Iceland

Iceland is a Nordicisland country in the North Atlantic, with a population of 364,134, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. The higher education level in Iceland comprises seven institutions, all of which are subject to the provisions of the Higher Education Institutions Act of 2006. In the Higher Education Institutions Act the Icelandic term háskóli is used to refer both to those higher education institutions which have a number of faculties, permanent research organization and undergraduate and graduate programmes, and those that do not have research responsibilities. The Higher Education Institution Act, enacted in July 2006, establishes the general framework for the activities of higher education institutions. The ministry concludes performance-related contracts with all higher education institutions.  

RegionNorthern Europe
CapitalReykjavík
LanguageIcelandic
Population364,134
Expenditure on higher education3 %
Unemployment2,5 %
EuroUniversities in top 1000
EuroUniversities in top 2500
EuroUniversities in top 5003
EuroUniversities in top 10006
Students36,400
Foreigner students4,1 %
Enrollment rate in higher education73,6 %

European Country Ranking
North European Country Ranking
YearOverallResearch EmploymentInnovationInternationalizationInfrastructureEducational potential
202078,031613,615,1211,7911,410,12
201973,8913,413,712,2313,0211,410,14
201876,5413,513,615,1812,2711,510,49
201773,113,611,415,8213,438,99,95
201673,5513,71415,5211,488,99,95
201581,0618,211415,9413,319,779,83
Statistics of the higher education

The Public Higher Education Institutions Act describes rules and guidelines concerning the administration of each institution. Legislation on the Science and Technology Policy Council sets out the framework for science, research education and technical development in the country. A council appointed by the prime minister makes policy declaration for science and technology for three-year periods at a time.   

Under the Higher Education Act, the general objectives of higher education institutions are to serve as scientific research and educational institutions, to provide students with education preparing them for working independently in science, innovation and the arts and to fill the various employment positions in society that require higher education. Higher education institutions are also to educate the public and to serve society through their knowledge. More specific objectives are outlined in legislation on the individual institutions.  

Policy on Public Universities is set to safeguard the activities of the public universities by establishing a collaborative network, with possibility of a merger. The policy and its agreements enable student at the public higher education institutions to structure their studies by taking courses at all the higher education institutions.

Bachelor

Branches of Study                 

All higher education institutions in Iceland accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture under to the Higher Education Institutions Act, follow the National Qualification Framework (NQF) for higher education in Iceland. The National Qualification Framework (NQF) is in accordance with the European Qualification Framework and describes the qualifications graduated students are to master when they finish their studies on the various levels. The NQF for higher education and degrees contains a description of the structure for studies and degrees, where the emphasis is placed on a description of a student’s knowledge and competence at the end of a course of study. The NQF contains clear guidelines on the structure of courses of studies and for the degree the universities will award. According to the framework, there are three subsequent cycles of higher education: Bachelor’s degree, Master’s and Candidate’s degree; and Doctorate degree.  

Institutions of higher education vary in the extent to which they engage in research and the number of programmes of study offered. The higher education institutions can also be categorized into four groups according to their specialisation: there are two agricultural institutions, one academy of the arts and four institutions offering wide ranges of studies. 

Generally, bachelor studies take three years to complete (180 – 240 ECTS credits).

Admission Requirements 

As a main rule, students enrolling in higher education institution must have completed the matriculation examination or an equivalent course of study. Higher education institutions can accept students who possess equivalent levels of maturity and knowledge as assessed by the higher education institution involved. It must be ensured that admission requirements and study standards correspond to those demanded in certified higher education institutions within similar fields in other countries. The Higher Education Institutions Act allows institutions to set specific admission requirements for students enrolling in study at higher education level, e.g. by requiring students who meet with the aforementioned demands to pass an entrance examination or assessment. Admission of mature students to higher education institutions based on professional qualifications and work experience without further tests is in the hands of each institution.   

