On June 29, the Hungarian Academy of Arts Research Institute of Art Theory and Methodology organized a presentation for its previous director, Miklós Kocsis’s latest volume titled Higher education autonomy in the system of cultural rights – a Hungarian perspective at the Hild-villa. The event would like to create an opportunity for commemoration and informal dialogue after the round table discussion.
The volume explores the modern interpretation of the concept of higher education autonomy. The author points out that the autonomy of higher education can be optimally approached using a public law approach, and that this type of analysis reaches partly different conclusions than the common views. “Innovative sociological and management science research has already enriched the topic with essential values, but until today, Hungarian public law has not paid enough attention to this kind of investigation. The examination of the issue seems necessary, on the one hand, because of the outstanding impact of changes in higher education on today's society, and, on the other hand, because of the content and functional transformation of the relevant fundamental rights. In order to find answers to these problems, which can be interpreted primarily from a public law point of view, the way leads through the public law concept of autonomy.”
The event was attended by Prof. Dr. István Stumpf, professor at Eötvös Loránd University, Széchenyi István University, and National University of Public Service, former member of the Constitutional Court; Prof. Dr. András Koltay, teacher at Pázmány Péter Catholic University and the National University of Public Service, president of the National Media and Communications Authority; Prof. Dr. Tamás Gergely Kucsera, teacher at Széchenyi István University and Károli Gáspár University, corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts; as well as Dr. Zsolt Cseporán, scientific associate of the Budapest Metropolitan University, former recipient of the Hungarian Academy of Arts Scholarship Program. The round table discussion was moderated by Tamás Gergely Kucsera.
The audience were greeted by László Koppány Csáji, acting director of the research institute, who said that when he participated in a European Union higher education project last year – where they discussed university model changes, autonomy and the system of cultural rights with Portuguese, Irish and Belgian colleagues – they would have greatly benefited from publishing the volume in English, as we can talk about a very important work at the international level as well.
Tamás Gergely Kucsera outlined that since the research institute was established, nearly 40 book presentations, 6 dozen scientific conferences and a dozen or so informative lectures have been organized, with around 1000 invited speakers, and nearly 500 printed volumes and studies have been published. The performance behind them also clearly shows how the research institute’s own internal autonomy – a concept that occupies a central place in Miklós Kocsis’s volume – was created and how it lived. He added that, in the light of the HAA’s expectations formulated in the last 6 years, the research institute successfully placed itself on the Hungarian intellectual map by not wanting to be a competitor, but a partner of higher education institutions. It had a similar attitude to the existing research institutes, but the HAA’s research institute started with a completely different intellectual orientation than others, as it primarily expected the examination of contemporary art with the founding, interdisciplinary and non-historical approach. Furthermore, operationally and successfully implementing the founder’s concept, he integrated the tasks he received in the meantime in 2017 and 2018: the library, the Makovecz Center and Archive, as well as the three-year art scholarship program of the HAA.
According to István Stumpf, there are currently ongoing discussions about the situation and future of higher education, in which the volume can be used extremely well. Changes have been initiated that do not yet know where they will end, but the frameworks outlined by the publication are still valid and must be taken into account. As he pointed out, higher education has a “flagship role” in Hungarian culture, because they produce professionals again, which is why one must be careful not to engage in “a selection system that has a cultural background of thousands of years”. According to his view, autonomy can be preserved without the state withdrawing from this system.
András Koltay emphasized the fundamental importance of the work that forms the central element of Miklós Kocsis’ scientific work and discusses the freedom of higher education institutions. He does not attempt to answer the question of how science and academic freedom differ from general freedom of expression. He added that there is a contradiction in higher education that is very difficult to resolve, since the state has to finance many things, provided that we want to maintain and raise the national culture – even if a given cultural institution is unprofitable, the financial background must be ensured for this purpose. The National University of Public Service, which he previously led, is an institution in a special situation, because it is necessarily more closely connected to the state by training specialists in the fields of national defense and state administration.
In his memoirs, Zsolt Cseporán said: he experienced the freedom of science firsthand through Miklós Kocsis, since in his view, few young researchers have the opportunity to work with someone who helps them in their work, but at the same time leaves them freedom and intellectual freedom. As he pointed out, the volume connects the independence of an institution with the activities of the individuals who make up the institution, and draws attention to the fact that the autonomy of the institution can ultimately be an element of freedom that can be derived from the individuals who make up the institution, as independence actually understood as a right. He considers it essential that autonomy does not only mean independence from something, but also independence for something. He added, “in today’s world, we should not declare that science is above everything and that autonomy exists so that the freedom of science can be fulfilled”.
The participants in the conversation agreed that the research work started by the previous director of the research institute should be continued and its importance emphasized. As Tamás Gergely Kucsera emphasized in the closing remarks, “in line with Miklós’s understanding, we carry on with their personal and official everyday lives partly in the spirit of autonomy, partly in the spirit of freedom and community”.