All Icelanders have been badly affected by the economic crash.
A group that has seen its world turn upside down is students abroad. Annually thousands of Icelandic students seek higher education across the world. They depend on loans from the Student Loan Organization to pay tuition and living expenses.
When the ISK basically halved in value in October and the banks collapsed those students faced two sorts of problems. One was transferring their money to their banks abroad, the other was that their costs rose in most cases by 30-50%.
Althingi approved of 300 million ISK being available to the Student Loan Organization for “emergency loans” to those who were in trouble because of the crisis. Around 115 applicants filed for an emergency loan, much fewer than probably needed help because the process was too complicated, according to the managing director of the Students’ Abroad Association.
Of those 115 students, seven were allocated an emergency loan.The crisis hit in October and the decision was announced in December.
When Gunnar Birgisson, the director of the board at the Student Loan Organization was asked about the slow process by Channel 2, he replied that “young people are often impatient” with a laugh.
It is easy for Gunnar to laugh. He wasn’t studying in the UK this October, trying to transfer his money for tuition and living expenses from his bank in Iceland. He wasn’t experiencing almost doubling of costs between years in a foreign country, trying to finish his education in total uncertainty.
He didn’t have to spend his savings while waiting for a decision on whether Kaupthing should be sold back to its former Chairman. He didn’t have to wait for the banks to go through all transfers and get an approval from the Central Bank. He didn’t have to face the fact that the school is seeking assurance of payment ability before acceptance for next year. He did not have to walk into a bank branch and wait for an hour until it became clear what happened to his money that had been lost for a month.
That’s what happened in my family. The only reason my girlfriend did not apply for emergency loans was that she had gotten her student loans in GBP and therefore did not suffer on the exchange rate. That is until it was paid onto an ISK account in December and not transferred straight to her GBP account because the banks are still not working properly. Of course it was to late to apply then.
Gunnar could allow himself a laugh on television, not tears like the student in Denmark who tried to explain how she no longer could afford her rent with the money that formerly paid for rent and necessities. She could not hold back the tears, let alone manage a laugh.