Curriculum 

Higher education institutions that come under the Higher Education Institutions Act, are required to define learning outcomes for each study programme. These definitions are to be specialised descriptions relevant to the study programmes offered. The institutions should preferably demonstrate how the objectives of the definition are attained by each course or each study level, i.e. by defining their learning outcomes.  

Higher education institutions are required to specify, in their Diploma Supplements, to which cycle and level each study programme belongs to, according to National Qualification Framework for Iceland.  

Higher education institutions have a significant degree of academic freedom and autonomy; as a result, they largely determine the nature and structure of their educational curricula and courses.  

Icelandic is the language of instruction in higher education institutions. However, in recent years some institutions have started to offer courses in English. Textbooks are in many cases in English or another foreign language (mostly Scandinavian languages).  

Teaching Methods 

The governing bodies of each institution are responsible for the organisation of teaching, learning and assessment. Teaching methods are decided by the individual teacher, department, faculty, institution or a combination of these. In most cases there is a combination of lectures, seminars, individual assignments and group work. In technical and science programmes, laboratory work and practical training are more prevalent.   

Increasingly, instructors integrate the newest information technology with their teaching methods. Some programmes are offered by distance learning via the Internet and/or through video conferencing.  

At the graduate level much emphasis is placed on students’ gaining practical experience in scientific work by engaging them in research under the supervision of a professor.  

Progression of Students 

Rules regarding progression of students vary between institutions and faculties. Students can repeat examinations in an individual course once. Students who fail to meet the requirements have, have in some instances, to repeat the whole year of study, but can do so only twice during their studies.  

Employability 

In the professional disciplines, students are required to gain practical experience in their field of study. A part of this experience is frequently achieved through employment, and the institution involved often serves as the mediator for the placement of students for practical training.  

Research institutions at the higher education institutions hire students to work on research projects that have been negotiated with state and private agencies. 

Student Assessment 

Student assessment at the higher education level is generally based on written, oral or practical examinations, semester papers and assignments carried out throughout the whole course of study. Teachers are responsible for assessment, but each department determines the overall organization of the examinations within the regulatory framework of the institution. In some cases, there are external examiners. Examinations are generally held at the end of each semester. Degrees are most often only awarded after students have written a final dissertation or completed a research project.  

Certification 

Higher education institutions offer courses which lead to the granting of a certificate and/or a degree or a title. Examination results and assessments are stated on the certificate, as is the degree/title to which the course gives entitlement. These are awarded when the student successfully completes the examinations, projects or dissertation described by the subject regulations. A dissertation or research project is almost always a pre-requisite for obtaining a degree. Some degree courses may lead directly to professional qualifications, while in other cases additional training specific to the profession, such as additional specialized study programmes, sometimes combined with practical training, is required.   

As required by law and subject to review by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, higher education institutions are responsible for issuing certificates and defining the content and examination methods of courses leading to certification.  

To improve international transparency and facilitate academic and professional recognition of qualifications, all higher education institutions have introduced the Diploma Supplement (DS) for graduates. Under the Higher Education Institutions Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is required to issue a list of degrees recognized by the Ministry, and their content.  

Second Cycle Programmes

Branches of Study 

All higher education institutions in Iceland accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture under to the Higher Education Institutions Act follow the National Qualification Framework (NQF) for higher education in Iceland. The National Qualification Framework (NQF) is in accordance with the European Qualification Framework and describes the qualifications graduated students are to master when they finish their studies on different levels. The NQF for higher education and degrees contains a description of the structure for studies and degrees, where the emphasis is placed on a description of a student’s knowledge and competence at the end of a course of study. The NQF has a clear guidelines for the structure of courses of studies and for the degree the universities will award. According to the framework, there are three subsequent cycles of higher education: Bachelor’s degree, Master’s and Doctorate degree.  

Institutions of higher education vary in the extent to which they engage in research and the number of programmes of study offered. The higher education institutions can also be categorised into four groups according to their specialisation: there are two agricultural institutions, one academy of the arts and four institutions offering wide ranges of studies. 

