Billions Lost through Foreign Gambling Websites

currency iceland

Icelanders spend an estimated ISK 20 Billion [$146 Million, €134 Million] on foreign gambling websites every year. This leads to a tax revenue loss of up to ISK 7 Billion [$51 Million, €47 Million], according to the CEO of one of Iceland’s six legal gambling operations.

Addiction a problem

In an interview with Morgunblaðið, Bryndís Hrafnkelsdóttir, CEO of HHÍ, a gambling operation whose proceeds fund the University of Iceland, said that foreign gambling websites like Coolbet, Bet365, and Betsson operate without public oversight and that their proceeds do not benefit Icelandic society.

“Authorities need to take on illegal gambling, which has been allowed to happen in Iceland for too long,” Bryndís said, adding that gambling addiction is a big problem in Iceland, especially among young men. “The problem doesn’t disappear if we introduce harm reduction for addiction and will only increase if nothing is done. The gamblers will find another way and move from legal gambling to the illegal foreign sites which will cause money to stream out of the country instead of going towards good causes domestically.”

Profits for social causes

HHÍ has been operating for 90 years and funds the building and maintenance of the University of Iceland’s campus. Six Icelandic companies have a license for gambling operations in Iceland and their proceeds all go towards social causes, such as education, youth groups or sporting activities.

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.

New Centre for Icelandic Studies, Edda, Gets Bad Reception

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

Edda, the recently completed Centre for Icelandic Studies, gets no mobile phone reception is several spots throughout the building due to its distinctive copper siding.

Kristinn Jóhannesson, director of operations and technology at the University of Iceland stated to RÚV that it was an unfortunate but understandable growing pain for the new building.

Edda had been in the works for some time, only opening earlier this year to the public. Plans for the new facility, which will house Iceland’s priceless collection of medieval manuscripts, were approved in 2005. However, the banking collapse and several other setbacks delayed the project. By 2013, it was defunded by the then-sitting government, only to be taken up again in 2016, and construction properly resuming in 2019.

The new centre, which will additionally serve as a home for literary studies and Icelandic language teaching, is notable for its distinct architectural style. On the outside of the building, excerpts from medieval manuscripts are stamped on the copper façade. However, it is exactly this modern and striking design that is now causing problems for the new building, with areas throughout the building without mobile reception, according to RÚV.

Kristinn stated to RÚV that the university has received some complaints regarding the matter, but he’s hopeful a solution will be found. He also stated that the staff is still settling in to the new building, and it’s difficult to tell so far how pleased university workers and students are with the new facilities.

Classes in Edda are set to begin in the new year, and Kristinn states that several other kinks are currently being ironed out, such as lighting and settings for the heating and ventilation.

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“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.”

12,000 Guests Visit New Centre for Icelandic Studies

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies

The inauguration of the University of Iceland’s new Centre for Icelandic Studies last Thursday proved to be well-attended, with 12,000 guests stopping by to visit the state-of-the-art building that will soon house Iceland’s most valuable Medieval manuscripts. To celebrate its completion, the new centre hosted an open house on April 20 last week, the First Day of Summer.

At the inauguration, Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir revealed the name of the new Centre: Edda. The name references both the Prose and Poetic Edda, seminal works in the study of Old Norse poetry and is also a woman’s name in modern Icelandic. The name was chosen from some 1,500 submissions. Lilja explained that the winning name is both uniquely Icelandic and internationally known, referencing the centre’s function while also complementing other building names on the University of Iceland campus.

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies
Golli. Edda, the new Centre for Icelandic Studies.

The University of Iceland’s Árni Magnússon Institute is in the process of moving its operations into the new centre, which will house the institute’s collection of Medieval Icelandic manuscripts as well as featuring specially-designed rooms for conservation, research, and exhibition of the artefacts. A library, café, lecture halls, and classrooms will also be part of the facilities.

Edda Centre for Icelandic Studies
Golli. Edda, the new Centre for Icelandic Studies.

The Icelandic Parliament originally decided to finance the building of the centre in 2005, but the construction faced several delays, most recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the top university programmes in Iceland?

Iceland is home to several major universities, but the two largest are the University of Iceland, a publicly funded research university, and Reykjavík University, a private university that specializes in business, law, engineering, and several other fields.

It may not come as a surprise that some of the top university programmes are in fields that you may already associate with Iceland.

Geosciences stands out as a good example, as Iceland’s unique geological features make it one of the few places in the world where glaciologists and vulcanologists can work side by side with their peers. The University of Iceland is also home to several research institutions in this field, such as the Earthquake Engineering Research Centre and the Nordic Volcanological Centre. Similarly, Iceland is also home to several programmes that specialize in renewable energy, giving prospective engineers and environmentalists the opportunity to work hands-on with hydroelectric and geothermal energy providers.

