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.

“Icelandic as a Second Language” University’s Most Popular Subject

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

The University of Iceland received nearly 9,500 applications for undergraduate and graduate programmes for the 2023-24 school year. This is an increase of over 6% from last year. Icelandic as a second language proved the most popular subject, with over 640 applications received, Vísir reports.

Almost 9,500 applications received

The application deadline for the 2023-2024 school year to the University of Iceland expired on June 5. Nearly 9,500 applications were received for undergraduate and graduate programmes, with the number of applicants having increased by over 6% year-on-year.

An announcement from the University of Iceland notes that the university received a total number of 5,357 applications for undergraduate studies (up by over 6% year-on-year); a total of 4,115 applications for graduate studies (up by over 7% year-on-year); and nearly 100 applications for doctoral studies.

As noted by Vísir, the number of foreign applications received by the University of Iceland continues to increase in parallel with the school’s growing foreign cooperation and the increased diversification of Icelandic society. The number of foreign applications increased by 20% year-on-year, amounting to nearly 2,000 (compared to the approximately 1,000 foreign applications received in 2016).

“Icelandic as a second language” the most popular subject

The Faculty of the Humanities received the most applications of all departments, or nearly 1,390. Among the subjects offered by the department, Icelandic as a second language is by far the most popular, with more than 640 applications having been received for either a BA programme or a shorter practical one-year programme. This is a year-on-year increase of just over 33%.

“It’s a real pleasure to see that Icelandic as a second language is a very popular subject. This is where the University of Iceland fulfils its social role. This is a subject that we will continue to promote,” Jón Atli Benediktsson, President of the University of Iceland, told Vísir.

As noted by Vísir, there are no restrictions on the number of students accepted into the subject and there is no intention to impose such restrictions. Jón Atli speculated that the increase in applications was to be explained by a greater diversity of university students and the increase in the number of immigrants.

“Regarding the increase in the number of foreign applications in general, diversification, of course, plays a role, alongside the good reputation that the University of Iceland enjoys abroad.”

Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 at University of Iceland’s Office and Cafeteria

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

A case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at the University of Iceland’s main cafeteria. Several university employees, including Rector Jón Atli Benediktsson, are in quarantine after an employee of the university working in the main building was found to have COVID-19.

The Cafeteria staff will be going into quarantine and screening tests, and the cafeteria and salad bar will be closed until the results are in. Háma is the largest restaurant in the university area, and it’s where all the hot food for student cafeterias under the Háma brand all over campus is prepared. These cafeterias will remain open but will not be offering soup or hot food. An email was sent to all students of the university last night stating that the university was taking all necessary precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in collaboration with the Department of Civil Protection’s contact tracing team and the Chief Epidemiologist.

Due to the COVID-19 cases within the university, the rector encourages students to attend lessons and meeting online, wash their hands frequently and keep up with social distancing. “This is a reminder to us all that although, fortunately, the domestic infection rate is falling, the pandemic is far from over.  I would like to urge you all, dear colleagues and students, to hold meetings remotely and to follow the official infection control rules to the letter. We must continue to follow strict hygiene practices and keep at least one-metre distance from others. If we are experiencing even the mildest symptoms, we must stay at home without exception.,” writes Jón Atli in a letter to all members of the university.

In his letter, the rector reminded staff and students of the psychological therapy options available to them, reminding students that the University is offering free psychology therapy for students. He urges students who are “experiencing anxiety due to the current situation to book an individual session online.”

The university has made every effort to keep the school’s operations going for the fall term. All lectures are available online, and teachers have to be prepared to manage all schoolwork over the internet if circumstances call for it. Students are allowed to attend lessons but must keep a social distance of one metre at all times.