The principal investigators engaged in the “Lendület” program wish to contribute the observations summarized in the present report to facilitate the policy preparation process pertaining to the restructuring of both the research financing system and the innovation landscape in our country, as initiated by the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (ITM).
Material compiled by principal investigators in the “Lendület” program for the Ministry for Innovation and Technology and decision-makers
Main points of communication:
- We support the Government’s initiative to improve our country’s innovation potential.
- Unilateral schemes of restructuring which focus exclusively on a narrow conception of innovation threaten basic research in general, and especially research belonging to the humanities and the national culture of Hungary.
- Any solution can only be reasonably envisaged in cooperation and consultation with the scientific community, and with the leaders of the Academy, which serves as a body of representation to that community.
- In the current situation, measures designed to build trust are warranted; in connection to this, the Ministry’s concept of restructuring and the impact study therefore must be made public.
- The autonomy of scientific research and of the academic research network must be respected.
- The basic funding support guaranteed in the Finance Act, yet frozen by the Ministry, must be transferred to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) immediately and without conditions, and said support must continue to be guaranteed.
- A critical element to successful innovation is a currently lacking institutional system whose sole purpose would be precisely to facilitate a stronger interweave between academic research and industrial applications. To promote such a connection, it is desirable to establish a professional organizational unit (innovation office) to match the preexisting structure of the academic research institutions.
- The identification of economic and societal priorities is an important instrument for increasing the societal impact of research, and one for which the current institutional forms are completely adequate.
- An amendment of the 2019 Finance Act transferred a significant portion of the support originally due to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, hereinafter referred to as MTA or Academy) to the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (Innovációs és Technológiai Minisztérium, hereinafter referred to as ITM or Ministry). The vast majority of the amount is the basic funding support for the MTA research network, which covers the salary costs of permanent staff and material costs (utilities).
- The leaders of the MTA called the unilateral measures taken by the Ministry unacceptable; the unprepared and professionally unfounded propositions based on those measures – in effect never consulted with the MTA – received no support from either the leaders or the general assembly of the MTA.
- The Ministry interpreted this rejection – incorrectly – in a political context, and responded accordingly: it has not transferred the amount for support of material costs to the research institutes since early January 2019; in other words, it diverted the resources from the institutions which would have covered, among other things, the costs of utilities, (it continues to fund salary costs). By those measures, the Ministry has put the network of institutions in an impossible situation, namely, that currently ongoing projects have been halted because several research projects necessitate expenses that are ineligible for any other source of funding (including grants).
- At the same time, the ITM initiated an audit of performance involving all the MTA research institutions, even though the MTA performs detailed annual reviews, broken down to the research group level, about the performance of its entire research network. The results of those reviews are available and accessible to the government. The audit is ongoing as of the writing of this report.
- Despite the latter, even prior to the announcement of the audit, and certainly prior to its conclusion, there was mention on behalf of the Ministry of the closure or radical reorganization of certain – mainly social sciences – institutes.
- Before the deadline of the audit, and without prior consultation, via the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (Nemzeti Kutatási, Fejlesztési és Innovációs Hivatal, hereinafter referred to as NKFIH) the ITM opened the call for the “Thematic Area Excellence Program” (Tématerületi Kiválósági Program), which includes the basic funding resources of the MTA research network for the year 2019. The proposal would distribute the research institutes’ basic funding based on few-page-long claims; moreover, it would make institutions which are 1) not part of the research network, and 2) already receiving basic funding from other resources, eligible to apply for this funding.
- The total budget earmarked for the four areas in the call for the “Thematic Area Excellence Program” is inconsistent with previous amounts for support – primarily at the expense of humanities and social sciences. The call allocates approximately three quarters of their previous funding to the latter areas. In addition, universities and other research institutes will now be eligible to apply for this funding, which is in itself tantamount to diverting significant resources away and to the dissolution of research workshops.
Analysis of the situation
- Basic funding is a prerequisite for the basic operation of all institutional networks (be it domestic or international). Without the stable and long-term provision of a research infrastructure, the delivery of research projects is not feasible, which in turn leads to the outward migration of highly skilled experts. International (EU, USA) funding bodies require a statement from the host institution in all cases to the effect that they can guarantee the provision of the necessary framework and conditions for the entire duration of grants (and often for many years to follow). In the case of ongoing grants, the cessation of stable basic funding violates contractual commitments, and may lead to the termination of funding for the project.
- The leaders of the MTA, in complete agreement with the Hungarian scientific community – including the principal investigators of the “Lendület” scheme, reject the notion of distributing basic funding in a grant scheme. The reason for that is that such a restructuring of research financing is professionally unfounded, it is unprecedented anywhere in the world.
