REYKJAVIK – The European Students’ Union (ESU) believes that Iceland´s future and Iceland´s education sector will be profoundly damaged if the capacity of all people to access and participate in higher education will be limited. That could be the consequence of a recent proposal presented by the country’s Minister of Education, Illugi Gunnarsson.
ESU expressed its concerns in an official letter sent today to the Minister of Education, Members of the Education Committee of the Icelandic Parliament Althingi and the Governing Board of the Student Loan Fund. The statement was signed by Rok Primozic, ESU’s Chairperson.
“A proposal to increase the amount of the ECTS-points that are required in order to receive student support reduces the flexibility necessary for students’ access to higher education. It does not take into account the needs of students with families, part-time students, students with disabilities and cases of students’ illnesses, as well as many other situations. Higher education is a public responsibility all over Europe and by undermining access to higher education the Icelandic government will only be strengthening the privileges of those who already have a high socio-economic status. Iceland has a responsibility to ensure that the structure of those people attending higher education mirrors the general population,” the letter said.
ESU is very disappointed that the new government in Iceland has not showed interest in the benefits of strengthening the country’s grant system, like Icelandic students called for before the parliamentary elections last winter.
Consequences of rising student debt
Loans are not a sustainable funding model in ESU’s opinion and an access barrier to higher education. The consequences of rising student debt can be best seen in the United States where the total student debt exceeded $914 billion on 30th of June 2012 and Americans now owe more because of student loans than credit cards. With the increase in total loans, the loan delinquency has also increased and more and more young people are struggling to repay their student loans.
“It is sad to see Iceland go down the all too common road where access to education becomes a commodity accessible to an increasingly privileged few. In a time when Iceland’s economy is actually strengthening, it would be wiser to increase support for a broader range of students to be able to access higher education,” says Primozic.
The importance of higher education highlighted
ESU believes that the proposal to change the financing system for higher education in Iceland undermines the important role that higher education plays in each society. Recent reports published by OECD and Eurydice highlight the economic and social benefits deriving from higher education.
“Higher education has a central role with social development, democratic empowerment and advancing of the general well-being and economic development of societies. Thus, it only makes sense to strengthen the grant system in Iceland as it is a key component in Iceland’s continuing recovery,” says Primozic.
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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 celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012.