Bifröst University Does Away with Tuition Fees

bifröst university

Bifröst University will not charge their students tuition fees going forward, Vísir reports. The university’s rector, Margrét Jónsdóttir Njarðvík, said that this will encourage equal access on economic grounds to study, as the university has charged ISK 500,000 [$3,600, €3,300] for its post-graduate programmes.

In February, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir announced that independent universities will be offered full state funding if they abolish tuition fees. Public universities, in contrast, only charge a lower registration fee. The Iceland University of the Arts announced right away that it would be dropping tuition fees, starting fall semester 2024, while Reykjavík University opted to continue charging their students. These independent universities have received 60 to 80% of the public funding they would’ve received if they were public universities.

Remote learning open to anyone

Margrét said that this decision would mark a sea change for the university, which is located in Norðárdalur valley, some 30 kilometres north of Borgarnes, the closest urban centre. “Students can now, regardless of their economic situation, register to study at Bifröst University and we teach many subjects that are not available in other Icelandic universities,” she said. “Bifröst University has been leading the charge in remote learning and this means that anyone, no matter where they live of what their situation is, whether they are raising children or working as well, can register to study with us without paying tuition fees.”

Pressure to attract new students

Margrét added that in order for this to make sense financially for the university, some 300 new students would need to register this fall. “But we know that university students will make the choice,” she said. “We’re taking a fun chance, because we know that the school will fill up with students.”

Prime Minister Reflects on Poor Polling

Katrín Jakobsdóttir Bjarni Benediktsson Sigurður Ingi Ráðherra

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, leader of the Left-Green Movement, told RÚV today that low poll numbers should cause the party’s leadership as a whole to reflect on their position. The party is polling at 4.7% in Gallup’s latest poll, their worst numbers since the turn of the century, and would likely not get a single MP elected to Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, if this were to be the outcome in an election.

Two terms in a broad coalition

The Left-Green Movement formed a coalition government with the conservative Independence Party and the centrist Progressive Party in 2017. The coalition continued after the 2021 election, despite Katrín’s party losing three seats in Alþingi. The party has been criticised by both current and former members for conceding too many of their policy objectives and making compromises with their coalition partners.

At a party council meeting this weekend, Katrín emphasised that everyone in the leadership, including herself, should consider their position. She told RÚV, however, that she was not quitting as party leader. “But I think it’s prudent when the polls are like this, and it would be irresponsible not to do so, to consider our position and that goes for me and others in the Movement’s leadership.”

Better communication

“I don’t think this poll reflects the success we’ve had in leading a coalition government through challenging times,” Katrín said, admitting that previous poll numbers have also been unfavourable. “It should make all of us in the Movement consider what we’re doing. It’s also necessary to better communicate the success we’ve been able to achieve.”

Katrín added that she believes that the Left-Green Movement still has an important place in Icelandic politics and that she hopes for an upswing. “I wouldn’t have been in politics for 20 years without being an optimistic person,” she said.

Another Hot Water Shortage in Reykjanes a Possibility

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

After a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula on February 8 disrupted the hot water supply in Suðurnes, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the risk posed by future eruptions to the hot water supply. A representative from HS Orka stated that although the primary hot water conduit to Suðurnes had been fortified, the possibility of another hot water shortage could not be discounted.

Town hall meeting in Reykjanesbær

Following a volcanic eruption that began on the Reykjanes peninsula on the morning of February 8, lava flowed over and breached the Njarðvíkur conduit, a pipeline that transports hot water from the Svartsengi geothermal power plant to the towns in Suðurnes: Vogar, Reykjanesbær, Garður, Sandgerði, and Grindavík.

Shortly after noon that same day, the utility company HS Veitur reported a hot-water outage in the upper areas of the Reykjanesbær municipality and the towns of Sandgerði and Garður. The rest of Suðurnes soon followed. It took five days for the authorities to restore hot water.

Given that another eruption seems to be imminent, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management (DCPEM) held a town hall meeting at the Stapi conference hall in Reykjanesbær last night. The meeting was attended by representatives of the DCPEM, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, and the utility companies HS Orka and HS Veitur, alongside the Minister of Justice, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir.

Another hot water shortage a possibility

According to Kristinn Harðarson, Executive Vice President of Operations at HS Orka, the possibility of another hot water shortage in the Suðurnes region cannot be discounted if an eruption occurs again on the Reykjanes Peninsula, Mbl.is reports.

Kristinn was asked whether there was still a possibility that residents in the Suðurnes region would once again be without hot water if lava flowed over the Grindavík road again. He answered affirmatively but pointed out that a long section of the Njarðvík pipeline, where lava is most likely to flow over, had been fortified. “This is a method that was tested at Fagradalsfjall. We are hopeful that this could work. Of course, we are in somewhat uncharted territories,” Kristinn observed.

“We are, at least, in a much better position, although it is never possible to rule anything out,” Kristinn continued. “If an eruption occurs somewhere else and lava flows over that section of the pipeline that is unprotected, there could be a disruption in delivery. But, in that case, we are prepared to respond, with materials on hand, and will do everything possible to ensure that any interruption is as short as possible.”

