Aspects of and schedule for the 2019 audit of the academic research network

The audit of the academic research network started with an extremely tight schedule. The audit is led by committees made up of internationally-recognised experts, according to international standards. However, the budget of the Academy’s research network is still not available, which is causing growing insecurity and daily problems in the work of its research institutes.

On the initiative of the Hungarian Government, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has launched a comprehensive audit of its entire research network. The methodology and schedule of the audit procedure was determined by the Scientific Presidential Committee of the Research Network (KTEB) of scientists, established by the President of the Academy on 16 November 2018.

As before, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is still committed to devoting its potential and productivity to the creation and implementation of a new science policy. However, this aim can only be reached if the research network of the Academy is preserved.

Expectations and criteria for the audit

At their first meeting, KTEB, which is made up of seven delegates of the President of MTA and seven delegates of the Minister of Innovation and Technology (ITM), respectively, voted unanimously for a resolution on the audit expectations and criteria.

Audit expectations

  1. Basic task

The excellence level of the research groups engaged both in basic (exploratory) and applied research must be determined for each research group and research institute/centre, with the use of international standards in an independent and unbiased process.

  1. Meeting the Government’s expectations

The measures to be taken as a result of the audit should satisfy the lawful expectations of the Government. The process should provide a foundation for the institute’s research network to fit into a non-MTA-financed R&D environment, in a mutually advantageous, sustainable, predictable and measureable manner.

  1. Meeting the scientific community’s expectations

The audit process and the results must prove credible for both the Hungarian (Hungarian centres operating in Hungary or abroad) and international scientific communities.

  1. Meeting the strategic requirements of MTA

The audit should provide a firm basis for the executives and heads of institutes to draw conclusions and decide on the measures to be taken. The Academy’s own new R&D strategy must be determined based on these results. This strategy must fit into the national R&D strategy, provide the Academy’s indispensable support to it, and must take into consideration the individual aims and development of each institute, as well as the needs of and opportunities within each and every field of research and innovation area. The audit should make it possible for the Academy, if the aforementioned tasks go beyond the capability of MTA, to be able to present its needs to the Government and society in a credible and effective manner.

  1. Meeting the research institute leaders’ expectations

The audit should provide a basis for the measures to be taken by MTA as maintainer and by the leaders of the research institutes which are sensible, necessary and acceptable for the majority of the scientific community, partner universities and market players interested in innovation and which should be justified by the future results of the institute – including scientific results and operational efficiency – and, where applicable, intellectual property and its usage.

Audit criteria

  1. The scientific results of the institute or research group based on its publications and citation indices (compared to the international/V4/national standards of each field of science).
  2. Connections of the institute with market players and the utilisation of its results in the economy and other areas of society.
  3. The social services offered by the institute, its preservation of our national cultural heritage and its efforts in popularising science.
  4. The participation of the researchers of the institute in the national and international scientific world (organising of and participation in conferences, memberships or leading roles in scientific organisations, evaluation activities, et cetera) and success in obtaining grants.
  5. The participation of the researchers of the institute in higher education, with a special emphasis on PhD programmes.
  6. The composition of the institute’s personnel (researcher ages, researcher replacement and fluctuation, scientific qualifications).
  7. The structure and practice of the management of the institute.
  8. An assessment of the structure and effectiveness of research funding in the institute; the quality and utilisation rate of the research infrastructure.
  9. Other factors specific to the given institute (e.g. synergies, international and national scientific networks, collaborative efforts).

Methodology and schedule of audit

Concerning the audit methodology, two suggestions were made. For the first, the Academy suggested an evaluation and audit procedure with a strategic aim, conducted by European international organisations. The other suggestion was that the institutes of MTA would be assessed by the experts of the Extended External Advisory Boards (KTT) of the institutions. KTEB supported the latter suggestion, with the following conditions:

  • The audit should take into consideration the results of the professional audit for 2012–2017 and, where applicable, the results of audits conducted by international organisations in the past decade.
  • The evaluation committees should be composed of the members of KTT and people suggested by the KTEB members delegated by ITM.
  • The audit should be done at the level of individual research units (i.e. research groups or departments, or in the absence of these, individual researchers).

