Briefly about education in Iceland

  • Education in Iceland meets all international standards. Energy programs are especially strong. In this area, Iceland is a world leader in innovation. Electricity in the country is almost entirely produced from renewable sources[1].
  • Price. Education in public universities is free except for a registration fee of 543 USD/year. In private institutions, the cost varies from 2,099 USD to 7,746 USD.
  • Language. Most Bachelor's programs in Iceland are in Icelandic. Therefore, without knowing the language, you can only enter Master's studies (in English). Some universities have language courses, and the University of Iceland offers a Bachelor of Icelandic language program for foreigners.
  • Requirements. It is possible to enter an Icelandic university with a minimum of 12 years of school. Otherwise, you will have to take another year at the university of your home country or Foundation / IB / GCE A-Level. Usually, for admission, you do not need to pass additional exams, except for English (IELTS 6.5 / TOEFL 79).
  • Visa. Iceland is not the most open country for non-EU/EEA foreigners. A student visa is issued only for one semester, and then must be renewed. To obtain a visa, you must prove that you can pay for the first year of studies which is counted as 1,307 USD per month.
  • Work while studying. You can work while being a student under a visa, but only for 15 hours a week and only if you have a special permit. During breaks, you can work full-time.
  • Scholarships. The government and universities offer many scholarships for foreigners, especially on energy programs. To get a scholarship, you need to participate in a competition.
  • Employment. After graduation, the student can extend the residence permit for another six months to find a job. But it won’t be an easy task: you need to have professional skills, appropriate education, and priority is given to EU citizens.
Benefits of education in Iceland

  • Low tuition fees. At public universities in Iceland, tuition is free, but students need to pay a registration fee. The amount is 543 USD/year. One semester at private universities will cost from 2,099 USD to 7,746 USD. But even in them, prices are lower when compared to other European universities: education in France, Britain or the Netherlands will cost 3-4 times more on average.
  • Modernity. Iceland uses modern educational methods. Teachers do not just give lectures, but interact with the audience, and students participate in seminars and prepare group projects. The Icelandic government spends 2% of its GDP[2] on the development of science and research. Therefore, the country has advanced programs in energy and the exact sciences.
  • High quality of life. Iceland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita[3]. Good salaries and ecology ensure that living in Iceland is a pleasant experience. Thanks to this, the happiness index in Iceland is significantly higher than the global average (7.5 versus 5.48)[4].
  • Equality. Iceland is the world leader in gender equality[5]. Women make 66% of Icelandic university graduates and hold 48% of parliamentary seats. Icelanders are trying to make life in their society comfortable for everyone, regardless of gender, religion, or race.
  • Nature. Snow-covered volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, geysers, and endless uninhabited spaces make Iceland a very unique place. It is very pleasant to study in such an environment, and in your free time, you can explore the country.
Disadvantages of studying in Iceland

  • Academic difference. One of the disadvantages of Icelandic higher education is that students from countries with an 11-year education system cannot directly enter bachelor’s programs. Icelanders attend high school from ages 16 to 20. Therefore, foreign applicants might need to complete a year at a university in their home country or have an IB / GCE A-Level.
  • Language. Iceland has very few bachelor’s programs in English. To enter a bachelor's program, you will most likely need to learn Icelandic, which is considered one of the most difficult languages ​​in the world[6].
  • Academic year. Studying in Iceland does not start in September, but in August. Deadlines for application submission are in January-May. The exact dates vary from institution to institution.
  • Expensive accommodation. Life in Iceland is expensive — renting on average costs 434-724 USD/month, food — 362 USD/month. To obtain a student visa, you will have to confirm that you have 1,307 USD for each month of your stay.
  • Strict migration policy. Icelanders have no interest in replenishing the population through immigration. Students also experience the strictness of this policy: a temporary residence permit is usually issued for one semester and, if the student is unable to pass the exams, is not extended. In addition, the student visa does not include a work permit. It must be obtained separately.

