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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice


7.2.First-cycle programmes


Last update: 27 November 2023


Branches of Study                 

All higher education institutions in Iceland accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture under to the Higher Education Institutions Act, follow the National Qualification Framework (NQF) for higher education in Iceland. The National Qualification Framework (NQF) is in accordance with the European Qualification Framework and describes the qualifications graduated students are to master when they finish their studies on the various levels. The NQF for higher education and degrees contains a description of the structure for studies and degrees, where the emphasis is placed on a description of a student’s knowledge and competence at the end of a course of study. The NQF contains clear guidelines on the structure of courses of studies and for the degree the universities will award. According to the framework, there are three subsequent cycles of higher education: Bachelor’s degree, Master’s and Candidate’s degree; and Doctorate degree.  

Institutions of higher education vary in the extent to which they engage in research and the number of programmes of study offered. The higher education institutions can also be categorized into four groups according to their specialisation: there are two agricultural institutions, one academy of the arts and four institutions offering wide ranges of studies. 

Generally, bachelor studies take three years to complete (180 – 240 ECTS credits).

Admission Requirements 

As a main rule, students enrolling in higher education institution must have completed the matriculation examination or an equivalent course of study. Higher education institutions can accept students who possess equivalent levels of maturity and knowledge as assessed by the higher education institution involved. It must be ensured that admission requirements and study standards correspond to those demanded in certified higher education institutions within similar fields in other countries. The Higher Education Institutions Act allows institutions to set specific admission requirements for students enrolling in study at higher education level, e.g. by requiring students who meet with the aforementioned demands to pass an entrance examination or assessment. Admission of mature students to higher education institutions based on professional qualifications and work experience without further tests is in the hands of each institution.   


Higher education institutions that come under the Higher Education Institutions Act, are required to define learning outcomes for each study programme. These definitions are to be specialised descriptions relevant to the study programmes offered. The institutions should preferably demonstrate how the objectives of the definition are attained by each course or each study level, i.e. by defining their learning outcomes.  

Higher education institutions are required to specify, in their Diploma Supplements, to which cycle and level each study programme belongs to, according to National Qualification Framework for Iceland.  

Higher education institutions have a significant degree of academic freedom and autonomy; as a result, they largely determine the nature and structure of their educational curricula and courses.  

Icelandic is the language of instruction in higher education institutions. However, in recent years some institutions have started to offer courses in English. Textbooks are in many cases in English or another foreign language (mostly Scandinavian languages).  

Teaching Methods 

The governing bodies of each institution are responsible for the organisation of teaching, learning and assessment. Teaching methods are decided by the individual teacher, department, faculty, institution or a combination of these. In most cases there is a combination of lectures, seminars, individual assignments and group work. In technical and science programmes, laboratory work and practical training are more prevalent.   

Increasingly, instructors integrate the newest information technology with their teaching methods. Some programmes are offered by distance learning via the Internet and/or through video conferencing.  

At the graduate level much emphasis is placed on students’ gaining practical experience in scientific work by engaging them in research under the supervision of a professor.  

Progression of Students 

Rules regarding progression of students vary between institutions and faculties. Students can repeat examinations in an individual course once. Students who fail to meet the requirements have, have in some instances, to repeat the whole year of study, but can do so only twice during their studies.  


In the professional disciplines, students are required to gain practical experience in their field of study. A part of this experience is frequently achieved through employment, and the institution involved often serves as the mediator for the placement of students for practical training.  

Research institutions at the higher education institutions hire students to work on research projects that have been negotiated with state and private agencies. 

Student Assessment 

Student assessment at the higher education level is generally based on written, oral or practical examinations, semester papers and assignments carried out throughout the whole course of study. Teachers are responsible for assessment, but each department determines the overall organization of the examinations within the regulatory framework of the institution. In some cases, there are external examiners. Examinations are generally held at the end of each semester. Degrees are most often only awarded after students have written a final dissertation or completed a research project.  


Higher education institutions offer courses which lead to the granting of a certificate and/or a degree or a title. Examination results and assessments are stated on the certificate, as is the degree/title to which the course gives entitlement. These are awarded when the student successfully completes the examinations, projects or dissertation described by the subject regulations. A dissertation or research project is almost always a pre-requisite for obtaining a degree. Some degree courses may lead directly to professional qualifications, while in other cases additional training specific to the profession, such as additional specialized study programmes, sometimes combined with practical training, is required.   

As required by law and subject to review by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, higher education institutions are responsible for issuing certificates and defining the content and examination methods of courses leading to certification.  

To improve international transparency and facilitate academic and professional recognition of qualifications, all higher education institutions have introduced the Diploma Supplement (DS) for graduates. Under the Higher Education Institutions Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is required to issue a list of degrees recognized by the Ministry, and their content.