Record Number of Applications at Arts University

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Applications at the Iceland University of the Arts have nearly doubled since last year. The university announced in February that it would abolish tuition fees this fall following a decision by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir that offered independent universities full state funding if they were to do away with tuition fees.

Positive effect of dropping tuition fees

Rector Kristín Eysteinsdóttir told Vísir that she was not worried about students dropping out, but rather that she welcomed the increased attendance and expected more applications next year. “We had 538 applications last year, but almost 1,000 now,” she said after the deadline for applications past last night. “Applications for arts education are still open, so I expect this to end at around 1,000 applications. That would be an almost 100% increase.”

She said that the school has never seen numbers like this and that they go above and beyond expectations. “We can’t accept everyone, but it’s incredibly positive that the abolishment of tuition fees has this effect,” she said. “In fact, this confirms what we thought, that the costs were prohibitive for a lot of prospective students.”

Acting programme most popular

The biggest increase is in architecture, design and visual arts, Kristín said. The acting department remains the most popular study programme, but only ten people are accepted each year from a group of 200 to 300 applicants.

She added that she expected more people to apply next year, especially to the masters programmes. “We get applicants there who have children and need to plan further ahead,” Kristín said.

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.”

Reykjavík University Opts Not to Drop Tuition Fees

Reykjavík University

Reykjavík University will keep charging their students tuition fees, despite a government policy change that offers independent universities full state funding if they abolish them. The university’s board expects an ISK 1.2 Billion [$8.7 Million, €8 Million] drop in operating income if it were to discontinue tuition fees, Viðskiptablaðið reports.

Arts university dropping fees

Last week, 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. The other two independent universities are Bifröst University and Reykjavík University. These universities have received 60 to 80% of the public funding they would’ve received if they were public universities.

The student union of Reykjavík University had already announced that it supported retaining tuition fees. “It is the estimation of the students that it would be impossible to maintain the uniqueness of Reykjavík University with the cutbacks that the school would face with this change,” President of Reykjavík University Ragnhildur Helgadóttir said. “The ministry expects the loss of income for Reykjavík University to be ISK 1.2 Billion per year if we choose this path. The board and administrators of the school agree on this estimate.”

Students’ choice

Ragnhildur went on to say that other schools would face cutbacks as well. “It’s important to note that total university funding is not being increased, but only divided differently. This means that the total income of universities would drop by over ISK 3 Billion [$21.7 Million, €20.1 Million] if all universities accepted this offer.”

About 3,500 students attend Reykjavík University and pay approximately ISK 288,000 [$2,100, €1,9oo] in tuition fees per semester. “The students are mostly studying the same subjects available in other universities, but choose to study with us even though we charge tuition fees,” Ragnhildur said. “We want to keep offering them this choice.”

Arts University Abolishes Tuition Fees

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

The Iceland University of the Arts is dropping tuition fees, starting fall semester 2024. The university’s management made this decision following today’s announcement by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir that independent universities will be offered full state funding if they abolish tuition fees, Vísir reports.

Three independent universities eligible

The University of the Arts is the first of the three qualifying universities to accept the offer. The other two independent universities are Reykjavík University and Bifröst University. According to a press release from Áslaug’s ministry, these universities have received 60 to 80% of the funding they would’ve received if they were public universities. To bridge this gap, the universities have charged students tuition fees of up to ISK 2 Million [$14,500, €13,500].

“In the spirit of funding being attached to each student, the universities can now do away with tuition fees and receive full public funding,” Áslaug said. “I think it’s fair that students have equal opportunity to study, regardless of the operational form of each university, and that those who choose to study at an independent university stand equal to those who study in the public universities. The state should not discriminate between students.”

A more diverse student body

In a press release today, the Iceland University of the Arts Rector Kristín Eysteinsdóttir celebrates the minister’s decision as the university has long wanted to do away with tuition fees. When the change comes into effect this fall, students will only have to pay a lower registration fee like in other public universities.

“This is a big moment for the university and the most important issue for equal access of students to higher arts education in this country,” Kristín said. “This will lead to more economic equality regarding access to arts education, which is something to celebrate. We expect that the decision will lead to an even more diverse group of applicants, and students as a result, in the coming years.”

Minister Denies University’s Appeal for Registration Fee Hike

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The Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation in Iceland, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, has denied a request from the country’s four public universities to increase registration fees, citing the financial strain already faced by students. The minister urges universities to improve the quality of education without raising fees.

Presidents appeal to ministry

Last year, the presidents of Iceland’s four public universities – the University of Iceland, the University of Akureyri, Hólar University, and the Agricultural University of Iceland – approached the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation to seek legislative changes that would allow them to increase registration fees from ISK 75,000 [$553 / €516] to ISK 95,000 [$700 / €654]. The fee has remained unchanged since 2014.

In December 2022, Jón Atli Benediktsson, President of the University of Iceland, stated that it was “timely to adjust the fee.” He explained that the next fiscal year would be challenging for the University of Iceland, as many academic departments were facing financial constraints. Student numbers had declined again after an increase during the pandemic, resulting in lower financial contributions from the state budget.