According to calculations by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, about 8.5 to 9 million cubic metres of magma have accumulated under Svartsengi. In previous eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula, eruptions have occurred when the volume of magma reached 8 to 13 million cubic metres. The lead-up to an eruption can be very short, according to geologists.

As noted by RÚV, it was also revealed during the town hall meeting that backup power has been secured for the distribution system, alternative water sources have been secured, and drilling for hot water in low-temperature areas has begun.

Coastal Fishermen Oppose Lumpfish Quotas

lumpfish

Coastal fishermen in Patreksfjörður, the Westfjords, oppose the introduction of quotas for lumpfish, RÚV reports. They say the current system can be improved without resorting to a quota system. Previous experience shows that quotas consolidate in the hands of few owners, the fishermen state.

Arguments for quota don’t hold water

Gunnar Ingvi Bjarnason stated that the current coastal fishing system is accessible to newcomers, with a licence costing just ISK 22,000 [$160, €147]. “If a quota system is set up, people will have to buy quota,” he stated. Einar Helgason of the coastal fishing association Krókur, based in Patreksfjörður, says that coastal fishermen are generally against quotas and that the arguments for setting a lumpfish quota are weak. According to Einar, lumpfish are not a species that is overfished, which is what quota systems are put in place to prevent.

Gunnar Ingvi adds that quota setting will not address the issue of bycatch, another concern expressed by authorities.

Read More: Taking Stock of Iceland’s Coastal Fishing Industry

The coastal fishing system was established 16 years ago with the goal of creating opportunities for smaller, independent fishers. It is not based around a quota system like open-sea fishing is in Iceland and has a relatively low cost of entry. Coastal fishing has a positive economic effect on many rural areas across Iceland.

Iceland and Israel Discuss Gaza Visa Holders

bjarni benediktsson

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Bjarni Benediktsson had a phone meeting with his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz yesterday, where the two discussed Icelandic visa holders in Gaza. Some 100 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly children, hold approved Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. Bjarni requested assistance in processing the list of visa holders, according to a press release from the Icelandic government.

Government criticised for moving slowly

Iceland’s government has been criticised for moving slowly on extracting Icelandic visa holders from Gaza. An Icelandic lawyer representing one Palestinian family waiting for reunification has submitted a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman asserting that the government is responsible for the individuals on the basis of humanitarian law. In early February, Icelandic authorities sent three representatives to Cairo to look into bringing the visa-holders across the Rafah border, but their efforts have yet to bear fruit. Meanwhile, a group of Icelandic civilian volunteers have already gotten around 25 Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza.

Special examination needed, Foreign Ministry says

“The Icelandic government sent a list of residence permit holders to the authorities in the region in the first half of February,” the government press release states. “In communication with the Israeli government, it has been stated that the list is unique as there are no Icelandic citizens or dual citizens on it, only residence permit holders. The list therefore requires special examination on their part, and has therefore not yet been processed.”

Icelandic government ministers previously stated that Iceland has no obligation to extract Icelandic visa holders from Gaza. Ministers also stated that other Nordic countries were only extracting their own citizens from the region, not visa holders, a statement that proved to be false.

Inflation Rate in Iceland Decreases to Two-Year Low

money

Inflation in Iceland slightly decreased to 6.6%, the lowest rate since February 2022, although it is still significantly higher than the target set by the Central Bank. The decrease fell short of analysts’ expectations, with the winding down of winter sales impacting prices of clothing, shoes, and furniture.

Four percentage points over the target

Inflation slightly decreased month-over-month and is currently being measured at 6.6%, RÚV reports. This marks the lowest inflation rate recorded in Iceland since February 2022 despite remaining over four percentage points above the Central Bank’s inflation target.

As noted by RÚV, the current measurement represents the third consecutive decrease in inflation, although the reduction was less than what bank analysis departments had predicted; Íslandsbanki and Landsbankinn had forecasted inflation to be at 6.1%, half a percentage point lower than the actual level of inflation.

Winter sales coming to an end have contributed to inflationary pressures. Prices for clothing and shoes increased by 8.4%, and furniture prices by 5.5%. Excluding housing prices, inflation would stand at 4.7%.

According to the harmonised index of consumer prices for the European Economic Area published by Statistics Iceland on Monday, inflation has risen by 5.6% over one year domestically, with only Serbia, Romania, and Turkey – where inflations stand at 64.9% – recording higher rates.

The average inflation rate across the EEA is 3.1%, with the lowest rates observed in Denmark and Italy at 0.9%.

Inflation refers to the rate at which the general level of prices for goods and services is rising and, subsequently, purchasing power is falling.

Icelandic Lawyer Urges Action on Gaza Visa Holders

Rafah_Border_Crossing

The Icelandic government is working too slowly to rescue Icelandic visa holders from Gaza, says a lawyer representing one Palestinian family waiting to be reunited. She has submitted a complaint to the Parliamentary Ombudsman due to the government’s lack of action in their case. The lawyer says Iceland’s government is responsible for the individuals on the basis of humanitarian law.