Graduate studies at master’s level entail a study programme of six months to two years, providing 30-120 credits at cycle 2. The full workload in one year is supposed to correspond to 60 credits.  

Admission Requirements 

To enter a postgraduate programme, a first university degree (B.A., B.S. or B.Ed. degree) in the area of study is required. In some master’s programmes the admission requirement is a B.A./B.Sc. degree with a 7.25 grade average on a scale of 1 to 10 (the highest grade being 10). Admission is based on selection by the faculties involved. In research-oriented programmes, students must reach an agreement with a supervisor on a research project for their master’s thesis, and then file a joint application with that supervisor for a specific research project. The project must then be accepted by a review committee for the student to be allowed to enter the programme.  

Curriculum 

Higher education institutions that come under the Higher Education Institutions Act are required to define learning outcomes for each study programme. These definitions are to be specialized descriptions relevant to the study programmes offered. The institutions should preferably demonstrate how the objectives of the definition are attained by each course or each study level, i.e. by defining their learning outcomes.  

Higher education institutions have a significant degree of academic freedom and autonomy; as a result, they largely determine the nature and structure of their educational curricula and courses. 

Icelandic is the language of instruction in higher education institutions. However, in recent years some institutions have started to offer courses in English. Textbooks are in many cases in English or another foreign language, mostly Scandinavian languages.

Teaching Methods 

The governing bodies of each institution are responsible for the organisation of teaching, learning and assessment. Teaching methods are decided by the individual teacher, department, faculty, institution or a combination of these. Teaching methods vary somewhat between programmes and level of study. In most cases there is a combination of lectures, seminars, individual assignments and group work. In technical and science programmes, laboratory work and practical training are more prevalent. Teaching materials are also decided by the individual teacher, department, faculty, institution or a combination of these.  

Increasingly, instructors integrate the newest information technology with their teaching methods. For example, they use WebCT and other teaching software to post-course-related material and interact with students on the Internet. Some programmes are offered by distance learning via the Internet and/or through video conferencing.  

At the graduate level, great emphasis is placed on students’ gaining practical experience in scientific work by engaging them in research under the supervision of a professor. Teaching also takes place through seminars, lectures, individual tutoring and individual training in thesis writing.  

Most higher education institutions offer courses for new teachers as well as more specific courses, for example on information technology.  

Progression of Students 

Rules regarding progression of students vary between institutions and faculties. Students may repeat examinations in an individual course once. Students who fail to meet the requirements have to repeat the whole year of study, but can do so only twice during their studies. Although the time-frame for finishing a second cycle degree may be more flexible than two years, there is a limit on the overall time spent on studies towards a degree.   

Employability 

In the professional disciplines, students are required to gain practical experience in their field of study. A part of this experience is frequently achieved through employment, and the institution involved often serves as the mediator for the placement of students for practical training.  

Student Assessment 

Student assessment at the higher education level is generally based on written, oral or practical examinations, semester papers and assignments carried out throughout the whole course of study. Teachers are responsible for assessment, but each department provides the overall organization of the examinations within the regulatory framework of the institution. In some cases, there are external examiners. Degrees are only awarded after students have written a final dissertation or completed a research project.  

Certification 

Higher education institutions offer courses which lead to the granting of a certificate and/or a degree or a title. Examination results and assessments are stated on the certificate, as is the degree/title to which the course gives entitlement. These are awarded when the student successfully completes the examinations, projects or dissertation described by the subject regulations. A dissertation or research project is almost always a pre-requisite for obtaining a degree. Some degree courses may lead directly to professional qualifications, while in other cases additional training specific to the profession, such as additional specialised study programmes, sometimes combined with practical training, is required.  

As required by law, and subject to review by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, higher education institutions are responsible for issuing certificates and defining the content and examination methods of courses leading to certification.  

To improve international transparency and facilitate academic and professional recognition of qualifications, all higher education institutions have introduced the Diploma Supplement (DS) for graduates.  

