University of Iceland Majors

Last Updated on March 4, 2023 by

Regularly acknowledged for its high quality of life, Iceland provides a modern university experience and free tuition fees for international students – just some of the reasons to study in Europe’s most northerly country.

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University of Iceland

The University of Iceland (IcelandicHáskóli Íslands[ˈhauːˌskouːlɪ ˈistlan(t)s]) is a publicresearch university in ReykjavíkIceland and the country’s oldest and largest institution of higher education. Founded in 1911, it has grown steadily from a small civil servants’ school to a modern comprehensive university, providing instruction for about 14,000 students in twenty-five faculties. Teaching and research is conducted in social scienceshumanitieslawmedicinenatural sciencesengineering and teacher education. It has a campus concentrated around Suðurgata street in central Reykjavík, with additional facilities located in nearby areas as well as in the countryside.

Campus

School buildings

Main article: List of University of Iceland buildings

The university’s main campus lies immediately south-west of Tjörnin lake in the centre of Reykjavík. It covers about 10 hectares in total.[4] There are around 30 buildings in total, the oldest of which, Gamli Garður, was built in 1934. The Main Building overlooks a semi-circular lawn, featuring a statue of Sæmundur fróði. In 2007, a new service centre was opened next to the main building and many of the most vital service desks[clarification needed] were relocated there. Some lectures take place in Háskólabíó cinema at the northern end of the campus. There are also a gym, several dormitories, and smaller research institute buildings on the grounds. Most buildings are located on the main campus and nearby neighbourhoods. The Faculty of Sport, Leisure Studies and Social Education, on the other hand, is located in the village of Laugarvatn.

Library

In 1994 the university library (formally established in 1940) merged with the national library of Iceland, Landsbókasafn Íslands (est. 1818) to form one large academic library, the National and University Library of Iceland (IcelandicLandsbókasafn Íslands – Háskólabókasafn). The library main building, Þjóðarbókhlaðan, is situated next to the main campus.

Hospital

Education and research at the University of Iceland are closely tied with the National University Hospital in Reykjavík. The facilities of the School of Health Sciences are therefore largely located on the hospital grounds.

Organisation

Administration

The University Council is the highest administrative authority within the institution and consists of the Rector and ten other members, including two students and two members endorsed by the University Forum. The University Forum consists of the Rector, faculty heads and various domestic representatives. It does not have any executive powers but works with the Council on the overall strategy of the university. The five academic schools and their faculties are headed by deans and have much control over curricula and day-to-day administration.

Lögberg, home to the Faculty of Law

Jón Atli Benediktsson is the current Rector of the University of Iceland. He took over from Kristín Ingólfsdóttir in 2015.

Læknagarður, which houses the Faculty of Medicine

Schools and faculties

The University of Iceland is divided into five schools (svið) which are further divided into a total of twenty-five faculties (deildir). Prior to 2008, it was divided into eleven faculties which were then divided into departments (skorir). The largest current school is the School of Social Sciences with over 4,700 students, while each of the other four have around half that number. The university also operates a continuing education centre.

VR-II, the principal location of the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences

The university consists of the following schools and faculties:

  • School of Social Sciences
  • Faculty of Business Administration
  • Faculty of Economics
  • Faculty of Law
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
  • Faculty of Social Work
  • Faculty of Political Science
  • School of Health Sciences
  • Faculty of Medicine
  • Faculty of Nursing
  • Faculty of Odontology
  • Faculty of Pharmacology
  • Faculty of Food Science and Nutrition
  • Faculty of Psychology
  • School of Humanities
  • Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies
  • Faculty of Language, Literature and Linguistics
  • Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies
  • Faculty of History and Philosophy
  • School of Education
  • Faculty of Sport, Leisure Studies and Social Education
  • Faculty of Teacher Education
  • Faculty of Educational Studies
  • School of Engineering and Natural Sciences
  • Faculty of Industrial-, mechanical engineering and computer science
  • Faculty of Earth Sciences
  • Faculty of Life and environmental sciences
  • Faculty of Electrical and computer engineering
  • Faculty of Physical sciences
  • Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Iceland makes the perfect destination for students looking to get away from the buzz of city life and explore the great outdoors. Known as the ‘land of fire and ice’, Iceland is a country of contrasts – home to some of Europe’s largest glaciers and the world’s most active volcanoes.

