An immediate agreement and clear policy is demanded from ITM by MTA

The General Assembly stood up for the freedom of science, the independence of the Academy, the values represented by the Academy, and the preservation of the MTA’s research network. The main decision-making body of the Academy also spoke up for its president: the most important resolutions were passed with approximately 90 percent support. The members declared their unconditional support for the president and requested that the Minister of Innovation and Technology put the full budget of the research network for the first quarter of 2019 at the Academy’s disposal.

Let us start our report on the 190th extraordinary General Assembly of the MTA in an unusual manner, with President László Lovász’s closing remarks.

Hungarian science might suffer irreversible damage

“In every field of science, openness towards other researchers and learning about and understanding each other’s thoughts often help to resolve an impasse in a debate. This was one of the objectives of this extraordinary General Assembly,” said Mr Lovász, in his closing speech. He expressed his gratitude to the General Assembly for declaring their views on the Academy’s future, and he summarised the most urgent tasks of the future.

László Lovász and the leaders of the Academy in the Ceremonial Hall credit:ás Szigeti

“First of all, in my judgment the agreement between the Academy and the ITM cannot be delayed further. Although I do not want to dramatise the situation, if we do not sign an agreement, the Hungarian scientific community will suffer irreversible damage. Unpredictability will make the most talented and excellent young scientists leave the country.”

Mr Lovász confirmed that the MTA is ready to provide all means of support for strengthening the RDI sector in Hungary. To enhance this process, the Academy is ready to have its research network audited by experts according to international standards. “Based on the results of this audit, we are ready to make the necessary structural changes,” he said.

At the same time Lovász made it clear that structural changes cannot lead to the breaking up of the research network. Such a step would serve neither the interest of the Hungarian scientific community nor Hungary. Instead, strong contacts and cooperation between all players are required in order to develop exploratory and applied research and innovation in Hungary.

The President’s report

“The Academy is in a very difficult situation. And this situation does not end with the current General Assembly,” said Lovász, to begin his speech, which summarised the debate between the MTA and the ITM over the past six months. He recalled that on 12 June 2018, while the Governing Board was having its meeting, an e-mail arrived at the Secretariat of the Academy. In this e-mail, the ITM requested that the Academy revise the draft for the modification of Act XL of 1994 on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The deadline was 54 minutes. This modification made it possible for the Parliament to redirect 28 billion HUF of the 40 billion HUF budget of the Academy (out of which 20 billion HUF covers the wages and operating costs) to the Ministry of Innovation and Technology. “This step separated the public task of operating scientific research centres from the financial resources,” added Lovász, at the General Assembly, which he called juridical nonsense. He also mentioned various hostile statements, containing distorted facts that labelled the MTA as a “nest for leftist liberals”. “Attacking the Academy has become chic,” said Lovász, who also confirmed that it is not only the right but also the obligation of the Academy to publish its scientific results concerning policies.

Committee of 7+7 members, the audit of the research network, and the 2019 budget

The MTA and the ITM agreed earlier that the MTA would audit its research network. The resolutions, passed unanimously by the Scientific Presidential Committee of the Research Network (KTEB), were presented to the General Assembly. The Committee was set up with an equal number of MTA and ITM members as requested by the Academy’s President and the Minister of the ITM. At their first meeting on 16 November 2018, the Committee suggested that the results of the 2016 audit of the MTA’s research network as well as the results of the audits made by international organisations in the past 10 years at certain institutes should also be taken into consideration.

160th Extraordinary General Assembly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences credit:ás Szigeti

The Committee also suggested that the audit boards include members from the outer advisory boards of institutes and members suggested by those members of KTEB who had been appointed by the Minister of the ITM, and that the audit be done at the level of individual research units, such as research groups and departments or, lacking these, individual researchers. The Committee agreed that the audit process should be finished by 31 March 2019.

The Committee suggested that the Minister of the ITM make the budget of academic research institutes for the first quarter of 2019 fully available with respect to the audit process described above.

The resolutions passed by the Scientific Presidential Committee of the Research Network (KTEB) on 16 November 2018 and the list of Committee members are available on this page.

László Palkovics’s letter

Minister László Palkovics was also invited to the extraordinary General Assembly; however, at the last moment he decided to excuse himself did not take part. Instead, he sent a letter to his fellow academicians, which was read out by Vice-President Lajos Vékás, the Chair of the General Assembly.

