle between the Government and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, on 2 July 2019 the Parliament adopted a Bill that deprives the independent Academy of its research network and places it under governmental control. This new law radically narrows the framework of independent scientific institutions in Hungary and violates academic freedom to various degrees.

2. In the summer of 2018, all of a sudden (leaving only 54 minutes for the Academy to comment) the annual financial support for the academic research network of the Academy was reallocated to the MIT without justification. From January 2019, the MIT decided to withhold the disbursement of subsidies covering material expenses of research centres for 2019, and threatened to withhold the salaries of employees (approximately 5,000 active staff members) in an effort to force the Presidium of the Academy to agree to the handover of its research network to the Government. The MIT refused to execute the provisions in force of the Act of Parliament on the 2019 budget of Hungary, and blackmailed the leadership of the Academy. As a result, the Academy lost financial control over its own budget (i.e. its financial autonomy), and became unable to make binding contracts for the whole year or longer (thus lost predictability and stability).

3. Meanwhile, a public shaming campaign was carried out by pro-government media outlets against many of the researchers and institutes of the Academy, criticizing their choice of research topics, and stigmatizing them as liberals and people acting on behalf of or in the interests of George Soros. These individualised attacks have a strong chilling effect not only on the affected individuals, but also on the Hungarian academic community as a whole, and may lead to self-censorship.

4. The Government and the Academy conducted negotiations that resulted in compromises on several issues. Nonetheless, the Government submitted a Bill to the Parliament that included none of those elements, and the Parliament passed the law on 2 July 2019, which entered into force on 1 August 2019, leaving no time to prepare for the changes. As a result, among others, the entire research network was separated from the Academy.

5. The new law renders the research network (named Loránd Eötvös Research Network, LERN) under a Governing Body that consists of 13 members, all of them appointed by the Prime Minister. Six members are nominated by the President of the Academy, six by the MIT. The President of the Body is appointed by the Prime Minister, following the joint nomination of the President of the Academy and the Minister. The Prime Minister has the right to appoint the President of the Governing Body if no agreement is reached between the Minister and the President of the Academy. This new structure puts the research network under direct political influence.

6. The new law obliges the Academy to provide the infrastructure (placement and necessary appliances) for the LERN without compensation, effectively expropriating its private property.

7. Employees of the Secretariat of LERN – who have previously been employed by the Academy – lost their public servant status and consequently the additional safeguards and guarantees the status entailed.

8. The entire procedure was accompanied by concerted attacks in the pro-government media. A recurring line of attack, echoed by the Government, was the inefficiency of research centres in securing funds or producing innovation. The Academy attempted to question the connection between alleged inefficiencies and institutional settings, and pointed out that Hungary, and the Academy especially, has been very successful in the region in securing third party (especially EU research) funding. The Government failed to provide any meaningful answer to this.

 


First published as part of the reaction paper Stating the Obvious – Rebutting the Hungarian Government’s response to the Reasoned Proposal in the Article 7 procedure against Hungary  (18 October 2019) written by Hungarian NGOs rebutting the Hungarian Government’s false or misleading statements and pointing out its lack of adequate reaction to EP concerns in the Article 7 procedure against Hungary. Available also here.

About the planned restructuring of the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

About the planned restructuring of the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Material compiled by principal investigators in the “Lendület” (Momentum) program for the Ministry for Innovation and Technology and decision-makers

Abstract

The principal investigators engaged in the “Lendület” program wish to contribute the observations summarized in the present report to facilitate the policy preparation process pertaining to the restructuring of both the research financing system and the innovation landscape in our country, as initiated by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ITM).