Iceland is a small nation and more than half of the country’s population live in the capital city Reykjavik. The second largest urban area is Akureyri, but even this location is sparsely populated. Of the 18,000 students enrolled in higher education, 5% are international.

In your downtime, there’s plenty to explore. Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site and Gullfoss waterfall is known as the ‘golden falls’. You can go whale watching in Reykjavik and experience the Blue Lagoon in Grindavík. If you’re still looking for something to do, how about catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights and ticking it off your to-do list?

university of iceland Rankings

University rankings
Global – Overall
ARWU World401-500 (2017)
THE World201-250 (2018)
USNWR Global380 (2018)

In 2011, Times Higher Education included the University of Iceland for the first time, placing it in the 276-300 band globally. The following year it had risen to the 251-275 band on the same list. Currently, Times ranks the university among the 201-250 best in the world. The 2017 edition of Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) placed it in the 401-500 band globally.

Icelandic universities

Iceland is home to seven universities. Four of these are public:

  • Agricultural University of Iceland
  • Hólar University College
  • The University of Akureyri
  • The University of Iceland, Reykjavik.

The other three are private universities, which receive some state support:

  • Bifröst University, Bifröst
  • Iceland Academy of the Arts
  • Reykjavik University.

All universities are authorised by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, but institutions are autonomous and have freedom over the content of their courses. Programmes of the same name at different universities can vary widely in what they involve, so research your options before applying.

Iceland offers a modern learning experience. Its oldest institution, The University of Iceland, was founded in 1911. Universities aim to equip students for the 21st century labour market with fresh, relevant teaching methods.

The Icelandic academic year is divided into two semesters – autumn and spring and runs from September to May.

Degree courses in Iceland

A Bachelors course in Iceland requires between three and four years of full-time study. While nursing (B.S.) and compulsory education (B.Ed.) degrees are classed as professional certification, courses in all other subjects constitute formal qualification for postgraduate study.

Candidatus degrees, on the other hand, combine elements of undergraduate and postgraduate study and are designed to equip you with the skills for a specific profession. These take four to six years to complete.

Assessment is measured on a scale of 0 to 10, where a mark of five or above constitutes a pass. Degrees in Iceland are divided into credits according to the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). 60 credits is the equivalent of one year’s full-time study, and Bachelors degrees can consist of 180 to 240 credits.

Contact universities and colleges to find out what courses are available, and submit your application directly. Be aware that the majority of undergraduate courses in Iceland are delivered in the country’s official language, Icelandic.

Visit Study in Iceland – Study programs to start searching for an undergraduate course.

Masters degrees

Masters programmes, which can take from six months to two years to complete, are delivered through a variety of methods. You’ll attend lectures and seminars, participate in group projects and complete individual assignments. Submission of a final thesis forms a substantial part of the programme.  

Iceland offers both taught and research-based programmes. Taught Masters students study modules and submit a dissertation, while research students complete a single project overseen by a supervisor.

A range of postgraduate courses are offered in English. If you opt to study in Icelandic, or aren’t a native English speaker, you’ll need to demonstrate your language proficiency through a recognised test.

To be eligible for Masters-level study you must have successfully completed a three-year Bachelors degree or international equivalent. In many cases, this will need to be in a related subject.

Visit Study in Iceland – Study programs to start your search for a Masters course.

PhDs

PhDs are only offered by selected universities – you’ll be able to obtain one from the University of Iceland, Reykjavik University and the Agricultural University of Iceland. You’ll need to have successfully completed a Masters degree to be eligible.

Typically three to four years in length, you’ll need to undertake independent research before writing and defending a thesis. Most programmes are offered in English.

Student exchanges

Iceland isn’t a member of the European Union (EU), but still fully participates in many of its work abroad exchange programmes as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). In addition, students from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden can arrange exchanges in Iceland through the Nordplus programme.

