“It Encourages Them to Appreciate Their Studies More”
Government MP Drífa Hjartardóttir, who has long experience with administering education at all levels in Iceland, is of the opinion that: “students should pay a greater proportion of the cost of their own university education than in the past. It is important that students pay a reasonable part of their own education because it encourages them to appreciate their studies more, and to work harder.”
Opposition deputy MP Mr Atli Gíslason of the Left-Green Movement begs to differ. “All talk of fees encouraging the students to work harder suggests that students are not taking their studies seriously at present. Our basic policy on this issue is that the right of equal educational opportunities should be guaranteed, regardless of students’ personal finances. Any increase in registration or admission fees at the University of Iceland is contrary to our policy.” Mr Gíslason says there are no two ways about it; fees of any kind “discourage people from studying at the university.”
Relying on Banks rather than Books
Ms. Hjartardóttir argues that the student loan fund will soften the blow for students. “The Iceland Student Loan Fund will continue to assist students in their educational pursuit, and prevent students who have limited financial capabilities from being denied university education on the grounds of poverty.”
It is true that the amount itself that students need to pay for ‘registration’ or ‘admission’ is still not high considering many countries. However, those who protest the increase say that the ‘so-called registration fee’ should be called by its real name – admission fee. This increase in the registration fee looks like a sign that the government is trying rid itself of its commitment to providing free university education. In the meantime the students suffer. LÍN does not lend money for registration nor do students get money from LÍN until they have received their first-term marks. Instead they rely on banks to tide them over.
What do the candidates have to say?
Four hopeful candidates are currently running in an election for the rector’s position at the University of Iceland that takes place March 10th. So what opinions do they have on the issue of student fees?
Professor Ágúst Einarsson, head of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration
declined to comment. On his election campaign website, however, he states that he is “against charging undergraduates.” His opinion is different when it comes to graduates, as he states on his website: “A moderate fee may be suitable at certain departments at the University. The most pressing issue for the university is to get more funding from the government; similar to the financial support universities in the Nordic countries receive. I was first to point this out in public some ten years ago.” That said, rector Páll Skúlason stated in an interview, published on the university’s website on October 26th 2003 that Professor Einarsson was instrumental in the move to adopt school fees at the graduate level at the university.
Professor Einar Stefánsson, former dean of Faculty of Medicine, says: “University students in most countries do not pay for their graduate studies. Further, I am of the opinion that the state should allocate more money for university education. Currently, the Nordic countries and the USA spend more than double the amount of money in percentage of GDP than Iceland does.” Professor Stefánsson speaks of Iceland’s position in a European context. “Universities must adapt to progress. Our graduates are competing in a labour market of some 400 million people. No half measures will do to ensure the competitiveness of our students and our country. University fees would definitely discourage students from studying.”
Professor Kristín Ingólfsdóttir, deputy head of Faculty of Pharmacy,
says: “I denounce the idea of charging students a fee for studying at the university on the grounds that university education should be affordable to all. Should it become necessary in the future to charge students, an agreement would have to be made with LÍN to accommodate such changes. In any case, society would have to pick up some of the tab for university education anyway as it also costs society to extend affordable loans to students.” Ingólfsdóttir would like to see a fundamental change at the university. “The government needs to acknowledge the importance of university education. Instead of bickering about the school fees, we should be turning our attention towards developing the curriculum and expanding research.” Ingólfsdóttir is not just the only female candidate, but in fact the first female candidate ever to run for this position.
Professor Jón Torfi Jónasson from the Faculty of Social Sciences and a scholar on education and educational theory,
expects society to pay for university education at undergraduate and graduate level – not individual students. “Society has agreed upon fostering university education,” he explains. “This agreement is now being challenged in some places. In my capacity as a rector, I would advocate the importance of university education for the reason that university education is a vital catalyst for progress in today’s modern society.” Professor Jónasson feels it is acceptable to charge some students. “Demand for education at all levels has increased steadily and the university should be allowed to accept fees for certain types of continuing education, as companies can clearly gain from sending their professionals to us for knowledge update for which they should be prepared to pay.”
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