Main points of communication:
● We support the Government’s initiative to improve our country’s innovation potential.
● Unilateral schemes of restructuring which focus exclusively on a narrow conception of innovation threaten basic research in general, and especially research belonging to the humanities and the national culture of Hungary.
● Any solution can only be reasonably envisaged in cooperation and consultation with the scientific community, and with the leaders of the Academy, which serves as a body of representation to that community.
● In the current situation, measures designed to build trust are warranted; in connection to this, the Ministry’s concept of restructuring and the impact study therefore must be made public.
● The autonomy of scientific research and of the academic research network must be respected.
● The basic funding support guaranteed in the Finance Act, yet frozen by the Ministry, must be transferred to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) immediately and without conditions, and said support must continue to be guaranteed.
● A critical element to successful innovation is a currently lacking institutional system whose sole purpose would be precisely to facilitate a stronger interweave between academic research and industrial applications. To promote such a connection, it is desirable to establish a professional organizational unit (innovation
office) to match the preexisting structure of the academic research institutions.
● The identification of economic and societal priorities is an important instrument for increasing the societal impact of research, and one for which the current institutional forms are completely adequate.

The whole text of the report can be downloaded from here.

 

Some points of reference to help interpret the Declarations published by the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum (HASF)

The text of the 1st Declaration, 24 Jan 2019
The text of the 2nd Declaration, 7 Feb 2019

For background information, see here in the English menu.

The Hungarian Academy Staff Forum – HASF (Akadémiai Dolgozók Fóruma – ADF) brought resolutions on three issues:

  1. On the issue of the independence and autonomy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and research institutes, research centres, and budgetary entities belonging to the MTA from government, in accord with the terms of Act XL of 1994 on the Academy of Sciences, and in broader terms, on the issue of the separation of the sciences from political power;
  2. The issue of the core funding (block grant funding) of the research institutes, the research centres and the Academy, as well as the system of financing research (specifically the “Tématerületi Kiválósági Program” [Thematic-field Excellence Programme] announced by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology;
  3. The issue of ensuring the working conditions and employment rights of the researchers and administrative workers working in the institutional network of the research institutes, research centres, and budgetary entities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and on preserving the unity of MTA in the face of the organizational restructuring forced upon it through financial means.

Issue 1 should not be confused with the issue of the freedom of the researcher, which concerns whether researchers can continue their work in line with their own scientific conscience and independently of political influence when the core funding required for the research, as well as financial and infrastructural conditions are given. The autonomy and independence of science from political power is a precondition of the freedom of the researcher. Because it is first the core funding, the general system of financial and infrastructural conditions that determine whether researchers can work at all, and which researchers in which fields of science are ensured block grant funding and the financial and infrastructural conditions that are required to do that work. If the scientific community does not decide such questions according to its best knowledge, qualification and rating system, the situation arising could easily mean that the research subjects, questions and facts do not even arise, on the basis of which in the light of broader social needs it could be decided what fields may require exceptional support. If we do not ensure the core (block grant) funding for the measurement of temperatures and the basic research related to the average temperature of the earth, and interpretation of the “temperature” of the earth, we cannot decide about whether research into climate change is justified or not. Therefore the issue of the separation of science and political power is just as fundamental, as the separation of the church and political power. Since Giordano Bruno, Galileo, and the birth of the institutional systems of the modern sciences this independence has been a fundamental principle for international science. This fundamental principle rests, among others, on the historical experience that there isn’t, and has not been until now any guarantee that a political regime can bring a better decision in questions of basic research than the scientific community. Conversely, when political decisions were made on these questions independently of the positions of scientists, the consequences were catastrophic.

Issue 2 puts forward the Forum’s position on the concrete current attempt to introduce a new system for the financing of science. This system principally affects the whole research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, that is, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as it exists on the basis of Act XL of 1994. At the same time, however, it also affects the whole system of research financing in Hungary, and the role of the Academy within it. This financing regime first drew the whole annual budget of the MTA research network into the jurisdiction of the Ministry, and now intends to distribute it with the involvement of the government-founded institutional circle outside the purview of the Academy, according to its own supported “subject-field” quotas, preferences, and as yet unknown, but solely self-operated rating system. Rather than ensuring the funding of the relevant institutional circle, by this means it is funding the institutions of its own founding from the budget framework allocated to the MTA by the Academy Act, with its own chapter in the central budget, and approved by Parliament.

