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Istvan Polony: Illiberal government policy ignores science, Part 2

Istvan Polony: Illiberal government policy ignores science, Part 2

Does Hungary have a division of labor similar to that in the developed world in universities?

It didn't work out so well here. In Hungary, to this day, the old Humboldt principle is followed, that the teacher both researches and teaches. However, in mass education, it is no longer possible to teach what you are looking for, because then you will be able to teach very few subjects. After all, the teacher teaches on a much broader scale than what he or she is looking for. Clearly, if we push research too hard, it comes at the expense of education. However, this can be seen in the statistics. The recently published special issue of Educatio magazine clearly shows how ridiculous performance evaluation is. Coach evaluation is currently based on scientific metrics and MTMT, a publication registry established by the Academy. However, this is completely debatable. It is difficult to compare a researcher dealing with Hungarian history and a physicist, because their publishing performances are very different. In the case of the world of physics, it is really important that your article is published in an international journal. However, a person who deals, for example, with ancient Hungarian history, cannot publish in any international journal. The humanities teacher prefers writing books, but academic assessment now focuses on essays. What matters is what kind of international articles you write, books are not that important. In other words, science is clearly much more diverse than assessment based on scientific measures, which pushes the work of teachers into the background. If someone publishes an article in a prestigious scientific journal, it means much more than having two hundred students give it a good grade. Some universities have managed to advance in the rankings because this education policy puts a lot of pressure on academic performance and the number of foreign students.

Is it prestige for the government to be ahead of universities in the global rankings??

I think this is just an internal struggle. For top Hungarian politicians, knowledge does not matter. What matters is where we are in football. Now there will also be big scandals, because the European Championship did not go the way they wanted, and if everything cannot be sewn up to the referees' necks, then someone must take responsibility for this. It turns out that billions were spent on this performance. This money could have been spent on science. However, the Hungarian government's illiberal policy ignores science. I wonder what will happen after the pharmacist in the person of Balázs Hanko becomes Minister of Culture. You can find out who are the ministers responsible for higher education recently. There were Balint Magyar and István Heller, they were politicians, followed by academics, and now suddenly a pharmacist was appointed. The resigned minister, János Škák, was also a politician, and he was able to sell it for a while, which is how Palkovic tried to gain some prestige for the flag, because the Orbán family only cares about competition. According to Orbán, the Hungarian identity includes Olympic champions Puskas and Kristinas from Egerszeg. These people understand this, but they cannot understand that Hungarian science will never be world-class. I think this is based on the lack of a concept of dictatorship. You can convince Orbán that we will have world-class universities, and that we will have more Nobel laureates. But this is all just an internal struggle. If we look at the past 15 years, the real winner has been health care. Today, the average salary of a 30-year-old doctor is HUF 1 million. However, education lies under the frog's back. A high school teacher earns the equivalent of 1 million Hungarian forints as a physician assistant. This was also true for university professors until privatization, after which wages were raised by 50%. In other words, a university professor now earns 70% of what a 30-year-old doctor earns. A dictatorship always lives from the point of view of its leader. Viktor Orbán is an aborted footballer, whose entire politics are determined by the fact that he only sees: you have to win. You have to win at everything. In this case, science and art are not important. His PR is such that he is sometimes taken to a concert, but he has not yet been taken to a show. But you don't have to take this to football, it's there in every international match.

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Is this evident in the incomprehensible higher education policy?

Yes. Orbán in higher education must be told that we will win the great international competition. This pseudo-politics is very useful now that we suddenly have two Nobel laureates. The policy of higher education has changed a lot, under the Ministry of Janos Schack, the number of students has already begun to increase. The fact that universities are forced to produce is a result of this unfortunate administrative system and the lack of the concept of dictatorship. This can be sold.

Does all this bring something to the table for Hungarian higher education and Hungarian science, or will the level continue to deteriorate?

It would be beneficial for Hungarian science to have funding that would enable talent to be developed, kept at home, and actual research results to be achieved. If we look at Hungary's scientific and innovation performance, we can see that there was a relatively large boom in inventions and publications during the period of regime change. There was a feeling of freedom then. Then there was a very rapid decline. If we look at the Higher Education Act of 1990, which was an amendment to the 1985 law, party control was eliminated from it, and higher education and science in Hungary were given a very large degree of autonomy. But after a few years, it turned out that the structure remained the same, i.e. the academy, government administration, etc. Then it started to decline again. Today the number of inventions per million people in Hungary is worse than it was during the communist era, and the number of publications is not much better. This is not only Orbán's government, but also the gradually apparent backlash to previous governments. In terms of scientific performance, Hungary has been at the bottom of the frog for the past 20 years, which Orbán's government has tried unsuccessfully to change with very radical measures. Academic research institutes have been nationalized, and universities have tried several times to change them – by introducing the chancellor system, and now by privatization. It was all about how to practically extract some kind of performance from the scientific world. But all these attempts have failed because they deprive education and academic administration of such a basic tool, the element that all literature emphasizes: democracy and independence. Basic research cannot be controlled in a dictatorial manner. If you look at the trends, the autonomy, research and freedom of researchers is decreasing everywhere in the world, and everywhere researchers are increasingly forced to move towards exploitation. Until twenty. Until the mid-twentieth century, scientists, researchers and university lecturers had to be independent. Freedom of science is what gives people the opportunity to invent new things. The literature also says: to invent something new, you have to go beyond the rules. Creativity and independence are needed to avoid conformity to existing rules. It's the same thing with money. A researcher can prosper if he can get money, even if the situation is hopeless. Let's think about what would have happened to Einstein, who did not have many publications, in such a system – with scientific analogy. In Hungary, this government policy distorts the development of science and research. I see that in universities education and its quality are practically pushed to the background, and in the scientific field it only encourages one-sided development. Scientific journals do not act selflessly; they have an interest in obtaining as many citations as possible. So they do not look at the real scientific value, but rather at what is currently considered a modern field of scientific research. This is useful for politics, because it believes that it has some kind of unit of measurement by which it can measure and regulate science. Using the scale, you can measure one thing, based on which to judge the coach, but no one knows how this will affect the entire galactic science. This can of course be known from one side, because the people who will win are those who find themselves in forums where they can publish their articles in English. This is voluntary. This voluntarist approach – let everyone have more foreign students, more publications, and we don't deal with structure – could be sold to Orbán, who is a complete stranger to science and art. However, this is not science policy or higher education policy. This is the characteristic of the non-conceptual operation of the illiberal state.

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(Part one can be read here.)

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