The University Centre of the Westfjords runs intensive three-week courses in Icelandic language and culture at a cost of ISK 90,000 (£536). Taking place over the summer, these are specifically designed for Nordplus and other exchange students who plan to spend one or two semesters in the country. You’ll be based in a former boarding school in remote northwest Iceland.

For UK students, the government’s new Turing Scheme offers overseas placements and study abroad opportunities at overseas universities for the 2021/22 academic year. It enables thousands of students from schools, colleges and universities to gain study and work experience abroad.

Your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in Iceland. Check that your institution is involved in the programme and offers the scheme.

You can browse more exchange options on the websites of individual Icelandic universities.

Course fees

As an international student (of both EU/EEA and non-EU/EEA countries), you won’t be charged tuition fees at Iceland’s public universities, but you’ll be required to pay an annual admin fee of ISK 75,000 (around £446).

If you’re applying from a non-EEA country, you’ll also have to pay an application fee. At the University of Iceland, this is ISK 8,000 (£47).

However, if you opt to study at a private university you’ll be required to cover the costs of your tuition. These vary by institution and course, so check individual university websites for exact fees.

Don’t forget to factor living costs into your budget. Iceland is an expensive country to live in. The Welfare Division of Reykjavik recommends a minimum of ISK 180,550 (£1,076) per month to live comfortably in the capital. Bear in mind that this figure will vary depending on your lifestyle, and living further afield will generally be cheaper.   

Funding to study in Iceland

Individual institutions provide their own scholarships, so check with your chosen university to find out if you could receive extra help.

The Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture annually awards a number of scholarships to international students for study of the Icelandic language, literature and history at the University of Iceland, Reykjavik.

Rannís, the Icelandic Centre for Research, offers postgraduate scholarships. The Icelandic Research Fund (IRF) provides funding for research students, while the Icelandic Student Innovation Fund (ISIF) supports Bachelors and Masters level students through summer research projects. IRF funding is mostly aimed at PhD students, but Masters students are also welcome to apply.

You could take on a part-time job alongside your studies for some extra spending money. If you’re a non-EU/EEA student, including those from the UK, to do this you’ll need the appropriate work permit.

Student visas

If you’re an EU/EEA citizen, you can move to Iceland without a permit or visa. If you’re planning on staying for longer than three months you’ll need to register with the local authorities, which can be done once you’ve arrived.

However, if you’re moving to Iceland from a country outside the EU such as the UK and are planning on staying for longer than three months, you’ll need to obtain a residence permit before entering the country. All applications are handled by the Icelandic Directorate of Immigration.

To apply, you’ll need to submit an application form to the Directorate, along with the following:

  • proof of enrolment at your university in Iceland
  • a completed, clean criminal background check
  • evidence of your ability to financially support yourself throughout your stay
  • a valid passport
  • health insurance.

The deadline for applications is 1 July for courses starting in the autumn, and November 1 for courses starting in the spring. Submit your application as early as possible to allow for potential delays. Applications are subject to a processing fee.

For Bachelors and Masters students, permits are granted for six months at a time (Doctorate permits are issued on a 12-month basis). It’s your responsibility to renew the permit, through the Directorate, at least four weeks before it expires.

On arrival, all students must apply for a Kennitala, an Icelandic ID/social security number. This is required for various practical matters, including opening a bank account.

university of iceland requirements for international students

There’s no centralised applications portal in Iceland, so you’ll make applications directly to your chosen universities.

You’ll need to complete an application form and attach any documents requested. These are likely to include your CV, academic transcripts, a photocopy of your passport, and evidence of your proficiency in the language that your course is taught in.

In some cases, you may have to send a printed and signed copy of the form. Any application fees should also be paid at this stage.

Language requirements

Although Icelandic is the country’s official language and considered an important part of its culture, you won’t need to be fluent to get by – the majority of the population is fluent in English and the language is spoken widely.

However, living in Iceland for the duration of your studies presents the perfect opportunity to learn a new language, and you’ll need at least some knowledge of Icelandic to participate in student life.

Notoriously hard to learn, it’s a good idea to start learning Icelandic before moving to the country. With enough practice you should be able to learn enough to get by. 