- Of the 1400 billion HUF budget of the ITM, the section named “Support for the MTA research institutes and research locales” represents 20 billion HUF, only a minor part of which are the material costs that have been held back. Consequently, this measure can only be interpreted as one intended to exert pressure, while it is already causing serious – in many areas irreversible – damage.
- The MTA research network has recently (2009-2012) been thoroughly restructured. In the wake of the new Academic Act, which passed into law in 2009, the governance structure has changed, with the government gaining representation in the Council of Academic Research Institutions (Akadémiai Kutatóintézetek Tanácsa, AKT). Subsequently, the research network underwent a thorough review and reorganization. For the relocation of new research centers thus created, the government provided additional resources above the normal budget. According to the new law, chief directors and directors are appointed in a tender procedure, compliant with EU recommendations.
- The other main engine driving the revitalization of the research network for the past ten years has been the “Lendület” program by which new research groups are born via a grant scheme with a selection process based on excellence and socio-economic benefit. The goal of the “Lendület” program is a rejuvenation of the institutional research portfolio, with a primary focus on excellence, and has already included a component aimed at stimulating innovation, in the form of “Targeted Lendület” grants.
- Basic funding includes the continued funding of the so-called incorporated “Lendület” groups. (Even short-term) withdrawal of incorporated “Lendület” financing, and such drastic changes to its conditions, threatens to erase the very results of the program – a process which has already started due to the emigration of group-leaders, who had been tenured based on excellence.
- The Ministry’s communication focuses solely on innovation, with an interpretation which is in many ways unilateral and debatable. At the same time, it is suggesting that humanities play a secondary role in the development of the nation since they are ineffectual for producing innovation.
- Innovation frequently relies on several areas of basic research, often even those that do not directly appear in the process of innovation but nevertheless serve as in indispensable prerequisite to it. That is also why it would be a mistake further to narrow basic research in Hungary to a few focal areas. In many cases, it is the humanities that fall victim to such measures, even though several processes of innovation rely on them (e.g. linguistics – artificial intelligence, social sciences – target public of innovation, assessment of social needs).
- Government statements seem to imply there have not been sufficient means for the government to act as a customer representing tax-payers in “ordering” certain deliverables of research, or to identify priorities. The government has, on the contrary, had the opportunity to do so via the NFKIH grant calls, by programs supported by government resolutions, in the framework of project funding – and the government has indeed taken that opportunity. That is how the National Brain Research Program, the National Quantum Technology Program, the National Program for Artificial Intelligence and the Árpád Dynasty Program have been initiated – among others. In this connection, it is worth recalling that the ITM oversees a budget of 1400 billion HUF, of which the part diverted away from the MTA chapter represents just 2%.
- The Ministry’s restructuring concept is unknown to the researchers. The information and ideas that have become public are not coherent and cannot be understood in a professional framework; the plans seem to contradict the process needed to realize the long-term goals continually expressed by the Ministry, i.e. strengthening innovation in Hungary. As a consequence, the scientific community’s trust in the Ministry has been shaken.
- Any restructuring can only be reasonably envisaged in consultation with leaders of the MTA, and with the consent of its General Assembly. Regarding the direction of basic research, anything but scientific control is strictly unacceptable, and all control must act while retaining academic freedom. Resources must be awarded by professional bodies.
- The scientific-professional autonomy of the network must be respected, and the majority leadership must under all circumstances come from the scientific or research field. Following the well-functioning foreign examples (e.g. the Max Planck Society or CNRS), the weight of government representation cannot be a majority, it should be maximized at 20%. We note here that the government’s representatives are already present in the Council of Academic Research Institutions, which oversees the research network: the government is entitled to delegate 3 persons to the council of 15 seats.
- As is supported by all international examples, innovation is a task which should be undertaken primarily not by the research community but by corporations and business. In Hungary, however, there is a lack of corporations able to undertake an active role in the chain of innovation, and there is indeed a lack of free capital.
- The research and publication indicators of the Academy’s institutions is outstanding in a regional comparison, and they are in line with international standards; reaching our innovation goals is not a question of transforming the research network.
- The research network can contribute more effectively to innovation only if the government provides the prerequisites to that contribution. Building on international best practices (e.g. Max Planck Innovation Office) for the purpose of patenting results of basic research and creating spin-off companies, provisions need to be made for the institutional background, which could provide professional legal and administrative aid to the academic and university-based research groups both in exploratory and applied research.
- Intellectual property cannot be measured exclusively by patents, as e.g. works under copyright law form a substantial part of it as well. A significant portion of patents are never realized; thus, the sheer number of patents is also not directly related to economic utility. In addition, innovation is often not directly relatable to any patents.
- Basic research plays a fundamental role in training researchers and the introduction of new techniques. Without properly funded basic research, our lag will only continue to grow even in the field of innovation.
- The dissolution of basic research – including humanities and social sciences – or the withdrawal of their resources causes a clearly demonstrable and quantifiable, irreversible loss of value in the nation’s culture. In the Academy’s research network, the currently existing humanities workshops represent a distinguished scientific and cultural value – even if that is impossible to interpret in a business sense.
- The basic funding support established in the national budget must be transferred to the MTA without conditions, and must be provided in the future as well.
- The Ministry’s concept pertaining to the reorganization of the research network, as well as the impact study therefor, should be made public and available to the scientific community. Without that, one cannot expect to restore the trust of the scientific community and to gain its support for any form of restructuring.
- In the interest of restoring trust, the Ministry, and those in cooperation with it, should refrain from publicizing any professionally unfounded statements intended to influence public opinion by positioning unilateral and inadequate indicators (such as the number of patents) in the foreground. Let communication be restricted to professionally well-founded and balanced analyses. From this perspective, the data found in the presentation “A hazai KFI rendszer finanszírozási és intézményrendszerének az átalakítása” (A restructuring of the financing and institutional system of the domestic KFI system) by the ITM, dated 17 January 2019, represent an acceptable, albeit unilateral, starting point, which thus needs to be supplemented.
- New institutions should be established to match the already existing structure of the academic research institution network for the purpose of aiding the conversion of basic research results to innovation. Such institutions should rely on international best practices (where the Max Planck Innovation Office can serve as one potential template(. This should be elaborated by the government in consultation with the leaders of the Academy.
- While retaining the structure of the basic programs of national research (OTKA), their resources should be substantially increased, at least to match the basic research to R+D spending ratio of the countries regarded as examples to follow. Prioritization of research excellence should not be restricted to the “Lendület” program, as that would lead to a lack of new talent, new ideas and new opportunities, in other words, to the lack of the active scientific environment from which the next generation of excellent researchers could emerge.
- A guarantee of long-term perspectives and of the stability of the financing framework (Lendület, institutional incorporation of Lendület, NKFIH “Frontline” grants) is indispensable. Provisions must be made for excellent researchers to have a strategic vision for which it is worth coming back to or staying in Hungary.
- We welcome the government’s intention of giving prioritized support to areas of strategic importance, but that requires more resources. The existing institutional framework (NFKIH) is completely adequate to the task, as is demonstrated by the examples of the National Brain Research Program, the National Quantum-Technology Program and the National Program for Artificial Intelligence.
- One recommended means of stimulating innovation is a grant-based financing system targeted specifically at cooperative projects between SMEs, the academic research network and universities. The system should operate under the shared professional control of the scientific and business fields, and based on the additional resources envisaged by the ITM itself.
- To improve competitiveness on the international stage, a significant simplification of the current procedure of procurement (investment, consumables, travel, research visits, expenses related to conference organization) is necessary (e.g. public procurement only above the EU value threshold).
Signed by the following Momentum (Lendület) grant winners until 12am on the 27th February, 2019
(signatures and research group names with year of grant in parentheses)
Abért, Miklós, MTA Rényi Lendület Groups and Graphs Research Group (2012)
Ablonczy, Balázs, MTA BTK Lendület Trianon 100 Research Group (2016)
Abonyi, János, MTA-PE Lendület Complex Systems Monitoring Research Group (2017)
Adamik, Béla, MTA NYTI Lendület Research Group for Computational Latin Dialectology (2015)
Andics, Attila, MTA-ELTE Lendület Neuroethology of Communication Research Group (2017)
Bajnok, Zoltán, MTA Wigner FK Lendület Holographic Quantum Field Theory Group (2012)
Barta Zoltán, MTA-DE Lendület Behavioural Ecology Research Group (2012)
Báldi, András, MTA ÖK Lendület Ecosystem Services Research Group (2011)
Bárány, Attila, MTA-DE Lendület Hungary in Medieval Europe Research Group (2014)
Bárth, Dániel, MTA-ELTE Lendület Historical Folkloristics Research Group (2018)
Batáry, Péter, MTA ÖK Lendület Landscape and Conservation Ecology Research Group (2018)
Beke-Somfai, Tamás, MTA TTK Lendület Biomolecular Self-assembly Research Group (2016)
Benczúr, András, MTA SZTAKI Lendület Big Data Research Group (2012)
Bíró, Anikó, MTA KRTK Lendület Health and Population Research Group (2018)
Biró, Péter, MTA KRTK Lendület Mechanism Design Research Group (2016)
Csanády, László, MTA-SE Lendület Ion Channel Research Group (2017)
Csonka, Szabolcs, MTA-BME Lendület Nanoelectronics Research Group (2017)
Csörsz, Rumen István, MTA BTK Lendület Literary Culture in Western Hungary, 1770–1820 (2017)
Dalos, Anna, MTA BTK ZTI Lendület Archives and Research Group for 20th and 21st Century Hungarian Music (2012)
Demeter, Tamás, MTA BTK Lendület Morals and Science Research Group (2017)
Derényi Imre, MTA-ELTE Lendület Biophysics Research Group (2011)
Dénes, Ádám, MTA KOKI Lendület Laboratory of Neuroimmunology Research Group (2016)
Domokos, Péter, MTA Wigner FK Lendület Quantum Measurement Research Group (2011)
Dóra, Balázs, MTA-BME Lendület Topology and Correlation Research Group (2018)
Dosztányi, Zsuzsanna, MTA-ELTE Lendület Bioinformatics Research Group (2014)
Enyedi, Balázs, MTA-SE Lendület Tissue Damage Research Group (2018)
Erdélyi, Gabriella, MTA BTK Lendület Integrating Families Research Group (2018)
Fekete, Csaba, MTA KOKI Lendület Integrative Neuroendocrinology Research Group (2010)
Geiszt, Miklós, MTA-SE Lendület Peroxidase Enzyme Research Group (2011)
Gyurcsányi, E. Róbert, MTA-BME Lendület Chemical Nanosensors Research Group (2013)
Hájos, Norbert, MTA KOKI Lendület Laboratory of Network Neurophysiology (2012)
Hangya, Balázs, MTA KOKI Lendület Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience (2015)
Harcos, Gergely, MTA Rényi Intézet Lendület Automorphic Research Group (2017)
Hettyey, Attila, MTA ATK NÖVI Lendület Evolutionary Ecology Research Group (2012)
Horváth, Péter, MTA SZBK Lendület BIOMAG Research Group (2012)
Jakus, Zoltán, MTA-SE Lendület Lymphatic Physiology Research Group (2014)
Józsi, Mihály, MTA-ELTE Lendület Complement Research Group (2012)
Kállay, Mihály, MTA-BME Lendület Quantum Chemistry Research Group (2013)
Katona, István, MTA KOKI Lendület Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology (2013)
Katz, Sándor, MTA-ELTE Lendület Lattice Gauge Theory Research Group (2012)
Kele, Péter, MTA TTK SzKI Lendület Laboratory of Chemical Biology (2013)
Kern, Zoltán, MTA CSFK Lendület 2ka Palæoclimate Research Group (2012)
Kézsmárki, István, MTA-BME Lendület Magneto-optical Spectroscopy Research Group (2014)
Király, Ildikó, MTA-ELTE Lendület Social Cognition Research Group (2017)
Kiss, Farkas Gábor, MTA-ELTE Lendület Humanism in East Central Europe (HECE) Research Group (2014)
Kiss, Viktória, MTA BTK Lendület Mobility Research Group (2015)
Kóspál, Ágnes, MTA CSFK Lendület Disk Research Group (2014)
Kovács, Tamás György, MTA Atomki Lendület Lattice QCD Research Group (2011)
Legeza, Örs, MTA Wigner Lendület Strongly Correlated Systems Research Group (2012)
Lengyel, Balázs, MTA KRTK Lendület Agglomeration and Social Networks Research Group (2017)
London, Gábor, MTA TTK Lendület Functional Organic Materials Research Group (2018)
Lugaro, Maria, MTA CSFK Lendület AGB Nuclei and Dust Research Group (LAND) (2014)
Lukács, Ágnes, MTA-BME Lendület Language Acquisition Research Group (2018)
Makara, Judit, MTA KOKI Lendület Laboratory of Neuronal Signaling (2011)
Markó, Alexandra, MTA-ELTE Lendület Lingual Coarticulation Research Group (2016)
Mátés, Lajos, MTA SZBK Lendület Laboratory of Cancer Genome Research (2015)
Mócsai, Attila, MTA-SE Lendület Inflammation Physiology Research Group (2013)
Mosonyi, Milán, MTA-BME Lendület Quantum Information Theory Research Group (2018)
Muraközy, Balázs, MTA KRTK Lendület Firms, Strategy and Performance Research Group (2013)
Nemes-Incze Péter, MTA EK Lendület Topology in Nanomaterials Research Group (2017)
Nusser, Zoltán, MTA KOKI Lendület Cellular Neurophysiology Research Group (2012)
Orbán, Gergő, MTA Wigner FK Lendület Computational Systems Neuroscience Lab (2012)
Ősi, Attila, MTA-ELTE Lendület Dinosaur Research Group (2011)
Pál, András, MTA CSFK Lendület Fly's Eye Research Group (2012)
Pálffy, Géza, MTA BTK TTI Lendület Holy Crown of Hungary Research Group (2012)
Pálvölgyi, Dömötör, MTA-ELTE Lendület Combinatorial Geometry Research Group (2017)
Papp, Balázs, MTA SZBK Lendület Computational Systems Biology Research Group (2009)
Pásztor, Gabriella, MTA-ELTE Lendület CMS Particle and Nuclear Physics Research Group (2015)
Reményi, Attila, MTA TTK Lendület Protein Interaction Group (2013)
Simon, Ferenc, MTA-BME Lendület Spintronics Research Group (PROSPIN) (2015)
Stipsicz, András, MTA Rényi Institute Lendület Low Dimensional Topology Research Group (2010)
Surányi, Balázs, MTA NYTI Lendület Quantifier Scope Research Group (2011)
Szabadics, János, MTA KOKI Lendület Laboratory of Cellular Neuropharmacology (2009)
Szakács, Gergely, MTA TTK EI Lendület Membrane Biology Research Group (2010)
Szegedy, Balázs, MTA Rényi Institute Lendület Limits of Structures Research Group (2013)
Székvölgyi, Lóránt, MTA-DE Lendület Genome Architecture and Recombination Research Group (2015)
Szilágyi, Róbert Károly, MTA-ELTE Lendület Chemical Structure/Function Research Group (2015)
Szöllősi, Gergely János, MTA-ELTE Lendület Evolutionary Genomics Research Group (2016)
Szüts, Dávid, MTA TTK Lendület Genome Stability Research Group (2011)
Takács, Gábor, MTA-BME Lendület Statistical Field Theory Research Group (2012)
Takács, Károly, MTA TK Lendület Research Center for Educational and Network Studies (RECENS) (2012)
Tapolcai, János, MTA-BME Lendület Future Internet Research Group (2012)
Tarczay, György, MTA-ELTE Lendület Laboratory Astrochemistry Research Group (2018)
Tardos, Gábor, MTA RAMKI Lendület Cryptography Research Group (2009)
Tóth, Szilvia Zita, MTA SZBK Lendület Laboratory for Molecular Photobioenergetics (2014)
Tóth, Zsombor, MTA BTK Lendület Long Reformation in Eastern Europe (1500-1800) Research Group (2018)
Török, Péter, MTA-DE Lendület Functional and Restoration Ecology Research Group (2017)
Vankó, György, MTA WFK Lendület Femtosecond Spectroscopy Research Group (2013)
Varga, Dezső, MTA Wigner FK Lendület Innovative Particle Detector Development Research Group (2013)
Varju, Márton, MTA TK Lendület HPOPs-Policy Opportunities for Hungary in the European Union Research Group (2013)
Weisz, Boglárka, MTA BTK Lendület Hungarian Economic History Research Group (2015)
Werner, Norbert, MTA-ELTE Lendület Hot Universe Research Group (2016)
Zaránd, Gergely, MTA-BME Lendület Exotic Quantum Phases Research Group (2011)
Signatories who also won ERC grants: Abért Miklós (2014, Consolidator grant), Csonka Szabolcs (2010, Starting grant), Dénes Ádám (2016, Consolidator grant), Hangya Balázs (2016, Starting grant), Kállay Mihály (2007, Starting grant), Katona István (2009, Starting grant), Katz Sándor (2007, Starting grant), Kóspál Ágnes (2016, Starting grant), Maria Lugaro (2016, Consolidator grant), Makara Judit (2017, Consolidator grant), Mócsai Attila (2007, Starting grant), Nusser Zoltán (2011 Advanced grant, 2018 Advanced grant), Simon Ferenc (2010, Starting grant), Stipsicz András (2011, Advanced grant), Szabadics János (2017, Consolidator grant), Szakács Gergely (2010, Starting grant), Szegedy Balázs (2013, Consolidator grant), Szöllősi Gergely János (2016, Starting grant), Takács Károly (2014, Consolidator grant), Vankó György (2010, Starting grant).
The signatories can be contacted at the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org
 According to the ITM’s presentation “Increasing governmental support for R+D: due to decreasing EU funds beyond 2020, an increase of the NKFI Fund budget will be necessary (an increase of 330 billion HUF to meet 2020 EU goals)”