The MTA President protested against the withdrawal of these funds from the MTA leadership and the Academic bodies responsible for the tasks of the MTA being carried out, and the President did not sign the pertaining proposed legislation put before parliament.  The reallocation of fiscal resources took place last year, without indication that the signature was missing, and irrespective of the MTA position. Thereby MTA was put in a position where the budgetary funding of required tasks was withdrawn from those who were responsible for completing them. In 2019, MTA no longer received the costs of maintaining its research network, and even where the wages of MTA employees are concerned, the Ministry only promised to cover them until the decisions on the bids for its “Thematic-Field Excellence Programme” announced within the framework of the new financing system it wishes to introduce. This stands in conflict with the Academy Act currently in effect, and the Fundamental Law of Hungary.

Issue 3 addresses the situation of the research and administrative staff working in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences network of research institutes, research centres, and the institutional network of its budgetary entities, and specifically their contractual positions as civil servants, the conditions required for them to carry out their tasks, the interests of the workers, and the organizational framework of their work. These workers currently fall within the scope of Act XXXIII of 1992 on the legal position of public servants. Their employer is the Director-General, appointed by the MTA leadership, yet the Ministry dispenses with the budget allocation for their wages currently. So if the Ministry does not transfer the funds to the research centres and budgetary entities of the Academy, employees can only sue their employer, MTA, and their research centre, which raises issues of legality going beyond the Public Servants Act, and creates existential uncertainty. The intended system of financing with an annual decision about wage allocations, for a maximum of a three-year period contradicts a significant proportion of the current (indefinite-term or tenure-type) employment contracts. If introduced, it will affect the currently valid employment contracts to the detriment of the employees. At the same time it divests the employers of the conditions for them to practice their rights as employers, that is, it eliminates all possibility of self-determination for MTA in respect of how it signed and respects its research and administrative staff contracts.

In the following we present the grounds on which we have reached our positions on these issues:

1. The distribution of the wages of civil servants through funding bids violates the law (Act XXXIII of 1992 on the legal position of public servants),
as does

2. the distribution of the maintenance costs of the academic institutes in the manner planned by the Ministry. This is the case because the Budget Act stipulates an exclusive allocation of these funds, which the Ministry is required to disburse according to the terms of the Academy Act.

3. Provision of infrastructure and core (block grant) funding is independent of thematic research funding in every democratic state of the world. As property of MTA, the MTA research infrastructure is public property financed from public funds. Maintenance of these is to be ensured through the Academy Act and the Budget funding approved by Parliament.

4. The aim of thematic funding and subject field financing everywhere is to ensure the costs, in a given research area, arising beyond the core costs, and to ensure the involvement of those experts in the research who are not participating ex officio, or as employees paid from public funds, or those who undertake the work beyond the duties required in their position. This is the same as in the case of research conducted at the state maintained institutions financed by the American National Science Foundation, Max Planck Gesellshaft, or the Swedish Royal Academy.

5. Similarly, it is international scientific practice that the leading scientific institutions, along with many other institutions serving scientific excellence, the vanguard of scientific research like the MTA (as in the case of even the Fraunhoffer Gesellschaft cited by the Ministry, which supports applied, rather than core research) and adjudicate the distribution of resources intended for research subjects and themes according to their own criteria, procedures, and through their own supervisory bodies, ensuring the balanced development of each area of science.

6. A comparison of the stipulated conditions for funding, the themes of the calls, and the funds allocated to them with current public maintenance and wage costs lands many institutes in a position where even if the institutes of the Academy win the whole allocation available for their area, the funds would still only cover a fragment of the maintenance and wage costs, threatening their existence and the core research they conduct. Holding on to researchers becomes impossible, and dependent on the funding decisions of the Ministry.

7. Our position is that the only way to achieve government priorities in scientific policy is to ensure resources for thematic research over and above the core funding. Determination of the quotas and proportions of the funds distributed as core funding has always been the competency solely of MTA, even in the darkest of times, even when, in certain periods, party political considerations had a say along what lines the distribution was carried out.

8. Even if the MTA would enter a single, unified bid for the announced tender, this would change nothing with regards to decisions being based on quotas and neglecting professional considerations, the external pressure on academic institutions to restructure their internal organizations, and the practice of eliminating permanent positions depending on the theme of their research.

