Record Number of Applications at Arts University

Tollhúsið Tryggvagata

Applications at the Iceland University of the Arts have nearly doubled since last year. The university announced in February that it would abolish tuition fees this fall following a decision by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir that offered independent universities full state funding if they were to do away with tuition fees.

Positive effect of dropping tuition fees

Rector Kristín Eysteinsdóttir told Vísir that she was not worried about students dropping out, but rather that she welcomed the increased attendance and expected more applications next year. “We had 538 applications last year, but almost 1,000 now,” she said after the deadline for applications past last night. “Applications for arts education are still open, so I expect this to end at around 1,000 applications. That would be an almost 100% increase.”

She said that the school has never seen numbers like this and that they go above and beyond expectations. “We can’t accept everyone, but it’s incredibly positive that the abolishment of tuition fees has this effect,” she said. “In fact, this confirms what we thought, that the costs were prohibitive for a lot of prospective students.”

Acting programme most popular

The biggest increase is in architecture, design and visual arts, Kristín said. The acting department remains the most popular study programme, but only ten people are accepted each year from a group of 200 to 300 applicants.

She added that she expected more people to apply next year, especially to the masters programmes. “We get applicants there who have children and need to plan further ahead,” Kristín said.

Arts University Abolishes Tuition Fees

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

The Iceland University of the Arts is dropping tuition fees, starting fall semester 2024. The university’s management made this decision following today’s announcement by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir that independent universities will be offered full state funding if they abolish tuition fees, Vísir reports.

Three independent universities eligible

The University of the Arts is the first of the three qualifying universities to accept the offer. The other two independent universities are Reykjavík University and Bifröst University. According to a press release from Áslaug’s ministry, these universities have received 60 to 80% of the funding they would’ve received if they were public universities. To bridge this gap, the universities have charged students tuition fees of up to ISK 2 Million [$14,500, €13,500].

“In the spirit of funding being attached to each student, the universities can now do away with tuition fees and receive full public funding,” Áslaug said. “I think it’s fair that students have equal opportunity to study, regardless of the operational form of each university, and that those who choose to study at an independent university stand equal to those who study in the public universities. The state should not discriminate between students.”

A more diverse student body

In a press release today, the Iceland University of the Arts Rector Kristín Eysteinsdóttir celebrates the minister’s decision as the university has long wanted to do away with tuition fees. When the change comes into effect this fall, students will only have to pay a lower registration fee like in other public universities.

“This is a big moment for the university and the most important issue for equal access of students to higher arts education in this country,” Kristín said. “This will lead to more economic equality regarding access to arts education, which is something to celebrate. We expect that the decision will lead to an even more diverse group of applicants, and students as a result, in the coming years.”

What are the top university programmes in Iceland?

Iceland is home to several major universities, but the two largest are the University of Iceland, a publicly funded research university, and Reykjavík University, a private university that specializes in business, law, engineering, and several other fields.

It may not come as a surprise that some of the top university programmes are in fields that you may already associate with Iceland.

Geosciences stands out as a good example, as Iceland’s unique geological features make it one of the few places in the world where glaciologists and vulcanologists can work side by side with their peers. The University of Iceland is also home to several research institutions in this field, such as the Earthquake Engineering Research Centre and the Nordic Volcanological Centre. Similarly, Iceland is also home to several programmes that specialize in renewable energy, giving prospective engineers and environmentalists the opportunity to work hands-on with hydroelectric and geothermal energy providers.

Because of the wealth of historical sources and the small populations, Icelanders are also known for their interest in their own genealogies. It’s no surprise then that Iceland is also known for well-regarded programmes in molecular biology and genetics. The biopharmaceutical company deCODE, founded in 1996, made great strides in the study of population-wide genetics, and deCODE’s influential work has also fostered the development of various programmes in Iceland, including biotechnology, bioinformatics, and bioengineering.

For those with a more humanitarian bent, the University of Iceland also offers programmes in medieval history and literature. The presence of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and countless medieval manuscripts means that Iceland is one of the best places in the world for scholars who want to study the Old Norse language and its literary corpus.

Prospective students in Iceland may be interested in these schools:



Students Express ‘Grave Concern’ Regarding Financial Situation at the University of Iceland

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

In the wake of reports that University of Iceland is facing a deficit of as much as ISK 1 Billion [$7.02 million; €6.46 million] this year, the Student Council (SHÍ) issued a statement on Sunday expressing its “grave concern” about the situation.

“It’s clear that the lack of funding has had a serious impact on the school’s basic operations,” reads the statement, and the university council has, as a result, “approved austerity measures that include, among other things, teaching cuts and hiring freezes.” With even further cuts on the horizon for the 2024-25 academic year, the student council fears that the university will be unable to maintain comparable standards to other Nordic universities or adequately prepare its graduates to be competitive on the international labour market.

Stated goals not in line with existing funding

SHÍ says it has been vocal about its concerns regarding funding at the university on a number of occasions, most recently in its comment on HÍ’s 2023 budget. SHÍ’s president has also “repeatedly raised the issue and the seriousness of the situation with the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, as well as the fact that the university budget does not correspond to the priorities or goals that the new Ministry of Higher Education has outlined.”

“It defies logic that at the same time calls are being made for an increase in the number of students in the health sciences that the School of Health Sciences has a deficit of ISK 240 million [$1.69 million; €1.55 million] and that goals are being set for increased STEM course offerings while at the same time, the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences has had to significantly reduce teaching due to lack of funding.”