Because of the wealth of historical sources and the small populations, Icelanders are also known for their interest in their own genealogies. It’s no surprise then that Iceland is also known for well-regarded programmes in molecular biology and genetics. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE, founded in 1996, made great strides in the study of population-wide genetics, and deCODE’s influential work has also fostered the development of various programmes in Iceland, including biotechnology, bioinformatics, and bioengineering.

For those with a more humanitarian bent, the University of Iceland also offers programmes in medieval history and literature. The presence of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and countless medieval manuscripts means that Iceland is one of the best places in the world for scholars who want to study the Old Norse language and its literary corpus.

Prospective students in Iceland may be interested in these schools:

 

 

Polish Studies Minor Established at University of Iceland

The University of Iceland is inaugurating a new program this fall: a minor in Polish Studies. RÚV reports that the university’s Polish language courses have been popular, particularly among elementary school teachers. Some 20,000 people of Polish origin live in Iceland, making it the largest single immigrant group in the country.

The new program has been in the works and is partially funded by a grant from NAWA, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange. The institution will send a visiting instructor to Iceland this summer, who will start teaching in the fall semester.

Eyjólfur Már Sigurðsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Language Centre, says the course of study will be a 60-credit minor, which students can take alongside another course of study. “This is primarily a language study course for beginners, but also a cultural course. That’s why we want to call it Polish Studies, because we are teaching both the language and the culture.”

Read More: Iceland’s Polish Community

Some of the program’s courses will be taught in the late afternoons and will be accessible to the general public through the university’s continuing education institute, Endurmenntun HÍ.

Katarzyna Rabęda has been teaching Polish at the University of Iceland for five years. She says that most Polish language students are teachers who want to better connect with Polish schoolchildren, followed by Icelanders who are connected to Polish people through family ties – usually a Polish spouse or children. Katarzyna says that the program has been popular but rather limited and welcomes the upcoming changes, which will allow more time for instructors to cover Polish culture, films, music and history.

Eruption at Mt. Askja Likely “Sooner Rather than Later”

Lake Askja, Askja, Volcano

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, told Fréttablaðið on Wednesday that the Askja volcano was likely to erupt “sooner rather than later.” Temperature patterns at the surface of Lake Askja suggest that geothermal flux had significantly increased over the past few weeks.

“It’s about to erupt”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group (i.e. Rannsóknastofa í eldfjallafræði og náttúruvá) revealed that the surface water of Lake Askja (situated in the crater of the volcano Askja in the northeast of the glacier Vatnajökull) had reached a temperature of 2°C and that a thermal analysis of a satellite image showed that the water was heating up steadily.

Ármann Höskuldsson, a volcanologist and geochemist at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, spoke to Fréttablaðið regarding this update: “This means the geothermal fissures have opened up. It is the effect of magma flowing into the mountain. The roof of the mountain gives way and cracks open. This means that the heat reaches the surface faster and that the water heats up and the ice melts.”

Ármann added that under normal conditions there would be ice over the lake. This increased ground temperature in the area was, therefore, abnormal – which could only mean one thing: “It’s about to erupt,” Ármann concluded. The volcanologist was, however, careful to caveat this statement by saying that it was impossible to predict exactly when the eruption would occur.

“But we’ll hopefully be given reasonable notice when the time comes,” Ármann remarked.

Read the full post from the University of Iceland’s Volcanology and Natural Hazard Research Group here.

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.”

University of Iceland Researcher Studies Chick Development, Food Resources

plover chick in iceland

Postdoctoral researcher, Camilo Carneiro, at University of Iceland has spent this summer on a research project studying the development of several Icelandic bird species with regard to food resources.

The project has monitored some 110 nests, including whimbrel and plover. Laying dates and hatching success were recorded as part of University of Iceland’s ongoing monitoring of these species.

Because eggs change in density during the embryonic development, researchers are able to estimate the day of hatching with a high degree of accuracy. Once the chicks hatched, the parents were marked and measured with coloured rings.

Chicks were monitored and measured every 3 days. However, researchers have to wait until the chicks develop before also tagging them with rings, as their legs must be long enough to not interfere with their mobility.

Stool samples were also collected from the hatchlings to monitor their diet to better understand the relationship between food resources and chick development.

A particular interest in the study was the role of crowberries in hatchling diets. The berries were measured every 3 days, and estimates for the total fruit biomass available to the developing chicks were calculated.

In addition to traditional monitoring techniques, the study also employed GPS tagging to monitor their migrations patterns.

As can be seen in the above Twitter thread, once the hatchlings become independent (which generally takes around 4 weeks), they migrate non-stop to North Africa. Notably, the juveniles tend to stick together during migration.

Camilo’s research is supported by Rannís, the Icelandic Centre for Research.