University of Akureyri to Offer Courses for Non-native Icelandic Speakers

Akureyri Iceland

The University of Akureyri recently announced on its website that it will offer four new courses of study suited for students with native languages other than Icelandic.

Beginning in the fall semester of 2024, students at the University of Akureyri will be able to study Media Studies, Modern Studies, Social Sciences, and Preschool Education at the University.

The new courses are offered in collaboration with University of Iceland.

Read more: Icelandic Language Strengthened in “Landmark” Initiative

According to the University of Akureyri, the new courses are designed for students with basic skills in the Icelandic language in order to make accessible study programmes predominantly taught in Icelandic.

The new courses will be taught in both English and Icelandic. The courses will each last 4 years, and will comprise 240 ECTS credits.

The courses will all be taught as distance-learning courses online, with language classes taught online in real-time.

There will additionally be in-person sessions built into the courses, with students meeting once a semester in Akureyri. Students in the Preschool and Primary Education programme will meet more than the other courses, 2-3 times a semester in Akureyri.

Applications for the programmes are open from March 2 to June 5.

Read more about education and the Icelandic language.

Iceland’s Police Academy to Accept 50% More Students

police station Hlemmur

Iceland’s Police Academy at the University of Akureyri will accept 50% more students this fall, a measure intended to solve a shortage of police officers in the country, RÚV reports. Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson has stated that the safety of civilians is ensured in Iceland, but it is nevertheless important to take measures to address the staffing shortage. Iceland has the second-lowest number of police officers per capita of any European country.

A recent study found staffing shortages in rural police departments in Iceland mean that police often to turn to members of the public to assist with law enforcement work. Due to a lack of human resources and the long distance that would often be required to travel for backup or additional assistance, rural police officers often, for example, ask those present to help direct traffic in the event of a car accident or turn to local Search and Rescue squads for help.

“Arrangements have already been made at the University of Akureyri, which trains policemen, to increase the number of students by 50% from next autumn,” the Minister of Justice stated. “It takes some time, to work up to having educated police officers, and there is also a shortage of educated police officers in certain departments in the countryside.”

A working group is currently investigating whether there are ways to better distribute policing in order to address the staff shortage. The Minister of Justice stated that more funding would be allocated to the issue in the spring budget bill. He also added that the shortening of the work week that took effect might have to be reconsidered.

“We need to look at the fact that there have been many doubts in this sphere whether the shortening of the workweek has been a wise measure. We need to look at how to that develops but it puts an increased demand on human resources, that is absolutely clear.”

Policing has been in the media spotlight in Iceland this month following two shootings that occurred just days apart in Reykjavík. The Minister of Justice is examining whether to arm local police with tasers. Philosopher Gústav Adolf Bergmann Sigurbjörnsson has argued that solving staffing issues and increasing police training is a better way to ensure the safety of both police officers and civilians than to arm the police with additional weapons.

Over 6,500 Students Starting at Icelandic Universities this Fall

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

The academic year is underway again at most of Iceland’s universities. RÚV reports that just over 6,500 new students are embarking on college-level studies in the country this fall.

Most of these students are starting as undergraduates at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík. Current freshman enrolment stands at 3,400, although it’s likely that around 100 will register late in the next few weeks. This is up from last year’s freshmen class of 3,300 students.

Just over 1,700 new students are starting at the University of Reykjavík (HR) this fall, including 140 exchange students. This is a 9% increase in first-time enrolment from last year. Men make up 56% of HR’s incoming class and women 44%.

The University of Akureyri is welcoming 1,100 new students, 800 of whom are women. Bifröst University in West Iceland has 226 new students—136 in undergraduate programs and 90 in Master’s courses. The Agricultural University of Iceland, also in West Iceland, has an incoming class of 130 students—75 undergraduates, 35 vocational students, and 20 who are taking advanced degrees. Two-thirds of these students are women.

At the time of writing, the University of Hólar in North Iceland was unable to provide enrolment figures.

