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

icelandic startups

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.

Students Express ‘Grave Concern’ Regarding Financial Situation at the University of Iceland

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

In the wake of reports that University of Iceland is facing a deficit of as much as ISK 1 Billion [$7.02 million; €6.46 million] this year, the Student Council (SHÍ) issued a statement on Sunday expressing its “grave concern” about the situation.

“It’s clear that the lack of funding has had a serious impact on the school’s basic operations,” reads the statement, and the university council has, as a result, “approved austerity measures that include, among other things, teaching cuts and hiring freezes.” With even further cuts on the horizon for the 2024-25 academic year, the student council fears that the university will be unable to maintain comparable standards to other Nordic universities or adequately prepare its graduates to be competitive on the international labour market.

Stated goals not in line with existing funding

SHÍ says it has been vocal about its concerns regarding funding at the university on a number of occasions, most recently in its comment on HÍ’s 2023 budget. SHÍ’s president has also “repeatedly raised the issue and the seriousness of the situation with the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, as well as the fact that the university budget does not correspond to the priorities or goals that the new Ministry of Higher Education has outlined.”

“It defies logic that at the same time calls are being made for an increase in the number of students in the health sciences that the School of Health Sciences has a deficit of ISK 240 million [$1.69 million; €1.55 million] and that goals are being set for increased STEM course offerings while at the same time, the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences has had to significantly reduce teaching due to lack of funding.”

‘The University has fallen in international rankings’

“The University of Iceland plays an important role in Icelandic society and is one of the world’s leading universities,” continues the statement,  “but the fact is that due to a lack of adequate funding for research and teaching, the school has fallen in international rankings,”

“Immediate action needs to be taken to foster the foundations of the educational system and strengthen it for the future. SHÍ agrees joins the university council in urging the government to accelerate its review of the university’s operations model such that the funding for public university education is in line with those in comparable countries.”

The current state of affairs is contrary to what the government has declared to be its policy regarding higher education in Iceland, says SHÍ, namely that it will “aim for comparable funding of universities in Iceland as is observed in the other Nordic countries.” SHÍ calls for the government to develop an operations model for the university that is not subject to dramatic fluctuation by increasing incentives and fixed funding for universities.

“The Student Council demands that the government live up to its constitutional obligation and significantly increase funding for public university education,” concludes the statement. “It is essential to Icelandic society, and will improve standards of living, value creation, and the competitiveness of the educational system, as well as Icelandic society on the international stage.”