Wife and children stuck in Gaza

Jóna Þórey Pétursdóttir is a lawyer representing a Palestinian family who has been granted family reunification visas by Icelandic authorities. The father has been in Iceland since February 2023, but his wife and children are still in Gaza, despite having been granted a family reunification visa by Icelandic authorities last December.

“The issue is about the speed of the case and that the Icelandic government is responsible, both on the basis of humanitarian law and human rights obligations. The interest are, of course, the right to life, prohibition of inhumane treatment, and their right to family life,” she told RÚV.

Children in immediate danger

The International Court of Justice in the Hague has confirmed that there is a possibility a genocide is occurring in Gaza. As Iceland is a party to the Geneva Convention, the Icelandic government is obliged to prevent genocide and complicity in genocide.        “There are three children there and they are in immediate danger of suffering and death,” Jóna stated.

Jóna says her complaint is now being processed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. She adds that it was submitted in order to maintain pressure on authorities and “get answers about what is really being done and to actually ensure that adequate measures are taken.”

Volunteers have helped 24 out of Gaza

Around 100 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them children, hold Icelandic visas on the basis of family reunification. While other Nordic countries have assisted visa-holders across the Rafah border, Iceland’s government has yet to do so. Meanwhile, a group of Icelandic civilians has already gotten 24 Icelandic visa holders out of Gaza across the Rafah border and continue their efforts. In early February, Icelandic authorities sent three representatives to Cairo to look into the cases, but their efforts have yet to bring any visa-holders across the border.

Icelandic Government Invites Immigrants to Shape Policy

Iceland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour is inviting immigrants to participate in shaping policy on integration and inclusion. The ministry is inviting immigrants in Iceland to an open consultation meeting in Reykjavík this Wednesday, February 28. Polish and English interpretation will be provided at the meeting.

Last November, the government of Iceland published its first-ever “green paper” on immigrant issues. The document is a status assessment on immigrant and refugee issues in Iceland and identifies opportunities and challenges for the future. The green paper has been published in Icelandic, English, and Polish, a first for the Icelandic government.

First-ever comprehensive integration policy in the works

As a follow up to the green paper, the Icelandic government will work on a white paper on immigrant issues. This will serve as the first draft of the country’s first-ever comprehensive policy on immigrant and refugee issues. The white paper will be developed into a parliamentary resolution on immigration and refugee policy.

Immigration brings large economic benefits

The most recent OECD Economic Survey of Iceland found that immigration in Iceland is rising faster than in other Nordic countries and that it brings large economic benefits. The median age of immigrants in Iceland is lower than in any other OECD country, at between 30-35 years, and their participation rate is higher than in any other country, at over 85%. The survey emphasised that Iceland should step up its efforts to help immigrants integrate, such as through better access to services, addressing housing needs, and establishing more effective language training courses.

To gather data for the white paper, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has already held focus group meetings around the country, and the discussions from this Wednesday’s meeting will be integrated into the paper as well.

This Wednesday’s meeting in Reykjavík will take place at 5:00 PM at Hotel Reykjavík Grand.

Iceland to Increase Funding for Ukraine

bjarni benediktsson

In a meeting of the cabinet of ministers yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson introduced a motion of Iceland’s support for Ukraine from 2024 to 2028. Funding for Ukraine will be increased from last year and Iceland’s funding will be on par with what the other Nordic countries have pledged.

“Today marks two years since the beginning of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Bjarni said in a press release from his ministry. “This war of aggression is the most serious security threat facing Europe since the end of World War II. A long-term plan of support will mark a turning point demonstrating our serious commitment to support the struggle of the Ukrainian people for as long as necessary.”

Broad political support expected

Should the motion pass, a minimum amount of funding for Ukraine will be secured for the next few years, even if funding will be determined in the annual budget each year. The motion will be presented to all parties in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and in the Foreign Affairs Committee in the coming days.

The press release goes on to say that support for Ukraine in Alþingi has remained strong across party lines. “Ukrainians have been fighting for our fundamental values for two years now,” Bjarni said. “Iceland’s sovereignty is based on compliance and respect for international law by all, thus it is no hyperbole to state that our long-term support for the security and independence of Ukraine is also a long-term support for the security and independence of Iceland.”

Unions Split on Wage Negotiations

vr union iceland, Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson

The coalition of unions engaged in wage negotiations with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) suffered a setback yesterday when VR, one of the largest unions, pulled out of the talks. The other unions will go forward with their negotiations as they’ve reached an agreement on major points of contention, Morgunblaðið reports.

Negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement had been halted for two weeks after a disagreement on a clause in the proposed four-year deal to protect workers from downside risks if inflation and interest rate targets were not met. An agreement on salaries had already been made in principle.

Negotiations to proceed

Talks began again Wednesday and apart from VR, the unions accepted a compromise on the aforementioned clause. “We disagreed on whether the clause went far enough and we decided to step aside,” VR President Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson said. “I sincerely hope that they reach an acceptable deal for their constituents and that could be the foundation that we could build from and reach an agreement on what we need for our constituents.”

SA Director Sigríður Margrét Oddsdóttir said that it was a disappointment to not be able to reach an agreement with the coalition as a whole. She is still hopeful for a long-term agreement that would create the conditions to lower inflation and interest rates.