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
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?
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 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 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.
Iceland is not a member of the European Union (EU), but still fully participates in the Erasmus+ exchange programme (confirmed for the 2020/21 academic year)
as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). Erasmus+ offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to students throughout Europe, with opportunities lasting from three months to one year. To take part, your home university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in a participating European country. Ask your university for details.
In addition, students from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden can arrange exchanges in Iceland through the Nordplus programme.
You can browse more exchange options on the websites of individual Icelandic universities.
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 Erasmus, 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.
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, to do this you'll need the appropriate work permit.
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 outside the EU 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.
How to apply
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.
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.
Following the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January 2020, this information is likely to change. Please check official sources for the most up-to-date information.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Iceland.