NAIS – North-Atlantic Islands’ Students cooperation is important to Landssamtök íslenskra stúdeta (LÍS) / The National Union of Icelandic Students.
Here are some reasons why:
1. We love learning about Greenland and the Faroe Islands in general. Why aren’t we better friends and collaborating all the time?
2. Even better is hearing about the cool stuff that MFS, AVALAK and ILI ILI are doing as student advocates.
3. Are your unions struggling just to exist because of the size? We definitely are!
4. Are your students constantly needing to choose between staying in their home country or getting an education in their field of choice? Hey, wow, sounds familiar!
5. OK, so sometimes we have been through the same stuff, so let’s talk about it and make each other stronger and better.
NAIS is new; its first official meeting was in Reykjavík in January 2019, although the idea had been developing since 2017. In NAIS’ first official statement their focus, goals and common interests are stated:
The aim of the cooperation is to focus on student specific matters and the common interests, as well as challenges that students in this region might face. [..] NAIS aims to create new and innovative approaches that would be specifically tailored to student unions of a smaller scale operating in wide isolated geographical area. [...] It is tremendously important that we maintain a strong and visible external voice, and that the relevance of that voice is continuously underlined when it comes to all discussion that touches upon students’ interests and affairs.
As new representatives, we build on these words and further develop NAIS’ direction. I can only speak for myself, the international officer of LÍS currently active in NAIS, but I am overjoyed by this collaboration and the conversation that has been started between LÍS, MFS, AVALAK and ILI ILI.
The second official meeting was held in the Faroe Islands in October of 2019. The theme of the meeting was distance learning, a relevant topic for each of our member unions. Our hosts, MFS, planned visits to the distance learning centers Fjarlestrardepilin located in Vági in Suðuroy and Fjarnám in Klaksvík. The topic let us focus on specific practical solutions to share with each other, but also to reflect on larger societal structures and how they connect to higher education: brain drain, changes in industry, lack of infrastructure and opportunities in building up our higher education systems.
Aside from discussing this important issue, the goal of the meeting was to think about the future of NAIS. Instead of sticking to one sit-down meeting about the organization, the NAIS representatives present spent all available time talking about our future. It was a constant conversation, on ferries, car rides, over breakfast, dinner and drinks. This was not a case of an overloaded meeting schedule; it was simply due to all of our excitement about the possibilities of NAIS.
An issue that I myself am particularly struck with is how to foster our local universities towards sustainable independence from larger foreign institutions. A recent issue emblematic of this problem is the effect that cutbacks in the Danish university system has had on the study of Icelandic history, language and literature. Earlier this year, the University of Copenhagen (KU) stopped teaching old Icelandic, old Danish, modern Icelandic and Faroese. Additionally, a KU institution that is among other things responsible for maintaining old Icelandic manuscripts, Árnastofnun, has faced reduction of staff and the forced resignation of their only lector position.
Negotiations and plans have now started between culture ministers of Iceland and Denmark to transfer some of the physical heritage back to Iceland, but until now our museums and universities have not had the capacity to properly preserve the manuscripts. If our own countries lack the capacity to maintain certain intrinsic parts of our society (education, culture, language, history, heritage), is it on us to figure it out? Or should our (in Iceland’s case, former) colonizer bridge the gap? Who should support and safeguard our treasures while we build ourselves up enough to be able to take care of them?
This is one conversation that NAIS can be a part of, how can we build ourselves and each other up? How can we maintain our individuality, while being active in international contexts? I do not mean to say that the trajectory of our histories is in any way linear, inevitable or repeatable. I would not say that the Faroe Islands and Greenland can or should go the same way as Iceland has in their development. Rather, by being a part of NAIS, we can learn about the realities of our close neighbours, and hopefully give Icelanders enough literacy and understanding of the state of affairs to support Greenland and the Faroe Islands in their struggles, whether related to Denmark or not.
NAIS is about students, but it can also be a platform in other ways which allows our people to (re)connect, learn from each other and just have a nais time.
Landssamtök íslenskra stúdenta - LÍS