The story of the Sport and Health Science Department in Laugarvatn seems to have come to an end. Íþróttakennaraskóli Islands started in 1943 as a public school. The school was located in Laugarvatn because it was considered to be the ultimate place for the education of future PE teachers.
The Board of Háskóli Íslands has now decided to move the department to Reykjavík. In 1943, when the public school started, one third of the population lived in Reykjavík. Today two thirds of the population lives in the capital area. One argument used by the board is that too few students are applying for PETE (Physical Education Teacher Education) in Laugarvatn, which is located 71 kilometres outside of Reykjavík. To keep up with the trends and to recruit more students, it it considered better to have facilities where the future students already are living, which in the capital. Having the education stationed in Reykjavík, it is argued, will recruit more students and save money.
The people of Laugarvatn are of course disappointed. The sport facilities are located in the school area and outdoor life could not be nearer or more beautiful. Some of the students live on campus and are active in the social life in the village. They are leaders and coaches in the sport clubs and they are working at the sport facilities. Closing the department in Laugarvatn will affect the entire life of the village.
Most of the staff have built their lives in Laugarvatn. They have their kids in the school in Laugarvatn and some also have family members working in the elementary school and the upper secondary school. The village of Laugarvatn has three strong intertwined organisations that attract people – the Sport and Health Science Department, the public boarding school for young people, otherwise living in the countryside in Iceland, and Iceland Air. The latter is the main shareholder of the Fontana Spa, and is the main transporter of tourists around the Golden Circle. So, one stop on this world famous tour is the Fontana Spa in Laugarvatn. The spa is built and driven by people living in Laugarvatn. The people permanently living in the village are more or less connected to all these three institutions, and closing one of them will affect the others. The question is how. The tourists will most likely continue to travel to Iceland and have an urge to experience the Golden Circle, including the Fontana spa. But will the teachers at upper secondary school stay? Will the village be as attractive without the sport and health science students? Who will manage the sport facilities? Will Laugarvatn be profitable enough to be worth investing in for the Icelandic people? If not, the trend is more people in Reykjavík and less people in the countryside. And it is not unreasonable that travelling businesses might see the houses, the facilities and the land in Laugarvatn as good investments for the future.
As researcher in the field of social entrepreneurship, sport and an active countryside, I have seen that the countryside can be valuable both for people living there and people coming there (international as well as native tourists). In its present form Laugarvatn has something to offer both groups.
But, not promoting the people living there will potentially exploit the area for others – the people coming there and companies governed by market values, which not necessary are humanistic or for that matter have Icelandic interests in mind.
A central value in the university world is the academic freedom, given the economic circumstances, which in this case means that the University does not have to take into consideration the welfare of the surrounding society, other than to create and spread knowledge. A Facebook group, for the moment gathering nearly 4000 people, has been created in favour of continuing to have the PETE at Laugarvatn (Íþróttafræðasetur áfram á Laugarvatni). But no matter what the people think in Iceland, the University can continue to be managed as the Board wishes, and thinks is best for the University (competing in a market with private university initiatives in Reykjavík).
When the era of PETE in Laugarvatn ends it is not only sad for the people in Laugarvatn and future students wanting to come to Laugarvatn. Without judging if this is a bad or good decision for the Icelandic people and for Háskóla Íslands, I think I can speak for many of us working within the sport science field who have been visiting Laugarvatn: The international sport science community will miss its sister department in Laugarvatn, even if some of the staff will continue to work when they are relocated to Reykjavík. Many of us have been met by the generous hospitality in Laugarvatn. We have enjoyed the beautiful environment, we have had interesting and thrilling discussions and exchanges of knowledge with the staff and the students, and we have come to know, and thereby been impressed by, the Icelandic country and the Icelandic people.