Icelandic Universities Report Application Increases

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

University applications in Iceland increased significantly this year, with notable growth in health, education, and science fields. The University of Akureyri, Iceland University of the Arts, Bifröst University, Reykjavik University, and the University of Iceland all reported record or substantial increases in applications.

STEAM fields popular

Applications increased at most universities in Iceland this year, according to the government’s website. Notable growth occurred in the fields of health, education, and science, according to application data from the universities, whose enrollment deadline for the upcoming fall semester ended earlier this month.

“We are very pleased to see this increase in university applications, especially in the STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The increase indicates that our ministry’s initiatives are working, and more people are recognising the opportunities a university education provides,” Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Industry, and Innovation, is quoted as saying.

Read More: What are the top university programmes in Iceland

Record number of applications

The University of Akureyri saw a 7% rise in applications from last year, with nearly a 20% increase since 2022. Applications to its nursing programme rose by 11%, and its teacher education programme saw a 22% increase. The biotechnology programme, unique to the University of Akureyri, also received a record number of applications, according to the government’s website.

Record numbers of applications were also reported by the Iceland University of the Arts and Bifröst University. Both institutions saw significant increases in applications after accepting an offer from the Minister of Higher Education for full state funding in exchange for the abolition of tuition fees. Bifröst University received nearly 1,500 applications, a threefold increase from the previous year.

The Iceland University of the Arts experienced the largest growth in its art education department, with applications nearly tripling, alongside significant increases in its design and visual arts departments.

Reykjavik University also received a record number of applications, with an almost equal gender distribution, though slightly more men applied (53%). Applications to the engineering department increased by 16% and to the industrial and technical sciences department by 10%.

The University of Iceland saw a 10% increase in applications from last year, with even higher growth in its engineering and natural sciences programmes. Applications to various engineering disciplines increased by nearly 34% in electrical and computer engineering and by almost 43% in environmental and civil engineering.

There was also strong interest in programmes related to primary school teaching, pedagogy, and health sciences at the University of Iceland. For instance, 270 individuals registered for the entrance exam for medical school, with 75 students being admitted, 15 more than in previous years.

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.

Minister Denies University’s Appeal for Registration Fee Hike

icelandic startups

The Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation in Iceland, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, has denied a request from the country’s four public universities to increase registration fees, citing the financial strain already faced by students. The minister urges universities to improve the quality of education without raising fees.

Presidents appeal to ministry

Last year, the presidents of Iceland’s four public universities – the University of Iceland, the University of Akureyri, Hólar University, and the Agricultural University of Iceland – approached the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation to seek legislative changes that would allow them to increase registration fees from ISK 75,000 [$553 / €516] to ISK 95,000 [$700 / €654]. The fee has remained unchanged since 2014.

In December 2022, Jón Atli Benediktsson, President of the University of Iceland, stated that it was “timely to adjust the fee.” He explained that the next fiscal year would be challenging for the University of Iceland, as many academic departments were facing financial constraints. Student numbers had declined again after an increase during the pandemic, resulting in lower financial contributions from the state budget.

Jón Atli also maintained that the government had not fulfilled the promises made in the coalition agreement to increase funding for universities to the OECD average by the year 2020.

Tuition disguised as registration fees

As noted in an article on the matter on RÚV, students have long criticised the registration fee, calling it a disguised tuition fee. Rebekka Karlsdóttir, then President of the Student Council of the University of Iceland, stated that it was “no coincidence” that university presidents were seeking a fee increase precisely when the budget was under discussion in Parliament.

She stated that authorities and university officials must “stop sugar-coating the truth” about the reality of public higher education. “Which is, that there are tuition fees in public universities,” she stated.

Request denied

Today, Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, announced that the ministry had denied the request to authorise an increase in registration fees. The institutions had requested permission to raise the fees from ISK 75,000 [$553 / €516] to ISK 95,000 [$700 / €654].