Under the Higher education institutions Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is required to issue a list of degrees recognised by the Ministry, and their content.

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Organisation of Doctoral Studies 

All higher education institutions in Iceland accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture under the Higher Education Institution Act, follow the National Qualification Framework (NQF) for higher education in Iceland. The National Qualification Framework (NQF) is in accordance with the European Qualification Framework and describes the qualifications graduated students are to master when they finish their studies on the various levels. The NQF also demands that each higher education institution describes the learning outcomes of each study programme and each course. The NQF for higher education and degrees contains a description of the structure for studies and degrees, where emphasis is placed on a description of a student’s knowledge and competence at the end of a course of study. The NQF contains clear guidelines on the structure of courses of studies and for the degree the universities will award.  

The Doctorate degree is a course of study covering three to four years providing 180-240 credits in cycle 3, level 5. The full workload in one year normally corresponds to 60 credits.  

There are three higher education institutions in Iceland that are allowed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to award a third cycle degree, University of IcelandUniversity of Reykjavik and the Agricultural University of Iceland

Admission Requirements 

A master’s degree provides access to doctorate studies in cycle 3. Higher education institutions can demand a minimum final grade for admission. The scope of research and/or final project shall cover at least 30 credits.  

Admission requirements are: a research-based Master’s degree or equivalent, final examination from cycle 2. Higher education institutions can demand a certain minimum grade for admission. Vocational degrees at master’s level do not normally provide access to further studies in cycle 3.  

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates 

Doctoral students have the same right as other students at higher education institutions. They are not normally employed by the institutions, though they can in some cases be employed as adjuncts or part-time teachers or as research students through grants.  

Supervision Arrangements 

According to regulations stipulated by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, each doctorate student is entitled to have at least one supervisor. If there is more than one supervisor, the role of each supervisor is to be defined in the research plan of the doctorate. The main supervisor shall always be a professor at the Higher Education Institution where the doctorate is conferred.  

The contractual research plan of each doctorate student shall always include issues on multiple supervision arrangements defining the rights and obligations of the institution, the doctorate student and the supervisors.  

Under the regulations on Doctoral studies, at least one of the supervisors shall have a PhD in the subject, shall have been involved in international research projects and have some experience of applying for funds and grants for research activities.  

Employability 

In the professional disciplines, students are required to gain practical experience in their field of study. A part of this experience is frequently achieved through employment, and the higher education institution involved often serves as the mediator for the placement of students for practical training.  

Research institutions within the higher education institutions hire PhD students to work on research projects that have been negotiated with state or with private agencies.  

Assessment 

On completion of a Doctorate degree, specific criteria shall be fulfilled, in addition to the criteria fulfilled at former level(s).  

Certification 

Higher education institutions offer courses which lead to the granting of a certificate and/or a degree or a title. Examination results and assessments are stated on the certificate, as is the degree/title to which the course gives entitlement. These are awarded when the student successfully completes the examinations, projects or dissertation described by the subject regulations. A dissertation or research project is almost always a pre-requisite for obtaining a degree. Some degree courses may lead directly to professional qualifications, while in other cases additional training specific to the profession, such as additional specialised study programmes, sometimes combined with practical training, is required.  

As required by law, and subject to review by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, higher education institutions are responsible for issuing certificates and defining the content and examination methods of courses leading to certification.  

To improve international transparency and facilitate academic and professional recognition of qualifications, all higher education institutions have introduced the Diploma Supplement (DS) for graduates.  

Under the Universities Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is to issue a list of degrees recognized by the Ministry, and their content.  

Organisational variations 

There is no organisational variation within the third cycle studies at Higher Education institutions in Iceland. Third Cycle studies are only offered at three institutions.

Mobility in Higher Education

Student mobility

Students have many opportunities for participating in international collaboration and for certain subjects such co-operation is essential. Despite the expansion of the Icelandic higher education system in the latter part of the 1990s, the number of students studying abroad did not decrease. The inflow of foreign students has also increased substantially in recent years. 

