With its superb university system, high quality of life, and stunning landscape of geysers, glaciers and volcanoes, Iceland features on many study abroad shortlists
Ultra-low tuition fees are helping 'the land of fire and ice' become a popular destination for international postgraduates, who are also attracted by the country's reasonable cost of living.
One thing's for sure: you'll never get bored. Iceland's unique geography allows for countless experiences you'll struggle to find elsewhere, including bathing in volcanically-heated outdoor swimming pools and ice climbing.
The country is also a surprising hotbed of culture, with capital city Reykjavík and second city Akureyri offering impressive nightlife and shopping facilities.
The Icelandic education system
There are seven universities in Iceland:
- Agricultural University of Iceland;
- Bifröst University;
- Hólar University College;
- Iceland Academy of the Arts;
- Reykjavík University;
- University of Akureyri;
- University of Iceland.
Based in Reykjavík, the University of Iceland is the country's oldest and most prestigious institution. Well regarded for its research, it sits within the top 275 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-15. Like several other Icelandic institutions, it offers various programmes taught in English. To search for similar courses, take a look at Study in Iceland - Programmes Taught in English.
There are currently around 18,000 students enrolled in Iceland's higher education system, with approximately 5% of these coming from abroad. The academic year runs from September to May, and is divided into two semesters.
There are five main types of higher education qualifications available in Iceland.
- Bachelors degrees, as in the UK, usually take three or four years to complete.
- Candidatus degrees qualify the holder for a specific profession. They usually take four to six years to complete.
- Postgraduate certificates are offered in some subjects after one year of postgraduate study.
- Masters degrees are awarded after two years of postgraduate study. As in the UK, a major research project or thesis forms a large part of the programme.
- Doctorate degrees are awarded by only three universities: the Agricultural University of Iceland; Reykjavík University; and the University of Iceland.
Find out more about the country's university system, at Study in Iceland - Higher Education.
To pursue a Masters, you must have a recognised Bachelors degree or equivalent. Students enrolling in Doctoral studies must possess a Masters degree. More specific postgraduate admission requirements differ between universities, faculties and programmes. Entrance exams are common, though, so be prepared.
Deadlines for applications also vary, but international students are usually expected to apply before mid-March, six months before their programme is scheduled to begin. Check with your chosen institution that you're eligible before beginning the application process.
Iceland's four public universities (Agricultural University of Iceland; Hólar University College; University of Akureyri and University of Iceland) don't charge tuition fees. You will, however, have to pay an annual registration fee. The University of Iceland, for example, charges ISK 75,000 (£385).
Unsurprisingly, the three privately-run universities do charge. However, courses are often cheaper than their UK counterparts. Postgraduate fees at Reykjavík University, for example, currently range between ISK 355,500 (£1,830) and ISK 875,000 (£4,510) per semester. Substantial confirmation fees may also apply.
Funding to study in Iceland
Several annual scholarships for international students looking to study Icelandic history, language and literature at the University of Iceland are awarded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture in Iceland. These are handled at the Arni Magnusson Institute of Icelandic Studies. Beware: there are numerous terms and conditions. For example, students must have some prior knowledge of Icelandic, and preference will be given to candidates aged under 35.
Grants are also available at individual institutions, including Reykjavík University. There are plenty of funding options, so contact your chosen place of study to find out more.
For more information, take a look at funding postgraduate study.
Icelandic exchanges and placements
The University of Iceland, Bifrost University and University Centre of the Westfjords each offer a variety of summer courses in subjects ranging from marine education to Icelandic.
The Iceland School of Energy (ISE), based at Reykjavík University, also offers a summer school in July and August. Costing ISK 175,000 (£900), the sustainable energy course involves: lectures; a field trip; and site visits to power plants and areas of environmental and geoscientific interest.
Iceland is also part of the Erasmus+ programme which offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to millions of students across Europe. You don’t have to speak Icelandic, but language courses are available. For more information, speak to the Erasmus+ coordinator at your university. You can also find more information at Study in Iceland - Language Courses for Exchange Students.
European Union (EU) passport holders don't require a visa to study in Iceland. However, if you're planning on staying for longer than three months, you'll need a residence permit. This can be obtained before your trip or on arrival. Non-EU students should contact the Icelandic embassy in the country in which they reside.
All students must also apply for a kennitala, an Icelandic ID/social security number, when you arrive. This is required for various practical matters, including opening a bank account or getting a tax card.