“University students are among those who are either newly entering the housing market or are struggling to secure housing,” Áslaug is quoted as saying in a statement from the ministry.

She also noted that a larger proportion of university students in Iceland have young children compared to those in neighbouring countries, and are taking their first steps in supporting a family. “High interest rates, difficulties in securing childcare, and various other economic conditions are already putting a strain on university students to such an extent that it is crucial for public entities not to increase their expenses,” the minister added.

The announcement states that funding for universities has increased, with an additional ISK 3.5 billion [$26 million / €24 million] planned for the year 2024 compared to previous projections. By 2028, the funding for higher education is expected to increase by ISK 6 billion [$44 million / €41 million]

“It is important that public universities, like other public entities, exercise restraint in their operations and find ways to improve the quality of education without raising registration fees,” the minister is quoted as saying.

Krafla Geothermal Area Attracts International Research Project

Krafla Mývatnssveit power plant electricity

Some 15 international doctoral students are studying the Krafla geothermal area in Northern Iceland to understand how to best use its energy resources, reports RÚV.

Central to the investigation is a thorough measurement and mapping of the magma chamber below Krafla caldera. Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, professor of geophysics at University of Iceland, has stressed the difficulty in determining the exact location of the magma chamber and its distribution across the area. However, given the extensive measurements now underway, Magnús Tumi says that the project will hopefully yield both theoretical and practical results.

The doctoral students are part of the international research initiative, IMPROVE, a project funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme. The project focuses on early-career researchers and features co-operation between both academia and industry. IMPROVE focuses on two main sites: Mount Etna in Italy, one of the best-monitored volcanic areas in the world, and the Krafla caldera in Iceland, an important site for geothermal energy production.

Within Iceland, the project is led by the Institute of Earth Sciences at University of Iceland, with support from the National Power Company of Iceland and 12 other universities. 

The Krafla caldera was last active from 1975 to 1984. Prior to this, the only recorded eruption was in 1720, making it an unlikely candidate for Iceland’s next eruption, according to Magnús Tumi.

East Iceland to Open First Local University

east Iceland university Reyðarfjörður Egilsstaðir

Residents of East Iceland will be able to pursue university studies locally for the first time next year thanks to a program being jointly developed by Reykjavík University and the University of Akureyri. Instruction will take place in the town of Reyðarfjörður and will emphasise on-site teaching of technical subjects rather than distance learning. Local industry representatives say there is a need for university-educated staff in technical disciplines. RÚV reported first.

Reykjavík University will already begin offering preparatory studies for higher education in East Iceland this autumn, with university-level studies set to be offered starting in 2022. The program is being set up in collaboration with the University of Akureyri (located in North Iceland), continuing education centre Austurbrú, and representatives from the local business community, including the seafood and aluminium industries, two of the region’s main employers. While West and North Iceland have offered local university studies for some time, such higher education has not been available in the eastern region.

“The supply of distance learning has increased greatly in recent years and that is very positive. But Reykjavík University has always had the unique position of prioritising on-site learning, focusing on group projects, focusing on very direct connections with instructors and teachers, with the business community, and thus building their knowledge and knowledge within the community without having to leave the area,” Ari Kristinn Jónsson, Rector of Reykjavík University, stated. “This is something we have done elsewhere in the country and it has succeeded brilliantly and we look forward to seeing it thrive, grow, and prosper here in East Iceland.”

The seafood industry and Alcoa’s Fjarðaál aluminium factory are two of the region’s main employers, and both industries require staff with technical training at the university level. Several local businesses have founded a joint scholarship to support students in the program. “It’s very important for us who are running large companies here in the east to get this education in the area.” Dagmar Ýr Stefánsdóttir, Communications and Social Affairs Director at Alcoa-Fjarðarál, stated.

With Fewer Tourists, Hotels Start Renting to Students

In the absence of the multitudes of tourist multitudes who usually make their way to Iceland year-round, Reykjavík hotels and guesthouses are scrambling to fill their rooms by renting to students, Vísir reports.