The numbers of students that take parts of their studies abroad, through programmes as Erasmus+, increases every year. The same goes for the Inter-Nordic Nordplus programme that enables Icelandic students to take a year of their studies within a higher education institution in another Nordic country. On the side of the NORDPLUS exchange programme, The Nordic Masters Programme, initiated by the Nordic council of Ministers, has increased in recent years, enabling graduate students from Icelandic higher education institutions that participate in the programmes to take parts of their degree abroad.

The Nordplus and Erasmus- programmes are run by RANNIS – the Icelandic Center for Research

The greatest number of foreign students in Iceland are enrolled at the University of Iceland, which offers the greatest variety of subjects. The total number of foreign students at universities in Iceland has been on a steady rise and has reached 12% of the total student body. The greatest number of foreign students come from European countries, but there are also a considerable number from other countries, and altogether over 93 nationalities are represented among these students in 2016-2017.

The number of students coming to Iceland is higher than expected.  While humanities are the most popular subjects chosen, receiving 50% of the incoming foreign students, other subjects, including natural sciences, social sciences and business studies also attract foreign students. A large proportion of the foreign students in the humanities are enrolled in a two-year programme in the Icelandic language and literature. 

It is the responsibility of each higher education institution to recognise foreign degrees, exams or courses of students. When necessary, the ENIC-NARIC office, hosted at the University of Iceland, is responsible for assistance on validation of the document in question.

The high number of exchange students, both those who go abroad from Iceland and, more particularly, foreign students who come to Iceland, confirms the relevance of international co-operation. 

Issues subject to debate in Europe, such as portability of grants, recognition of diplomas, transferability of credit units, are part of a stable routine. 

Academic staff mobility

In Iceland there are no national policy goals or national programmes for staff mobility in higher education. The government leaves it up to each higher education institution to organise, coordinate and finance mobility programmes. There is no central collection of information about annual participation in such programmes. Salaries, financial compensation and social security in respect of mobility programmes are regulated in the agreements made between each higher education institution in Iceland and the unions of academics within the higher education. Individual institutions are responsible for setting remuneration for staff taking part in international mobility programmes. The agreements concerning sabbatical leaves are generally restricted to researchers – professors, assistant professors, associated professors and, though with stricter rules, adjuncts. Other staff of higher education institutions can apply for leaves on educational basis.

Academic staff, almost without exception, spend their sabbatical leaves abroad participating in specialised studies or research projects. Such projects may receive additional support. 

In Iceland, disciplines vary in terms of their international exposure and there are also variations between larger and smaller institutions. For instance, the disciplines of Icelandic language and law, have traditionally had relatively little international exposure. Other disciplines have maintained more international ties, mainly through exchange of faculty and international research co-operation. Most professors in the universities have received their postgraduate degrees abroad and preserve international relations through, for example, research collaboration after they move back home. In universities, support for professors to take sabbatical leave abroad is generous, which encourages the maintenance of international links. Since the University of Iceland, was for a long time, the only HEI with an extensive research role, smaller tertiary institutions have generally had less international contact, since their teachers have had limited research obligations. This has changed during the last decade with the expansion of the higher education system and increased research within the smaller institutions. However, modes and approaches to internationalisation have gradually changed from sporadic and individual-based relations and networks to more systematic and institutionalised processes. 

There are only three higher education institutions in Iceland that are accredited to offer doctoral studies. The greatest part of doctoral students is conducted within the University of Iceland. Rules for doctoral studies vary between different disciplines but doctoral students are encouraged or obligated to spent at least a year of their studies abroad at other research institutions.

 

 

European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe.

The EHEO general plan stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected.
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders.

Thus, EHEO plans:

  • improve academic and scientific interaction of universities;
  • protect the interests of universities;
  • interact more closely with public authorities of European countries;
  • popularize European higher education in the world;
  • develop academic mobility;
  • seek funding for European universities.