‘The University has fallen in international rankings’

“The University of Iceland plays an important role in Icelandic society and is one of the world’s leading universities,” continues the statement,  “but the fact is that due to a lack of adequate funding for research and teaching, the school has fallen in international rankings,”

“Immediate action needs to be taken to foster the foundations of the educational system and strengthen it for the future. SHÍ agrees joins the university council in urging the government to accelerate its review of the university’s operations model such that the funding for public university education is in line with those in comparable countries.”

The current state of affairs is contrary to what the government has declared to be its policy regarding higher education in Iceland, says SHÍ, namely that it will “aim for comparable funding of universities in Iceland as is observed in the other Nordic countries.” SHÍ calls for the government to develop an operations model for the university that is not subject to dramatic fluctuation by increasing incentives and fixed funding for universities.

“The Student Council demands that the government live up to its constitutional obligation and significantly increase funding for public university education,” concludes the statement. “It is essential to Icelandic society, and will improve standards of living, value creation, and the competitiveness of the educational system, as well as Icelandic society on the international stage.”

Iceland to Consolidate University Applications into One Portal

icelandic startups

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörndóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Industry, and Innovation, has recently announced plans to establish a single enrollment portal for all higher education in Iceland.

Currently, students applying for college in Iceland must separately submit applications to Iceland’s various universities. The new, simplified, portal would streamline this process and allow students to instead apply for all of Iceland’s universities through, an official government website which handles many other administrative tasks already.

According to Áslaug, preliminary discussion with the rectors of Iceland’s top institutions have already been held. So far, the reception is positive.

In addition to simplifying the application process, the new portal will also consolidate information on course offerings, paths of study, prerequisites, funding, and other vital information for university students.

In her statement, Áslaug also said that the new online system would represent a first step in a changed model for funding in higher education, but no further information is available at this time.


Young, Unskilled Workers Need Targeted Educational Support

A new study shows that a third of Icelandic jobs will change significantly in coming years as unskilled workers currently in the labour force go back to school to further their educations, RÚV reports.

According to Guðbjörg Vilhjálmsdóttir, professor of academic and vocational guidance counselling at the University of Iceland, the biggest professional changes will be seen among those who only have completed grunnskóli, or mandatory basic education up to the age of 16. She estimates that 45% of the jobs completed by this demographic will either undergo significant changes or disappear entirely.

In February, Guðbjörg conducted a study of 154 young people aged 18-29 who had been working during the previous six months. These individuals had no more than an upper secondary education and did not attend junior college or university. They were only able to secure jobs in unskilled labour professions; most of them work long hours in the service industry.

These young people reported that they dropped out of school for a number of reasons that ranged from a lack of interest in pursuing higher education to poverty. These reasons are in line with other studies that have been previously conducted in this field.

Fewer young women believe they are doing ‘decent work’

According to Guðbjörg’s findings, young men seem to secure more complex work than young women—jobs related to machinery and maintenance, as well as in the agricultural sector. She says this may account for the boost in young women’s applications to university; in order to get a skilled job, they must have a higher education.

Guðbjörg also asked her respondents whether they thought they were doing “decent work.” This is a coinage of the International Labour Organization, which explains that “decent work… involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

It came as a surprise, Guðbjörg says, that the young women she spoke to were less likely to think themselves doing decent work than young men.

Targeted support needed to meet unskilled young people’s educational needs

This demographic is worse situated than other Icelanders, Guðbjörg says, because by and large, they are not fully aware of their situation and have trouble determining what to do in their work life in order to improve their future prospects. They tend to have difficulty planning out their next step and lack support, as they often come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. When asked what kind of work they would like to do if there weren’t any roadblocks in their path, most of Guðbjörg’s respondents said they would go into specialist and technical positions.

Younger participants in the study tended to want to continue their studies more than participants on the older end of the spectrum. It also tends to be easier for these younger individuals to return to school so soon after leaving upper secondary school.

Although study participants were shown to think it less and less likely that they would go back to school the older they got, 71% of respondents intended to return to school with the belief that they would finish their degrees. Guðbjörg says that this group of unskilled workers needs particular support to acquire an education that is based around their needs.

Over 6,500 Students Starting at Icelandic Universities this Fall

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

The academic year is underway again at most of Iceland’s universities. RÚV reports that just over 6,500 new students are embarking on college-level studies in the country this fall.

Most of these students are starting as undergraduates at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík. Current freshman enrolment stands at 3,400, although it’s likely that around 100 will register late in the next few weeks. This is up from last year’s freshmen class of 3,300 students.

Just over 1,700 new students are starting at the University of Reykjavík (HR) this fall, including 140 exchange students. This is a 9% increase in first-time enrolment from last year. Men make up 56% of HR’s incoming class and women 44%.

The University of Akureyri is welcoming 1,100 new students, 800 of whom are women. Bifröst University in West Iceland has 226 new students—136 in undergraduate programs and 90 in Master’s courses. The Agricultural University of Iceland, also in West Iceland, has an incoming class of 130 students—75 undergraduates, 35 vocational students, and 20 who are taking advanced degrees. Two-thirds of these students are women.

At the time of writing, the University of Hólar in North Iceland was unable to provide enrolment figures.