The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has announced its annual allocation of ISK 145.5 million [$1.1 million; €1.1 million] in support of Icelandic language education for immigrants. According to the ministry, the aim of the subsidy is to afford “everyone registered with a legal address in Iceland the opportunity to acquire the required proficiency in Icelandic to become active citizens in the country.” Foreign citizens account for around 15% of Iceland’s population.
Eighteen schools, companies, and institutions will receive grants to conduct courses around the country. The subsidies are afforded to institutions that provide Icelandic language courses that are not part of a general curriculum in the public school system.
Icelandic language education moves ministries
The Icelandic government shuffled several dossiers when the current government took office last November, including Icelandic language education for immigrants, which was moved from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour.
Unlike many of its Nordic neighbours, Iceland does not provide free Icelandic language classes for immigrants. Education available to the country’s newest residents largely falls into two categories: free conversational classes provided by community organisations such as the Red Cross, and paid courses offered by privately-operated schools. An eight-week paid course costs approximately ISK 50,000 [$375; €340], though union members can usually get 75% of this fee reimbursed. The University of Iceland also offers a diploma and a degree program in Icelandic as a second language.
Funding has not increased since 2009
Hjalti Ómarsson of Retor fræðsla, one of the schools that have received funding through the grant, says public funding covers only about 35-40% of the school’s operating costs. “When it comes to public funding, there’s not enough. The amount of grant money available has not risen since 2009. And whether your company has 10 employees or 100, the amount you can apply for is the same. Workplaces complain to us that they exhaust their grant money very quickly.”
The government did allocate increased funding to Icelandic language education for immigrants as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the measure was only temporary. No one at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour was available for comment.
Read more about Icelandic language education for immigrants in our latest issue.