To help you get started, IcelandicOnline.com is a free service – you simply need to create an account and log in. The course is offered at six difficulty levels, from ‘survival’ to advanced, and those at beginner and intermediate level can receive additional tutor support at a further cost of around £238.

Discover the wider range of language courses on offer by visiting Study in Iceland – Learning Icelandic.

Comparison to UK qualifications

Iceland and the UK are both part of the Bologna Process, a system ensuring direct comparability of quality and teaching standards in higher education qualifications across Europe.

You should have no problem explaining your UK qualifications in Iceland, or vice versa. However, you can visit ENIC-NARIC should you need more information about having your qualifications internationally recognised.

university of iceland tuition fees

The application period for international students is 12 December – 1 February. The University of Iceland does not charge tuition fees, but the annual registration fee is ISK 75,000.

Best Universities in Iceland for International Students

1. Reykjavík University (RU)

Reykjavík University is the best university in Iceland for international students and is located in the capital. The institution’s core activities are teaching and research and emphasize interdisciplinary work and a hands-on approach. Two schools are organized into seven departments. The School of Social Science teaches business, psychology, sports science, and law, while the School of Technology handles computer science, engineering, and applied engineering. Most programs are taught in Icelandic. But there are several English-taught courses across undergraduate disciplines, while Master’s and Ph.D. programs are fully taught in English.

RU opened the first Artificial Intelligence laboratory in Iceland. They work with Honda in creating software for the ASIMO humanoid robot, and a group of students has created an Autonomous Underwater vehicle. Many more projects are being done in RU’s state-of-the-art facilities, expert faculty, and local and global funding.

2. University of Iceland

The University of Iceland is the largest and oldest institution of higher education in Iceland. It is considered by Icelanders as an important stepping stone towards the nation’s independence. When it was established in 1911, the University of Iceland taught theology, medicine, and law. This top university in Iceland expanded through the years and is now organized into five schools after a major reconstruction in 2008. These are the schools of Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Humanities, Education, and Engineering and Natural Sciences. There are several English-taught programs, as well as language programs other than English.

In addition to academic faculties, the university manages over sixty research institutes and seven rural research stations. The most notable include a Category2 Foreign language institute and a Nordic Volcanological Center.

3. University of Akureyri

The University of Akureyri, one of the best universities in Iceland for international students, has been providing first-rate higher education in Iceland since 1987. As one of the young universities in the country, the institution is dynamic and modern. The university is the largest provider of distance education, with around one-half of the students attending learning through the modern platform. Besides the wide reach of distance education, the university also receives many international students, from exchange programs like Erasmus and Nordplus, as well as regular degree-seeking students.

International students can choose from a variety of subjects to study at the University of Akureyri. Its faculties include social science, education, law, occupational therapy, nursing, natural resource sciences, and business administration. It has also established Polar Law and West Nordic Studies programs with partner universities to teach students relevant issues in the region like climate change, boundary disputes, and other societal agendas.

4. Bifröst University

Bifröst University, or Háskólinn á Bifröst, is a private university that specializes in Business administration, Law, and Social Sciences. It offers language and foundational courses for students to achieve the full requirements of Icelandic university study. The university provides distance learning programs as well, so learners from all over the world can experience unique and high-quality Icelandic education.

Students enrolled regularly at the university, however, experience the beautiful environment of Iceland, in addition to effective teaching and generous research opportunities. Bifröst is one of the two campus universities along with Hólar University College. It boasts high-end on-campus residences, libraries, and sports and recreational facilities that will make international students feel more than welcome.

5. Iceland University of the Arts (IUA)

The Iceland University of the Arts is a private university and the only institution offering university-level degrees in the arts. It promotes progressive thinking in the arts industry to stimulate innovation in many other fields. Students can choose their program from five departments: Design and Architecture, Fine Arts, Music, Theatre and Dance, and Art education. These programs, and all of the university’s works, are guided by their values which are curiosity, understanding, and courage.

This top university in Iceland is an active member of international cooperations, as well as bilateral agreements through Erasmus and NordPlus programs. It also has strong industry connections abroad and locally, and international students are at the forefront of the art scene in Iceland. The IUA partners with Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the Iceland Dance Company, the State Broadcasting Service, and many more prestigious arts organizations.