REYKJAVIK – Icelandic students took their government and the Student Loan Fund in Iceland (LIN) to court and won. The European Students’ Union (ESU) congratulates Icelandic students on their success and thinks their case is an inspiration for student activism across Europe, proving that students should be included in policy-making processes at all levels.
Following parliamentary elections in the spring, a new government was formed this summer. Shortly after Illugi Gunnarsson, the Minister for Education, took his position, he presented changes that he wanted to introduce to the student support system that gave students almost no notice to react or voice their opinions. Students would have had to finish more ECTS credits per annum to be eligible for support, reducing the flexibility necessary to widen students’ access to higher education. Additionally, some unfavourable reforms would have been introduced to the payment system.
Students protested the reforms, especially the fact that their concerns were ignored in the process, and decided to take the government and LIN to court when it was clear that Icelandic authorities were unwilling to negotiate. On 30 August the Reykjavik District Court ruled that students should have been given more time to react. In the end, the proposal was withdrawn but the government wants nevertheless to proceed with its plan for the next academic year.
European students stand together in solidarity
ESU sent a letter to the Minister of Education and Student Loan Fund in Iceland on 5 July in support of the arguments used by the Icelandic student body SHI and other student unions in Iceland against the proposal. In addition, the national unions of students in Armenia, Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Spain sent their letters of support to SHI.
“Icelandic students faced an immense challenge when authorities wanted to introduce these reforms quickly and with force. They won this battle and we hope that Icelandic authorities will change their position towards students and see them as the main benefactors of the education system. Reforms can never be introduced effectively without students’ involvement. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and we will speak up for our friends to make sure that Icelandic authorities respect democratic values in their policy-making processes,” says Rok Primozic, the Chairperson of ESU.
ESU hopes that the Icelandic government will reconsider its policy for higher education following the court’s ruling and see that the best way forward is to strengthen the student support system instead of weakening it. It is important that authorities take students’ concerns seriously because otherwise it may have very negative consequences for the education system and society as a whole. Happy students are the prerequisite for a well-functioning education system and a better society.
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The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit www.esu-online.org. ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.