Iceland has a general compulsory schooling for children aged 6-16. The school duty was introduced in 1907 for all children aged 10-14. Previously, the training was based on voluntary teaching, which was mainly run by the church. In 1934, compulsory schooling was extended by three years and in 1946, compulsory schooling was extended for another year. The school system received four levels, and the municipalities were given the opportunity to run school for five- and six-year-old children. Teaching for six-year-olds now occurs in most municipalities. In contrast, schooling for five-year-old children is only offered in a few places.
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In 1974, the former four-part system was transformed into a three-part system. The three school levels are a 9-year elementary school, a 2- to 4-year high school and college. The purpose of the laws of 1974 was to give all students the same opportunity to study what suits their interests and abilities.
Iceland is sparsely populated with many small municipalities, which is why the municipalities have had to work together to be able to carry out teaching in sparsely populated areas. For example, a large number of boarding schools have been set up for primary school education. There are also a couple of boarding schools for high school youth. Since the 1990s, there are a number of educational options based on distance education.
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At the upper secondary level there are two main options. One is regular high school, where only 4-year theoretical education is given. The other alternative is two- to four-year secondary schools, where both theoretical and vocational education are provided. In total, there were 34 upper secondary schools in Iceland in 2012. The Bachelor’s degree requires four years of study, which gives access to university education. In addition to the two main alternatives, there are some specially oriented schools at the upper secondary level, e.g. business school and vocational and vocational schools.
The University of Iceland (Háskóli Íslands) in Reykjavík was founded in 1911. It has 25 special faculties with a total of just over 13,000 students (2011), including postgraduate students. At the university level there has also been a teacher’s college in Reykjavík since 1971. Many students choose to study abroad, most in Scandinavia and the United States.
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There are few countries with a market economy where the exporting companies have as little equity and as large loan capital as the Icelandic ones – especially in fisheries and fish processing. This is not because the owners spend relatively more on their own consumption than in countries with higher equity. On the other hand, this is mainly due to new investments being made with loan capital. New investments in fisheries and processing are made from public fund capital, which receives their income from product taxes, government loans from abroad or directly with government grants. The same applies to industry, albeit with a lesser percentage coverage, and to agriculture which also receives direct subsidies for cultivation of new land. Working capital comes from the banks.
A large part of the loan capital is managed by state banks, which are led by people who have more or less obvious connection to the individual parties. Inflation has generally been higher than the borrowing rate, and there has been great demand for loan capital. This has made political control over the lending institutions particularly important. The strong public participation in investment is not politically justified, but is a consequence of the fact that wage costs play such a large role for export companies.
A large part of the fishery and fish processing is run by companies wholly or partly owned by the public – municipal – or cooperative. These are also companies that attract low private capital. As an example, the country’s largest shipping company was created by the municipality of Reykjavik and controlled by the Independent Party’s municipal council majority. Within the regular factory industry, the cooperation is the most important grouping – the cooperative factories are run in a coordinated way. Municipalities do not play a major role in this sector. The private factories are spread over many different owners and industries. The state is a sole producer of fertilizers and cement and has also engaged as co-owner in a few major crisis-hit factories.
The retail trade outside Reykjavik is dominated by the Cooperation Act, which has its main focus in the sale of agricultural equipment and the processing of agricultural products. Reykjavik, on the other hand, is the stronghold of the grocery store. The export trade in fish is entirely in the hands of legally protected country associations of producers. The import trade is dominated by private wholesalers, but the cooperative’s country also has a large import. Companies within the construction industry – which are of quite varying size – are predominantly privately owned. Housing is usually self-contained, and many are “self-built”. An association of contractors, the cooperative and the state has taken care of military civil engineering tasks and obtained these without a tender. Both here and in the import trade there is public control and there is virtually no competition.
The largest concentration of privately owned capital is found in two large transport companies. One operates shipping exclusively for the country’s own shipping needs, and the freight is usually subject to price controls. The other is an airline in international competition. There is no stock exchange. Shares are such an essential part of corporate capital that the lending institutions have usually demanded personal guarantees from the board members – yes, in some cases even by all the shareholders. People without their own business, but with good income, have gladly invested their available funds in housing in Reykjavik and surrounding areas, as well as in government bonds that provide a high and safe return.
For wage labor organizations, it can be difficult to define one’s counterparty in wage negotiations. Contradictory political loyalty in the wage-earner organizations also does not make it easier to gather a responsible wage policy. Only in one case (1944-46) has the country had a government that gathered, so to speak, all the voices of organized wage workers. Since then, fundamental disagreement on the base question has ruled out such a coalition if other obstacles have not. Under the two left governments, the Independence Party succeeded in turning the wage workers against the government’s wage policy with the same type of agitation that the Left otherwise stands for. These were good years for the wage workers. After both governments there was a slippage in favor of the Independence Party (in 1958 and 1974).
The wage conflicts have in some cases become of lasting political significance. The law on unemployment benefit is, for example. a result of the biggest strike in the country’s history – in 1955. In 1966, the state intervened as a broker, and in order to avoid a major conflict, the implementation of massive housing construction for workers in Reykjavik was promised. In 1969, it was agreed to create a pension fund for the members of the individual unions. These funds are managed as loan institutions by the unions and employers jointly. In 1973, workers in the fillet industry demanded more employment than they had until then.