According to the 16 November 2018 KTEB resolution, the audit process should be completed by 31 March 2019.

MTA regards this deadline as too short, but the results of the audit process that ended in 2017 are also available for recently nominated experts. The experts of the External Advisory Boards have always played a crucial role in previous evaluation processes. The evaluation committees are to receive the expert inspection reports on the scientific work and strategy of the research network of the Academy between 2010 and 2015. They will also be provided with the objective statistical data of each research unit for the period since the latest audit. The earlier resolutions of the External Advisory Boards can also aid the international audit.

In addition, international audits have taken place in several research institutes over the past decade: In the MTA Institute of Experimental Medicine (KOKI) by the International Brain Research Organisation (IBRO); in the MTA Biological Research Centre, Szeged (SZBK) by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBO); in the MTA Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (CSFK) by the European Space Agency (ESA); and in the MTA Research Centre for Natural Sciences by IFUA Horváth & Partners.

Besides these, the research network has been audited by Hungarian authorities including the State Audit Office of Hungary (ÁSZ), the Ministry of Finance (NGM), the National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV), the National Food Chain Safety Office (NÉBIH), the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (OAH), the Hungarian State Treasury (MÁK), and the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (NKFIH).

According to the schedule approved of by KTEB, the members of the evaluation committees will get the evaluation and report sheets as well as the scientific and financial reports of each research site for 2016 and 2017 which were adopted by the General Assembly of MTA. Furthermore, analyses showing the publication data of MTA research sites in an international context will also be made available to the committees.

Evaluation committees are to submit their reports to KTEB by 14 March 2019. KTEB is to make suggestions concerning the further work of each research institute by 22 March 2019. The Presidium of MTA (the main legislative body of MTA between two General Assemblies) will also weigh in concerning these reports.

Financial problems getting serious

Although the audit was started, the budget for the operation of the research network has not been available since 1 January 2019.

As early as 16 November 2018, KTEB unanimously suggested that the Minister of ITM make the budget for the first quarter of 2019 available to the institutes with respect to the ongoing audit process. The General Assembly, which is the main legislative body of MTA, also passed a resolution with a similar suggestion, which was backed by approximately 90% of its members (75% of whom are researchers at universities). On 6 December 2018, the 190th Extraordinary General Assembly of MTA passed two resolutions concerning funding. The main legislative body of the Academy warned that “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 audit of the extended External Advisory Boards (KTT) should be guaranteed. Structural changes to the research network are only acceptable to MTA if scientific analysis proves that the restructuring serves the interests of the entire Hungarian scientific community.”

The other resolution states that “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 release the budget of the research network for the first quarter of 2019 in compliance with the deadlines prescribed by applicable legislation and make it fully available to the academic research network.”

After the General Assembly, László Lovász, President of MTA, sent a letter to László Palkovics, Minister of ITM, repeating the same request. The experts of the Secretariat of MTA have written several letters to their competent partners in ministries. They repeatedly and emphatically called the attention of decision-makers to the fact that the independent research institutes of the Academy do not have the available resources to make up for the missing budget.

If the Minister responsible for scientific policy does not ensure the provision of the resources set forth by the Law on MTA or if their availability is conditional, the legal basis for the application of these restrictions should be revealed. The delay based on this arbitrary decision harms the management of the academic research sites. Additionally, there is no information on the other projects that the budget for the management of academic research sites, consolidated in the budget of ITM, is to be spent on.

The delay in funding fundamentally changes the sound management of the research centres and independent research institutes. With a lack of documents regarding public commitment, no personal or operational payments can be initiated from the basic budget. This includes the admittance of researchers, the purchase of research materials, the maintenance of research infrastructure, and the stopping of ongoing projects. In the absence of basic support, the Momentum (Lendület) Program is also threatened, which aims at calling the most excellent Hungarian scientists back to Hungary and keeping them here. Furthermore, the institutes of the Academy should be able to use grants from the European Union in a legal manner, in accordance with their original aims.

The Academy offers its cooperation for the renewal of scientific policy. It is still expecting the participation of ITM delegates in the audit committees, which have started their work and undertaken the task of providing results and reports at short notice.