Lajos Vékás, Vice President of the Academy credit:ás Szigeti

In his letter Mr Palkovics highlighted that they had been working on the survey of the Hungarian RDI sector and the proposals for its restructuring since the beginning of summer. In his opinion, however, the documents presented to the General Assembly “are not at all relevant to the matter at hand”. The letter goes on to say, that the debate between the MTA and the ITM has no relevance to the public body of the MTA; it is solely about the structure and financing of the Hungarian RDI system. Finally, he indicated to the researchers that “the Government guarantees the salaries for the workers in research institutes until the new structure and financing model is started.”

The letter was also distributed to the participants of the press conference held by the Minister at 11:00 a.m. on the same day as the General Assembly.

Strategic policy

László Lovász spoke about one of the most important results of the negotiations between the Academy and ITM the strategic policy the MTA prepared regarding the reconstruction of the Hungarian innovation system based on a draft proposal provided by the ITM. The document was prepared with the collaboration of the scientific departments and research institutes of the MTA.

The President highlighted that without a complex survey of the Hungarian RDI sector, the restructuring of the Academy is not well-founded. Restructuring is only reasonable if this results in significant advantages for the Hungarian research community and the country, which can be proved by careful analysis and good examples. Basic (exploratory) research is an internationally competitive element of the RDI chain, in which the MTA plays an important role. “We must build on this, and we should not destroy it,” said Lovász, who drew a parallel with football. If a team is favourite to win the European Championship, it should be kept together and its players should not be distributed among other teams.

(from left to right) deputy secretary general Beáta Barnabás, vice-president József Bokor, secretary general Ádám Török, vice-president Tamás Freund and president László Lovász, credit:ás Szigeti

According to the President of the Academy, each research centre must complete three basic tasks: (i) exploratory research; (ii) applied research; and (iii) public services. Examples for the latter tasks include the monitoring of the water quality of Lake Balaton or the researchers’ teaching activities at universities. These tasks are connected via the common scientific field, in which both the distribution of tasks and cooperation are realised. Existing infrastructural and human capacities can be involved in the innovation process in only this way.

Mr Lovász referred to the Austrian example, regarding the creation of a new “Institute for Advanced Study” as possible in order to ensure that Hungary could intensively take part in global cutting-edge research and to coordinate and guide research at universities or research institutes based on international trends and objectives.

The document entitled MTA’s strategic proposal for the revision of the Hungarian innovation system bearing in mind ITM’s preliminary proposal is available here in Hungarian.


Several scientists expressed their concern about the attacks on the Academy. One of them, an academician, proposed that the General Assembly pass a resolution stating that the agenda of a General Assembly cannot be determined by a minister. Furthermore, he found it unacceptable that the General Assembly’s consent is requested for a policy which has not even been presented to them, owing to the absence of the Minister. In reaction to László Palkovics’s letter, several members proposed that the General Assembly entitle the Presidium to answer the Minister’s letter and refute his claims one by one. One speaker suggested that the Minister’s letter is misconstrued in the first palce, as it does not define which policy the Academy does not react to.

József Pálinkás (left) and Szilveszter E. Vizi credit:ás Szigeti

One of the former presidents of the Academy proposed that a resolution be passed for the unconditional support of László Lovász. The contributors also mentioned that Hungary has been awarded more ERC grants than Czech, Polish and Slovak researchers combined, and that the research network of the MTA plays a crucial role in this respect.

Resolutions of the General Assembly

Several resolutions concerning the future of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and its research network were passed with approximately 90 percent support from the General Assembly.

Firstly, Szilveszter E. Vizi, former President of the Academy, suggested that the Academy’s General Assembly acknowledge and thank László Lovász for his efforts to save the integrity of the Academy and the research network. He also provided his full support to the president.

Below, the draft resolutions presented to the General Assembly by the Presidium of the MTA together with the results are provided.

Resolution 10/2018. (XII. 6) of the General Assembly

“Long term predictability and guarantees are essential conditions for successful scientific research. Thus, the General Assembly requires that the basic support of research centres that are approved through the auditing of the extended outer advisory bodies (KTT) should be guaranteed.

