May 28, 2019 / 10:50 AM / a month ago

Defying scientists, Hungary will overhaul academic network, website reports

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary is preparing legislation to strip the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its research network, giving the government more control over scientific activity, the news website index.hu reported on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: People raise red cards to protest against government's plans to overhaul the Hungarian Academy of Sciences outside the Ministry for Innovation and Technology in Budapest, Hungary, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo

Hungary’s oldest and largest academic institution, the Hungarian Academy (HAS) is solely funded by the government but self-managing, with a network of scientific research bodies employing about 5,000 people.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing leader, has tightened control over the country’s courts, media, economy, education and now scientific research. His aggrandizing measures have triggered criticism from the European Union.

A months-long tussle between Orban’s government and academics resisting the reforms is moving towards its final stages with the impending submission of a bill to parliament in the coming weeks, index.hu said citing the draft legislation.

No one from the government was immediately available for comment.

The overhaul, which Budapest said was needed to reap more economic benefits as Hungary tries to shift towards more innovative industries, has triggered protests from civil groups and academics.

A resolution passed by the Academy earlier this month said it disagreed with what it called the “political motivation for the arbitrary restructuring of the institutional network”.

The academy, which carries out scientific research using a network of specialized research institutions, receives 40 billion forints ($137.27 million) a year from the government.

Index said the government proposal would move all the research units into a new public institution with a 13-member governing board comprising six government and six academy delegates. Orban would appoint the chairman based on a joint proposal by the board.

That would go against calls by scientists for only a third of board members to be picked by the government.

Index also said a new National Scientific Policy Council chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics, the architect of the academic overhaul, would make the proposals for main areas of research to be funded.

The legislation would force the academy to hand over the buildings and assets of its research institutions to the new state-run organization, the report said.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, editing by Larry King

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