Jón Atli also maintained that the government had not fulfilled the promises made in the coalition agreement to increase funding for universities to the OECD average by the year 2020.

Tuition disguised as registration fees

As noted in an article on the matter on RÚV, students have long criticised the registration fee, calling it a disguised tuition fee. Rebekka Karlsdóttir, then President of the Student Council of the University of Iceland, stated that it was “no coincidence” that university presidents were seeking a fee increase precisely when the budget was under discussion in Parliament.

She stated that authorities and university officials must “stop sugar-coating the truth” about the reality of public higher education. “Which is, that there are tuition fees in public universities,” she stated.

Request denied

Today, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, announced that the ministry had denied the request to authorise an increase in registration fees. The institutions had requested permission to raise the fees from ISK 75,000 [$553 / €516] to ISK 95,000 [$700 / €654].

“University students are among those who are either newly entering the housing market or are struggling to secure housing,” Áslaug is quoted as saying in a statement from the ministry.

She also noted that a larger proportion of university students in Iceland have young children compared to those in neighbouring countries, and are taking their first steps in supporting a family. “High interest rates, difficulties in securing childcare, and various other economic conditions are already putting a strain on university students to such an extent that it is crucial for public entities not to increase their expenses,” the minister added.

The announcement states that funding for universities has increased, with an additional ISK 3.5 billion [$26 million / €24 million] planned for the year 2024 compared to previous projections. By 2028, the funding for higher education is expected to increase by ISK 6 billion [$44 million / €41 million]

“It is important that public universities, like other public entities, exercise restraint in their operations and find ways to improve the quality of education without raising registration fees,” the minister is quoted as saying.

Iceland to Consolidate University Applications into One Portal

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Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörndóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Industry, and Innovation, has recently announced plans to establish a single enrollment portal for all higher education in Iceland.

Currently, students applying for college in Iceland must separately submit applications to Iceland’s various universities. The new, simplified, portal would streamline this process and allow students to instead apply for all of Iceland’s universities through island.is, an official government website which handles many other administrative tasks already.

According to Áslaug, preliminary discussion with the rectors of Iceland’s top institutions have already been held. So far, the reception is positive.

In addition to simplifying the application process, the new portal will also consolidate information on course offerings, paths of study, prerequisites, funding, and other vital information for university students.

In her statement, Áslaug also said that the new online system would represent a first step in a changed model for funding in higher education, but no further information is available at this time.

 

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In the past few decades, startups have revolutionised how we communicate (Facebook), how we travel (Airbnb), and how we work (Zoom). They’ve also brought with them a new way of thinking about business, and even talking about it – one coloured with optimism. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the “idea economy,” joining a […]

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Minister Calls for Easing Restrictions Immediately

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Science, Industry, and Innovation, has stated that there is no need to await additional data on the newest wave of the pandemic – social restrictions should be eased immediately, RÚV reports. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has expressed contentment with the state of affairs at the National University Hospital and with the protection afforded by vaccines.

More infections, fewer hospitalisations

Despite a rising number of infections – almost a week after regulations were tightened – Minister Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has stated, in an interview with RÚV, that there is no need to await further data for social restrictions to be eased. The Minister’s rationale is predicated on the fewer hospitalisations that have resulted from the Omicron variant as compared to older variants; there has been almost no alteration in the number of people being treated for COVID-19 at the National University Hospital over the past few days.

There are 35 COVID patients in the hospital today. Children are the majority of those getting infected, and severe illness caused by Omicron is rare; although 90% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 over the recent days have been infected with the Omicron variety, the majority of COVID-19 deaths have been traced to the Delta variant

Nearly 1,500 individuals were diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday, about half of whom were self-isolating. Never before have as many individuals been in quarantine or self-isolation – 24,500 (7% of the nation) – since the pandemic began. An estimated 15% of Icelanders have now been infected with COVID-19. 

Calls for a serious discussion of restrictions

Minister Áslaug Arna believes that it is time to have a serious discussion on relaxing social restrictions: “We sometimes act fast to tighten restrictions, but we can also act fast to ease them. We don’t need to wait for data and then more data to implement relaxed regulations; on the contrary, continued restrictions require substantiating data in each case.

As noted by RÚV, the current government has not been unified in its stance toward social restrictions, and members of the Independence Party have suggested that it’s time to take a new tack with regard to the pandemic, among them Minister of Foreign Affairs Kolbrún Reykjfjörð Gylfadottir.

In terms of social restrictions, Áslaug Arna states that it is necessary to consider the burden that regulations have on society: “If we were a restriction-free society today, and a virus with similar infection numbers and hospitalisations began to spread, would we have the legal authority to take such extreme measures as we are taking today?”

Most ICU patients unvaccinated and infected with the Delta variant

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason expressed his contentment with the state of affairs at the National University Hospital, i.e. that despite increased cases, there were fewer hospitalisations. 