Kex Hostel is planning to open its rooms to students this fall and is working with the National Union of Icelandic Students to set standardized monthly rates. Hótel Saga is offering rooms to students and teachers alike at a rate of ISK 150,000 [$1,090; €916] a month. B47 Hostel, located in the former Directorate of Health on Barónstígur in downtown Reykjavík, is also offering academic-year accommodations to students, with rates varying depending on the room. A shared room starts at ISK 70,000 [$508; €487] a month, while a single is ISK 110,000-120,000 [$799-872; €672-732] a month.

B47 proprietor Þorsteinn Steingrímsson is looking to put a special spin on his hostel-turned-dorm: “My idea here is to create a sort of student commune,” he explains. “And elsewhere in the building we have what I’m calling Baróns’ Akaademía. There I’m renting out the guesthouse to all kinds of scholars and people who can assist the students if they seek it out.”

So far, says Þorsteinn, the reception has been positive and he has every hope of filling the hostel with students this fall.

“This is like one big house,” he remarks. “There’s a homey atmosphere I think kids will appreciate since they can’t go downtown to bars and such.”

Raising Riders

To reach Hólar University in winter, you must drive through the ice-covered Hjaltadalur valley. On your way there, you’ll pass groups of horses in almost every colour of the rainbow. You’ll notice their thick and shaggy winter coat, and how they huddle together to keep warm. The snow on their furry backs might send a shiver down yours – but the horses have been here for a millennium, bred to survive the harsh conditions.

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

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.

Rejection of Student Visas on Basis of Nationality Overruled


Iceland’s Immigration Appeals Board has ruled that the Directorate of Immigration was not permitted to deny visas to 50 would-be students from Bangladesh. RÚV reports that the Directorate rejected all of the applications on the basis of nationality as it considered there to be a risk the individuals were applying on the wrong grounds. With its ruling, the Appeals Board has now rejected that argument.

In 2017, the University of Bifröst decided to begin offering programs taught in English and since that time has been seeking international applicants. “The school has therefore had agents in certain countries that have acted as intermediaries for potential students, including in Bangladesh,” stated Leifur Runólfsson, who represents the Bangladeshis in the case. “By doing so, the school is both strengthening itself financially and in quality. The school has very much been gaining ground on the Asian market.”

Last spring, 50 Bangladeshi nationals applied to study business at Bifröst, applying for student visas as well. “When it came to light that The Directorate of Immigration had rejected them all on the basis of nationality and the suspicion that they were going to apply for asylum in Iceland, 47 of them appealed the decision,” Leifur stated.

Leifur says the applicants are expected to be able to start studying at Bifröst this fall. “We hope so. We need to of course wait for [the decision to be processed at] the Directorate of Immigration where the applications will be reviewed again and residence permits issued.”

Iceland and China Facilitate Student Exchange

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir China meeting

The Chinese and Icelandic Ministers of Culture have signed a landmark agreement to mutually recognise university studies between the two countries. Iceland’s Minister of Culture and Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir says the agreement will facilitate university student exchange between the two countries.
Lilja met China’s Minister of Culture Chen Baosheng in Beijing today, where they discussed increased cooperation between the countries in the field of education, among other issues. “This agreement marks a turning point for both Icelandic and Chinese students,” Lilja stated. “The agreement will help to greatly facilitate student exchange between the countries and I hope that more students from both countries will look at the options available in Icelandic and Chinese universities.”

To strengthen existing agreements and language education

The University of Iceland already has student exchange agreements with 15 universities in China. More than 30 Chinese students are currently studying in Iceland, and roughly the same number of Icelanders study in China each year. Chinese language courses are sought after at the University of Iceland, while Icelandic has been taught at the Beijing International Studies University since 2006.

China has made similar agreements with more than 50 other countries, including the other Nordic countries.