9. For the moment it is against the law to withhold the wages of civil servants while they perform their duties based on valid employment contracts, and so is making their payment dependent on considerations of funding distributions. Making the whole budget of scientific institutions dependent on allocations of thematic funding bids judged intermittently by the Ministry is an unequivocal and direct exertion of control on their subsistence, which results in the liquidation of the professional independence of scientific research and researcher existences.

10. It creates such insecurity that once it is established it would only increase outward migration and the number of career leavers even if the allocated funds would be increased. Whole research areas can fall victim to the politically directed decisions of the Ministry, in the making of which they do not even attempt to get a grasp of the professional issues, and do not consult with researchers of the concerned field.

11. The elimination of current research positions at MTA institutions is not possible without institutional restructuring on professional grounds, and employers in leading positions at MTA cannot undertake such an action based on funding quotas decided by the Ministry because this would lead to a complete lack of independence at the research institutes and in research.

12. The Ministry plans to redistribute the funds that it oversees after they were withdrawn from the MTA, by making the funds available in tenders for bids to other government institutions, the institutions of higher education that are already core financed, as well as any government foundation that meets the application criteria, though lacking a scientific tradition such as that of the MTA. It is thereby withdrawing the funds required by law for the maintenance of MTA and distributing it elsewhere.

13. A system of ranking applications in which the criteria of the decisions, the mode of evaluation of the applications is unknown, also raises legal concerns.

14. For this reason the system for financing the sciences that would be realized by the “Thematic-Field Excellence Programme” must be rejected on the grounds of principle, because once the selection cloaked in application criteria begins, this will break the funding down to institutions and individuals, and from then on can never be stopped. Sooner or later it will impact every institution and all concerned.

15. The attempt to introduce this procedure for the financing of the sciences is a precedent, its significance reaches far beyond Hungary, and ought to be brought to the attention of the international scientific world and Hungarian public opinion as if it were the Max Planck Gesellschaft, the French or Polish Academy of Sciences where we could see the government attempt to dominate scientific policy, and determine the fields of research and their theme through the withdrawal and redistribution of their operational budget. We are speaking about the introduction of a system that makes the financing of the institutions of science, researchers, and research subjects dependent as a whole on case-by-case decisions of the government. This is a further step along the road to the removal of the separation and independence of the branches of power that will threaten, if it becomes a practice, the international fundamental principles of modern science.

16. The Extraordinary MTA General Assembly held on 6 December 2018 brought a resolution with regard to the Ministry’s efforts. This resolution is in effect. Therefore a request ought to be addressed to every leader of the Academy, every member of the Academy, member of the Presidium, and employee, to respect the spirit of the resolution by rejecting the chance to participate in this application for funding.

17. Acceptance of this funding regime and participating in it would create a precedent, where the leadership of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and leaders of individual research institutes as employers, are not acting in line with the resolutions of the General Assembly.

18. It would divide the members of the Presidium, and instead of competing scientific problems and solutions, researchers would be pitted against each other on the basis of government thematic preferences.

19. Only standing by the obligations accepted in the resolutions brought by the Extraordinary MTA General Assembly on 18 December 2018 can bolster a position that offers a chance for a unified stance and unified action, while decreasing the possibility of division being sown among scientists in Hungary.

20. Only a few years ago the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was the most popular public institution in Hungary, which means that it enjoyed support across political lines. Maintaining and preserving this still prevalent assessment is a professional obligation of every scientific researcher of the Academy irrespective of their political views.

21. Therefore we submit that for reasons both of principle and legality, MTA and its academic institutes must not enter bids in the announced “Thematic-Field Excellence Programme”, with its conditions and applicant circle determined by the Ministry.

This sets a situation that clarifies that it is the Ministry’s legal responsibility to make provisions for the core funding of MTA from the resources it has drawn to itself, and that a structural and organizational reform of the scientific activity relying on this core funding is only possible in the way set out by the Resolution of the Extraordinary MTA General Assembly on 6 December 2018, grounded in professional considerations preserving the independence of scientific research.

Find the above text in pdf attached: