Academy of Sciences needs a rethink – scientist writes

The public-funded Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) is paying handsomely its full members – average age 74 – while young scientists receive minimal funding and rely on them for nominations later, in a self-perpetuating system, according to Doctor of MTA Béla Darvas.

Academicians’ wages were drastically hiked after the change of regime and currently there are four membership types at the MTA: full, corresponding, external and honorary.

Significantly the Academy database nowadays lists only MTA members’ societies and prizes but not their scientific output. Doctors of MTA can be elected as members without any additional scientific achievement; only connections matter. Similarly, corresponding members can become full members without further output – the only development being the payrise.

After six years correspondence and 25 years full membership, an MTA member is given a one-off payment of around HUF 160 million, or EUR 0.5 million: half the amount of a Nobel prize, but without the necessity of internationally recognised scientific achievement. The MTA’s monthly honorarium is HUF 455,000 (EUR 1,500) for full members and HUF 354,000 (EUR 1,200) for corresponding members. In contrast, a research scientist beginning their career can pull in around 100,000 HUF (EUR 335) per month.

Full MTA members vote on corresponding memberships with a requirement that a maximum of 200 of its 365 academicians should be under 70, meaning 165 are  always above retirement age. New members are elected every three years. The establishment of the Széchenyi Fellowship for Professors in 1997 attempted to offer mid-career scientists an equal wage to professors. However the Ministry of Education abolished it in 2000, after the Constitutional Court ruled the 55-year age restriction to be discriminatory.

This system is insustainable because nowadays young Hungarian research scientists are moving to countries with higher R&D investment, while the older generation continue to receive governmental support without the necessity of scientific achievements, Darvas argues.

Translated by Péter Gyarmati. The original Hungarian language article was published on 22 November 2013. Edited by Dan Nolan.