A modern university experience and no tuition fees for international students are just some of the reasons to consider studying abroad on this picturesque European island
Iceland is a small nation, home to just three people per square kilometre. More than half of the country's population live in the capital city Reykjavik, and of the 18,000 students enrolled in higher education in Iceland, 5% are international.
Because of this, Europe's most northerly country 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 ice and fire', Iceland is a country of contrasts - the country experiences 24 hour periods of sun in the summer and winter days shrouded in darkness.
In your down time, you'll be able to explore the hot springs, geysers, glaciers and volcanoes Iceland is famous for, catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights and marvel at the scenery that has attracted film and TV crews to the island for years. Most recently, the Game of Thrones TV series and both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One have featured Icelandic locations.
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.
Iceland offers a modern learning experience. Its oldest institution, The University of Iceland, was founded as recently as 1911. Universities aim to equip students for the 21st century labour market with fresh, relevant teaching methods, rather than steep their courses in traditional or outdated practices.
The academic year is comprised of two semesters and runs from September to May.
All of Iceland's 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 therefore vary widely in what they involve, so research your options before applying.
Degree courses in Iceland
A Bachelors course in Iceland typically 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 5 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 to them. 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 anywhere 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 is 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 substantial project overseen by a supervisor.
Compared with undergraduate level, a substantial 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 subject related to the Masters programme you're applying for.
Visit Study in Iceland - Study programs to start your search for a Masters course.
PhDs are only offered by selected universities in Iceland - 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, to complete a PhD in Iceland 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 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 (£650). 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 €600).
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 (£58) for courses starting in 2018/19.
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, but are generally in the range of ISK 540,000 to ISK 2,000,000 (around £3,900 to £14,400) per year.
Check individual university websites for exact course 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 (£1,300) 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.
Visit Numbeo for a breakdown on the average costs of living in Iceland.
Funding to study in Iceland
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.
Your university may offer its own scholarships - contact them directly to find out what might be available to you.
You could take up 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.
This visa information is correct following the UK's decision to leave the EU and will be updated if changes occur.
How to apply
There's no centralised applications portal in Iceland, so you'll make any applications directly to your chosen universities.
You'll need to complete the 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 fully participate in student life.
You can begin learning Icelandic before moving to the country through IcelandicOnline.com. To use this free service you'll 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 lower intermediate level can receive additional tutor support at a further cost of around £300.
Discover the wider range of language courses on offer by visiting Study in Iceland - Learning Icelandic.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Icelandic and UK qualifications are both credited in the ECTS system. Iceland and the UK are also 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.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in Iceland.