Cost and the structure of education in Iceland

Type of TuitionAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costExams
Summer camp6+1-12 weeks109 USD/week1,085 USD/week-
Language schools6+1-12 months326 USD/course1,194 USD/course-
Secondary education6+10 years750 USD/year10,000 USD/year-
High school16+4 years750 USD/year15,000 USD/year-
Foundation18+1-4 years543 USD/year1,448 USD/yearIELTS / TOEFL or Icelandic proficiency
Bachelor's18+3-4 years543 USD/year5,427 USD/yearTOEFL 79+ / IELTS 6.5+
Master's20+2 years543 USD/year10,853 USD/yearTOEFL 79+ / IELTS 6.5+
Doctoral20+3-5 years543 USD/year6,512 USD/yearTOEFL 79+ / IELTS 6.5+
Additional expenses

Exams250 USD
Registration fee543 USD/year
Visa fee109 USD
Flightabout 150 USD
Rental434-724 USD/month
Meals362 USD/month
Insurance87 USD
Internet62 USD/month
Transport93 USD/month
Public utilities33 USD/month

Scheme of admission to universities in Iceland

Options for admission to Icelandic universities
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Admission requirements in Icelandic universities

In Iceland, children study for 13-14 years, so international applicants will need a minimum of 12 years of secondary education. Those with only 11 years of secondary education cannot directly enroll in Icelandic universities. There are several options for eliminating the academic difference:

Each university independently determines the schedule and deadlines for the submission of applications. The requirements for different countries also vary. For example, applicants from countries outside the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) can apply to Reykjavik University only once a year before the start of the fall semester. At the same time, regardless of the student's country of origin, education in public universities is free. Only the annual registration fee (543 USD) is paid.

In some universities, for example, the University of Iceland, some programs conduct additional entrance tests, as a rule, at the beginning of June. More detailed information is usually published on faculties’ websites in May.

The majority of bachelor’s and Foundation programs are taught in Icelandic. To enroll in them, you need to know the local language.

More about admission process in Iceland

Vocational education in Iceland

Vocational education in Iceland is divided into two stages: secondary and higher. The secondary vocational education programs can be entered directly after graduating from secondary school. They last for four years. Then you can continue your studies in professional courses and receive a diploma or certificate. The duration of such courses is from one to four semesters.

There is no unified system of specialized institutions for vocational post-secondary education in Iceland. Such programs are offered at high schools, art schools, universities, and private educational institutions. Therefore, professional education can be obtained in completely different areas: physical education, social pedagogy, music, applied arts, design, management, electrical engineering, agriculture.

To enter, you will need an Icelandic diploma of secondary vocational education (Sveinspróf). That is why such programs are not designed for foreigners. Studies are held only in Icelandic.

It is possible to continue professional education at universities and specialized educational institutions.

Bachelor's degree in Iceland

Bachelor's degree is the first cycle of higher education that may last for 3-4 years, depending on the university and the direction. For the first two years, students go through a block of basic disciplines, which is compulsory for everyone, and then switch to study their respective specialty. Upon completion of the bachelor's program, the student gains 180-240 ECTS. This is enough for the diploma to be recognized by the countries participating in the Bologna Process.

In addition to the standard bachelor's degrees, Icelandic universities also assign unique ones. The BphilIsl (Baccalaureatus Philologiae Islandicae) diploma is assigned to foreigners for completing a program in Icelandic. There is also the title of a candidate (Candidatus), it gives the right to take a special position, for example, an administrative one. Training lasts 4-6 years, most often in theology, law, management, medicine, engineering. A candidate's degree in Icelandic universities is equivalent to a master's degree. This means that after it you can go straight to PhD studies.

Bachelor’s studies in Iceland are conducted mainly in Icelandic, but there are separate programs and lecture courses in English. Their list should be checked on the websites of universities.

For example, the University of Iceland offers undergraduate language programs taught in English and other European languages ​​(German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Danish). To enroll in a program in Icelandic (Icelandic as a second language), you will have to pass an entrance exam, which tests basic language skills. You can start learning Icelandic by applying to special free online courses. If you fail to pass the exam, you can enter the program that awards not a bachelor's degree, but a Practical Diploma. Other programs, such as courses at the University of Iceland, knowledge of English will be sufficient[7].

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Master’s in Iceland — Graduate/Postgraduate

After the Bachelor's degree, the student can continue his studies in a Master's program. Most master's programs in Iceland are in English.

