The Hungarian Academy Staff Forum (MTAF in English, ADF in Hungarian) is a civil initiative of the researchers from the former research institute network at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA), which employs approximately 5000 researchers and administrative staff, making it the largest research network in Hungary. While MTAF formed as an informal network in 2019, it formalized its activity in 2020 by founding an association.
About MTA and its research network
The history of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences started with a full-year income donation of a Hungarian nobleman, István Széchenyi in 1825. While the original mission statement of MTA declared the “enrichment of the Hungarian language”, MTA slightly opened its door for scientists coming from all fields. This was accomplished in the middle of the 20th century when the already existing research institute network was widened significantly by extensive governmental intervention.
After 1990 (i.e., the time of the decline of the soviet system in Eastern Europe), MTA became a so-called public body. The registration in the public body is open for every Hungarian citizen with a scientific degree (PhD), while new members of MTA are elected by members already appointed. MTA kept operating and coordinating the research institute network and reorganised it in 2012, by forming larger research centres. The major source of income of MTA remained the national budget within the frame of which MTA had the right to create its own budget.
Governmental interventions to the research network from 2018
MTA and intellectuals in general have always been exposed to attempts of political interventions. This was the situation in 2005 when MTA successfully defended itself from the economic minister of the government at that time. From 2010, scientists (in particular, philosophers and other human scientists) were aimed at by the near-government press with “revolver articles”, even by listing scientists on the basis of their assumed political view. The direct governmental intervention started in June 2018 when the State Secretary allowed only 54 minutes to the president of MTA to comment a bill-proposal that fundamentally reorganised the financial pattern of the Hungarian scientific research network. From this time, the leadership of MTA attempted to negotiate with the government but the process proved to be totally inconclusive. At the end, the government submitted the bill unilaterally.
Control by keeping the hand on the wallett matter?
Although the constitution (called “fundamental law” since 2012) declares the autonomy of science, the current government intended to control the scientific and research sector. With such an aim, it rechannelled the financial resource of the research network from the budget of MTA to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. This change in the financing pattern deprived MTA from disposing the basic allowance of the research network by its own internal consent and jeopardized the survival of research fields that dealt with “politically sensitive” issues such as history, law, democracy, sociology, gender issues etc.
In accord with the government’s initiative, a preliminary administrative control was tried to be established through a “program of excellence” that was meant to make the fundamental funding of the whole network based on its success in a newly established research framework program, reviewed by the Ministry. Finally, the President of MTA boycotted the process by not submitting the proposals prepared for this program.
Formation of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum
Many researchers in the academic institutes recognised that the government’s pursuit to remodel the financing of the academic network would be potentially disastrous on the freedom of science and may lead to both unwanted self-restriction and a striving for compliance to the maintenance bodies based on non-scientific principles. For this reason, an assembly of academic employees held on 24th January 2019 composed a statement on the claims related to the autonomy of science, status of the employees, financial modalities and conditions of scientific research in a wide social context. This was the birth of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum.
An unwanted divorce: Separation of the research network from MTA
In the first half of 2019, the failure of the implementation of the “excellence program” led the government to apply a new route to take over the control on the research network. As the government’s preference, it was communicated that the research network should run under a closer administrative control. Although a number of meetings were held with the participation of the representatives of the government and leaders of MTA, no real discussion could be performed, and even the tiny alleviations of the opposition were fully abandoned by the government later. This took place when the bill was submitted to establish a new supreme organization, the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), to coordinate the former academic institutes. Despite the rejection of this by the MTA Assembly, the bill was enacted on 2nd July 2019 and ELKH formally took over the institute network from September 2019. The financial conflict due to the uncompensated use of the academic property is yet to solve. MTA submitted a claim to the constitutional court, which is still pending.
Employment status – in the research network and in many other institutions
While the first year of the operation of ELKH passed with an apparent passivity of this new supervision body, some money injection took place into the research network in late 2020. This included a temporary wage compensation and an allowance for procurements. At the same time, it was raised that the public employment status would be discontinued in the research centres (similar measures were already implemented for other sectors of education, research, culture and the health system, too). The related bill was submitted to the parliament on a “last-minute basis”; hence, only the legally possible absolute minimum period of 1 month remained for the institutes to arrange all discussion and paperwork with the employees. Finally, the majority of the employees accepted the new contract offered. Worker unions, associations and political analysts considered this status change unnecessary, the problems that were claimed to justify the change could have been solved by various other means.
Mission statement and activity of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum
In accord with the statutes of HASF, the members want to promote the freedom of science and education, guard over the autonomy of science in general and that of scientific institutions, and respect the freedom of scientific communication without any political bias. HASF intends to be an organization that preserves the integrity of scientific life in Hungary in line with the traditions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. As a broader concept, HASF keeps an eye on actual issues of cultural politics and comments plans and decisions related to the freedom of culture, art, education and science.
As a part of this activity, HASF organized or took part at various events:
– Roundtable discussions on the regulation of various fields of art (theatres, collections of fine arts, literature and their budgetary support) and the similarity of their situation to that of scientific institutions (first anniversary event of HASF);
– Solidarity with the Hungarian Natural History Museum against the governmental initiative to move to the museum from Budapest to the countryside;
– Solidarity with the University of Theatre and Film Arts Budapest due to its highly unwanted reorganization initiated by the government, and with other actors of higher education, a sector that is being largely privatized in the last 1-2 years.
HASF organized various polls among the employees of the Hungarian academic sector in order to assess and communicate their opinion.
The Hungarian Academy Staff Forum would like to network with fellow organizations around the globe. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org