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  • People protest outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences against government plans to weaken the institution in Budapest, Hungary, February 12, 2019.

    People protest outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences against government plans to weaken the institution in Budapest, Hungary, February 12, 2019. | Photo: Reuters file

Published 13 February 2019

Hungarian scientists claim that the government’s new financing scheme involves removing funding from research institutes, forcing them to compete for funds for specific projects.

Hungarian academics took to the streets on Tuesday to protest the governments’ control over their research funding, concerned about a loss in academic freedom.

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Thousands of professors and researchers held hands forming a human chain around the headquarters of the Hungarian Academy of Scientists, which is at the center of the protests.

The Academy is in a place where it can help defend funding and therefore academic independence. For this reason, researchers are appealing to its president and famous mathematician László Lovász to fight back on the government’s intent to remove research institutes from the Academy’s supervision.

Hungarian scientists claim that the government’s new financing scheme involves removing funding from research institutes and forces them to compete for funds for specific projects. Moreover, they fear this will foist Prime Minister Victor Orban’s own political agenda over the project selection criteria.

Additional, the new rationale for funding scientific research would greatly diminish resources dedicated to the humanities and social sciences.

PM Orban defended the move alleging more action is needed to boost Hungary’s international innovation rankings. One big component of his strategy is to have public funds for research that yields “a direct economic profit,” he said.

Hungarian social scientist and history professor Andras Peter Szabo told the Index he believes the government’s latest attempt to sequester funding is leading to two negative effects on the Hungarian scientific community.

One of them is creating a hierarchy among disciplines which is leading to a negative type of competition among them, “I am afraid that my workplace, the Institute for History will draw the shortest straw in this cruel game of chance that turns researchers and disciplines against each other (...) The Research Center for the Humanities will only receive 20-30% of last years funding,” said Szabo.

The other is the lack of freedom for researchers to take the initiative to propose quality-oriented projects and the hand-picked selection of institute heads without merit-based considerations.

 “This way, the ministry can start building on the smoking ruins as soon as the dust settles, establishing a structure that caters to their tastes, selecting leaders not necessarily based on their professional merits,” said Szabo.

While this is taking place, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a recent visit to several Central European countries, Hungary included, in which he attacked Russia, China, and Iran under the banner of ‘democracy.’

The U.S. official alleged his government is focused on promoting liberal values in Central European countries like Hungary while helping them break ties with its Russian and Chinese foes.

Remarks made by top cabinet officials in Orban’s government indicate a desire to strengthen ties with the U.S., particularly the call to encourage ExxonMobil to develop a gas field in the Black Sea as a means to reduce dependence on Russia.

As part of its so-called campaign to promote democracy, the U.S. government has been active in generating accords to strengthen the military capabilities of Hungary and Slovakia by selling them F-16 fighter jets.

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