British Academy issues warning over Hungary research funding

UK social science body attacks plans to exert more state control over research topics

July 17, 2018
Hungary, flag, Hungarian

Hungary’s plans to change how it funds social science research would compromise academic freedom and threaten the quality of work done, the British Academy has claimed.

The UK organisation is the latest leading social sciences body to voice its concerns about a proposed amendment to a law on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences that would put the newly formed Ministry for Innovation and Technology in charge of decisions over which research topics may be funded.

Signed by Ash Amin and Richard Catlow, vice-presidents at the British Academy, the open letter states that the UK body is “concerned the proposed changes would compromise the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ academic freedom and independence”.

The authors add that the “proposed changes will reduce the ability of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to set research agendas based on research excellence criteria and to support fundamental research”. They go on to demand that the Hungarian government “withdraw the proposed changes and instead [act] to strengthen the role of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as an invaluable international partner”.

The call follows a similar condemnation by the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (Allea), which argued that “the reputation of Hungary and Hungarian science abroad would be unnecessarily tarnished” if the changes went ahead.

The proposed amendments have been criticised as another example of the growing state control being exerted by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who won a fourth term of office in April.

The bill, which was announced in June, came shortly after an article in the pro-government magazine Figyelo titled “Immigration, homosexual rights and gender science – these topics occupy the researchers of the academy”.

The Figyelo article claimed that the research topics of the academy’s Centre for Social Sciences were politically suspicious and suggested that the government should have a “greater insight” into the academy’s work.

It also listed a number of scientists at the Centre for Social Sciences who study gender, migration, ethnic minorities and gay rights policies.

Ministers have claimed that the proposed law would allow a more efficient use of state funds through enhanced coordination with its science research funding body.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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