Majority of Immigrants Dissatisfied with Quality of Icelandic Instruction

About 60% of immigrants are unsatisfied with the Icelandic language instruction available in Iceland, RÚV reports. A recent survey shows that there is little correlation between how well immigrants believe they speak Icelandic and how many language courses they have taken. Nearly half of the country’s immigrants consider their Icelandic language skills to be poor.

The study was based on the results of a survey entitled “How is your life in Iceland?” was conducted as part of a research project on immigrant adaptation in Iceland that started at the beginning of last year and is being overseen by the University of Akureyri, in collaboration with the University of Iceland in Reykjavík, as well as universities in Tromsø in Norway, Luxembourg, and Sápmi, or Lapland, in Finland.

More than 2,200 individuals aged 18-80 took part in the study, or 5% of Iceland’s immigrants. The majority of the respondents were women. Respondents were from all parts of the country and 70% of them had lived in Iceland for three years or more.


Significant dissatisfaction with quality of Icelandic instruction

The study found that one-fifth of immigrants in Iceland have not attended language courses in Iceland, although 80% say they have. Half of the respondents said they had taken one to three courses in Icelandic.

Almost half, or 46% of respondents, considered their language skills in Icelandic to be poor or said they didn’t speak the language at all. 9% said they were fluent in Icelandic and one-fifth of respondents said their language skills were fairly good. A fourth of respondents said their handle on the language was neither good nor bad. Women generally feel that they have a better handle on the language than men; 18% of male respondents said they did not speak Icelandic.

Almost 60% of individuals said that they were very or reasonably satisfied with the Icelandic course offerings where they live. 20% said they were very unsatisfied with their local course offerings. When it comes to the actual quality of the teaching, however, the results are dramatically different: 25% said they were happy with the teaching quality, while 59% said they were rather or very dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction levels did not vary much based on the region that the respondent lived in.


‘Something has to change’

Lara Wilhelmine Hoffmann, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Iceland who took part in the study said the results were unexpected. “Yes, it’s a surprise because we know that immigrants in Iceland want to learn Icelandic. Many people attend classes but are unsatisfied with them. Yes, it comes as a surprise and it’s clear that something has to change.”

The researchers have attempted to figure out why immigrants are so unsatisfied with their Icelandic instruction. Lara said one reason could be the kind of education that teachers of Icelandic receive. “There is not enough training for people who want to teach foreigners Icelandic,” she noted in an interview with Iceland Review—that is, specific training in teaching Icelandic as a non-native language. Lara said that many people who teach Icelandic in Iceland have been trained as teachers of the language for native speakers. She said that a program for teachers of Icelandic to non-native speakers would be a positive development and pointed to existing models in Norway and Germany. “Language courses in Norway and Sweden, for example, are free for people who want to live in those countries,” she explained. “In Iceland, you have to pay for the courses.”

“The Master’s program in “annarsmálfræði” (foreign language studies) that the University of Iceland has offered since 2016 is a good step in the right direction,” Lara continued. “Hopefully we will see more educational opportunities for those who want to teach Icelandic as a foreign language. This is important, as the number of immigrants in Iceland has been increasing rapidly in recent years and the Icelandic language is central to Icelandic identity and culture.”

Lara also noted that researchers still aren’t sure how those immigrants who have strong Icelandic language skills learned the language. “They could have possibly learned it at work,” she speculated. “Icelandic classes aren’t the only way to learn Icelandic.”


Need for teacher specialization

It’s also worth noting that those who teach Icelandic to immigrants have a much different sense of the situation. According to Eyjólfur Sturlaugsson, the managing director of the Fræðslunetið lifelong learning center in South Iceland, the results do come as a surprise. Eyjólfur explained that most language learning entities have their own internal quality measures, and overall, the measures have suggested that Icelandic teaching for non-native speakers is yielding good results.

While he said that the results of the study need to be examined more closely, he agreed with Lara that there is a need for increased specialization in this area. “Although the centers are using educated teachers, obviously only a small fraction of them have much specialization in teaching adults of foreign origin.”