Structural changes to the research network are only acceptable to MTA if scientific analysis proves that the restructuring serves the interest of the entire Hungarian scientific community.”

Resolution 11/2018. (XII. 6) of the General Assembly

“The General assembly accepts the report on the work of the Scientific Presidential Committee of the Research Network (KTEB) and supports the resolutions of the Committee. The General Assembly requests that the Minister of ITM open the budget of the research network for the first quarter of 2019 to comply with the deadlines prescribed by applicable legislation and make it fully available to the academic research network.”

The resolutions passed by the Scientific Presidential Committee of the Research Network (KTEB) on 16 November 2018 and the list of Committee members are available on this page.

Resolution 12/2018. (XII. 6) of the General Assembly

“The document entitled MTA’s strategic proposal for the revision of the Hungarian innovation system bearing in mind ITM’s preliminary proposal was presented to the General Assembly. The General Assembly accepts this proposal. The General Assembly requests that the selected leaders of MTA, in line with this proposal, should continue negotiations with the members of the Government. The General Assembly requests the Presidium to support the negotiations with their resolutions.”

Finally, the General Assembly requested the Presidium of MTA to send a detailed reply to Minister László Palkovics to answer to his letter which was sent to his fellow academicians, which was read out at the 190th extraordinary General Assembly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

“I did not become president of the Academy to assist in its dissolution”

In his closing speech, President László Lovász told the General Assembly that reporters and colleagues had often asked him in the past months why he did not resign. Lovász quoted the questions: “How can you tolerate this style of communication? Where are your principles?” He in turn said that the style used does not define the people whom it is used against but vice versa. Concerning the latest steps of the Academy, he said: “We only did the things that we could do with our heads held high.”

He also added that he had not become the President of the Academy to help break it apart, for example, with his resignation. As long as he can see a minimal chance for a sensible agreement which serves both the MTA and the Hungarian scientific community, he will stay on as President until the end of the term for which he had been elected by the Academicians’ Assembly.

Lovász said that if he was unable to protect the integrity of the research network and the invaluable research going on there, it would be a failure. Then the only remaining choice would be to resign.

“But I am not preparing for that. As long as I can see a chance for agreement, a chance for clarifying misunderstandings and settling debates, I will work on this with all my might,” he said. In the end, he quoted the thoughts of the founder of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, István Széchenyi: “Many people think Hungary used to exist; I would love to believe Hungary will exist!” Mr Lovász added that he thinks the same thing about the Academy and its research network.

President Lovász during the press conference credit:ás Szigeti

Mr Lovász held a press conference after the extraordinary General Assembly. Below is a summary of the information presented there:

  • The General Assembly demands that the research groups that have passed the audit process receive the resources for their basic costs for the long term, without applying for grants every few years.
  • The Minister wishes to hold back the sum for material expenses for the first quarter of 2019 (i.e., approximately half of the MTA’s budget) saying that “otherwise the Academy would do nothing”. Mr Lovász declared this step disparaging to both the Academy and the Government.
  • Mr Lovász reported that there had been a meeting between the Academy and the ITM on Monday, 3 December 2018. The Academy was represented by Vice-President Lajos Vékás; Minister László Palkovics represented the ITM on behalf of the Scientific Presidential Committee of the Research Network (KTEB); academician Miklós Maróth also took part in the meeting. One of the main topics on the agenda was the quarterly financing of the Academy. Mr Palkovics claimed that the Academy can finance material expenses legally out of its own resources; however, experts of the Academy informed Mr Lovász that this “redirection of money is legally impossible”.
  • On Tuesday afternoon, László Palkovics sent the minutes of the Monday meeting to the President of the Academy. The report claimed that the financing question was settled. However, Mr Lovász claims no agreement was reached on this topic. The President informed the Minister about this on Wednesday evening.
  • “We are still hoping to convince the Government not to use this form of pressure on us,” said Mr Lovász, about the Minister’s intention to hold back the resources for material expenses for the first quarter of 2019.
  • In the President’s opinion, the MTA and the ITM define ‘basic financing’ differently. In the Academy’s opinion, basic financing is crucial for the existence of a research institute, and the electricity bill cannot be paid from grants – resources to cover material expenses should be guaranteed as long as a grant is running.

Please click here to see our gallery of the extraordinary General Assembly.