“There are not a lot of hospitalisations, and there are not a lot of COVID-patients requiring intensive care, which is pleasing. It’s not causing a strain on ICU’s .”

Þórólfur added the caveat that a high number of COVID-19 infections could, however, put a strain on the hospital, especially considering the high rate of infections among hospital staff. As noted by RÚV, children in primary schools comprised a third of total infections on Wednesday and nearly half of total infections on Tuesday. 90% of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 are infected with the Omicron variant, which is not the case for ICU patients: 

“The majority of those who are in intensive care are unvaccinated and infected with the Delta variant. It’s clear that the vaccines are preventing severe illness,” Þórólfur observed.

Parliament Rushing to Ensure National Security

Iceland’s parliament has only a few days to approve legal amendments that are intended to ensure national security in relation to the sale of telecommunications company Míla, RÚV reports. The company, which owns and operates nationwide telecommunications systems, was recently sold to French fund management company Ardian. Various parties in Iceland have expressed concern regarding the sale of such important infrastructure to a foreign company. The Icelandic government has imposed certain conditions on the sale.

Read More: Purchase of Míla is a Long-Term Investment

All of Iceland’s homes, businesses, and institutions are serviced by Míla’s nationwide telecommunications infrastructure, which includes copper wire, fibreoptic, and microwave systems. The company is therefore the basis of all telecommunications and electronic communications systems throughout the country. Former Minister of Transport Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson met with Ardian representatives last summer, and later stated he was optimistic that an agreement could be reached on their acquisition of Míla that would ensure national interests were protected. He mentioned conditions for the sale, including mandating that certain equipment used by Míla would remain in Iceland, that other equipment would be from countries that are Iceland’s defence allies, and that Icelandic authorities would be kept informed of the true owners of Míla at all times.

Áslaug Arna introduced the amendment bill concerning Míla in Iceland’s Parliament yesterday, saying it would strengthen and secure the legal basis for telecommunications with regard to national security. Opposition MPs criticised the government for introducing the bill so late, with Reform Party Chairperson Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir saying the working process of the bill has been characterised by carelessness. More comprehensive changes to the legislation are expected next year.

Discussing the sale of Míla, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir called telecommunications infrastructure a “key issue for public security in every society.”

Police Procedure Under Scrutiny Following Minister’s COVID Restriction Breach

Bjarni Benediktsson icelandic politics

Throughout the period of pandemic restrictions, Icelandic police sent hundreds of logs to media reporting breaches of gathering bans and social distancing regulations. One particular log, involving Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, has received more attention than any other, leading to phone calls from the Minister of Justice and an investigation by a Parliamentary committee. Now a leaked committee report has put the log under scrutiny again. The National Police Association is unsatisfied with how the matter has been handled.

“Honourable Minister” Mentioned in Police Log

In the early hours of December 24, 2020, media received logs from Reykjavík Capital Area Police describing how officers had broken up a large gathering in downtown Reykjavík the previous night. Iceland’s national gathering limit at the time was 10 individuals and social distancing of 2 metres was in effect. “Between 40-50 guests were gathered in the hall, and one honourable Minister of the Icelandic cabinet among them,” the log stated. Police reported that distancing regulations were “barely respected by anyone” at the event.

Read More: Criticism of Finance Minister After He Breaks COVID-19 Regulations

While police did not identify which minister was present at the gathering, it quickly came to light that it had been Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Chairman of the Independence Party. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir called the Capital Area Police Commissioner twice that day due to the log and according to RÚV’s sources asked whether she would issue an apology for its content. The Commissioner later stated she does not believe the Justice Minister’s phone calls constituted political intervention into police activities.

Committee Considers Police Conversation “Reprehensible”

The event organisers were fined, the matter was investigated by Parliament’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, and in the beginning of June a committee responsible for police supervision turned in a report that was leaked to media. The committee’s report includes a transcription of a conversation between two police officers who broke up the event:

What should the press release say? ‘Forty-person private party and nationally renowned individuals…’ Is that too much?

Not for me, I would read it. I knew two girls who were up there and they’re both Independence… like… social climbers.

The committee considered that conversation to be reprehensible and suggested it required further investigation. According to the report, the procedure of publishing media logs also required review. RÚV reports that the two officers did not write the log mentioning a minister present at the event.

National Police Association to File Complaint

Fjölnir Sæmundsson, Chairman of the National Police Association (LL) expressed surprise at the amount of attention the log has received. “This is almost censorship of police officer’s thoughts,” he stated, adding that he would have hoped police have as much a right to their personal thoughts as other citizens. “And then the other thing, their personal conversation is all of a sudden in the media, presumably verbatim.” LL will file a complaint with the Icelandic Data Protection Authority regarding the use of the recordings. “They are not saying this within hearing distance of others, they are standing at a distance and talking to each other and are just waiting for people to leave the building.” It bears noting that the officers have not been personally identified in the report or the media.

The transcribed comments above were originally edited out of the recordings police submitted for committee investigation. The decision to edit the recordings before submitting them has raised questions about police’s ability to tamper with such recordings.