The duration of study varies from six months to two years. During this time, the student must earn between 30 and 120 ECTS, usually 60 ECTS per academic year. Courses lasting half a year (i.e. 30 ECTS) can be taken in addition to the main master's program. A master's degree in engineering and computer science can last for 3-5 years, in medicine for up to 6 years.

Programs are of two types:

  • Taught programmes consist of modules of taught disciplines and writing a graduation dissertation;
  • Research programmes imply conducting research work under the guidance of a supervising teacher.

Doctorate in Iceland — Postgraduate

The third cycle of higher education is doctoral studies that last three to four years. At the end of the program, the student writes a doctoral thesis. Studying for PhD in public universities is free (fee 543 USD), in private — fee-paying (about 3,256 USD per semester).

Doctoral studies lead to an academic career. Therefore, already at the application stage, the candidate must contact the curator and submit a letter with the objectives of the study and the topic of scientific work.

In the first year, candidates study the available data and work in the chosen field. The year ends with making a study plan. The student is also assigned a curator from the doctoral council. Its task is to guide the student and track the research progress. The training ends with a public defense of the doctoral dissertation. The main requirement for PhD applicants is a master's degree in a similar field. Some universities accept applications from 2-nd year graduate students.

Academic career

Doctoral students can sign a contract with a university and start teaching and doing research for money. After completing a degree, you can stay to work at the university as a teacher or researcher if it has open vacancies.
In Iceland, there are three levels of academic careers: Lektor, Dósent, and Prófessor. Usually, young teachers come to the university for the position of a lecturer and then, if they prove their professionalism, they grow up to an assistant professor and professor.
The salary of a university professor in Iceland for an entry-level position is on average 37,645 USD per year, the salary of a senior teacher is approximately 63,707 USD. The average salary in the country for 2019 was about 49,952 USD[8].

Opportunity to work while studying

According to Icelandic law, a student visa does not allow you to work while studying. To do this, you will have to obtain a separate work permit from the immigration office. At the same time, a restriction on employment is established — only during study breaks, as a part of an internship, or up to 15 hours a week during studies.

Documents required for work permit

  • Application;
  • Employment contract;
  • Information about the proposed place of work, salary, pension contributions;
  • Confirmation of contract and statement from the relevant union.

If you are fluent in English or Icelandic, you can get a job in the tourism, restaurant, and hotel business. Students are hired as translators, tutors, and teachers in specialized kindergartens. There is no minimum hourly rate in Iceland, but with part-time work, you can earn 253-724 USD. The minimum wage for a full-time position is 2,425 USD.

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Opportunity to stay and immigration to the country

If you are an EU-EEA national, you can stay in Iceland after completing your studies without any time restrictions. Students from other countries can only extend their residence permit for another six months to find a job. This will require:

  • Application;
  • Copy of the passport;
  • Certified copy of the diploma.

To get a job, you need a work permit from the Directorate of Immigration, with preference given to citizens of the European Union. Then you need to renew your residence permit, but this time on the basis of employment, not study.

After four years of residence in Iceland, a foreigner can apply for permanent residence. To get it, you will have to prove that you meet the requirements of a current residence permit, work, or have enough money to satisfy your needs. It is also necessary to complete an Icelandic language course of at least 150 hours or pass an exam.

After seven years of residence, you can apply for citizenship. To do this, you will again have to prove your financial viability and proficiency in Icelandic. The applicant must have a good reputation, which he can confirm with references from two Icelandic citizens. It is also necessary to provide a police certificate.

Employment prospects and opportunities

  • In Iceland. If a student found a job in his specialty during his studies, then after graduation, he can sign an employment contract with an employer. Main areas of activity: fishing and fish processing, medicine, tourism, information technology. A work permit is issued only after receiving an invitation from the employer. Priority is given to EU citizens. Foreigners occupy 20% of jobs while accounting for only 13% of the population[9]. But they receive on average 8% less than Icelanders[9]. The average salary in the country is 3,866 USD per month[10].
  • In Europe. Icelandic universities issue internationally recognized diplomas that are accepted in all EU countries. Naturally, the diploma should be supported by a decent resume, professional skills, and good references.
  • Academic career. A master's degree from an Icelandic university opens the opportunity for a graduate to enroll in doctoral studies in Iceland or in EU countries that are part of the Bologna Process. References from teachers and a relevant research topic are often enough for a positive decision of the admission committee.
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