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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.7Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation

Last update: 27 November 2023

Bilateral Agreements and Worldwide Cooperation

Iceland has bilateral agreements with many countries, covering, inter alia, the mutual exchange of pupils, students, teachers, researchers and educational experts. All Icelandic higher education institutions have cooperation agreements with several institutions abroad. 

Bilateral Agreements

Iceland has been a member of the OECD since the organisation was founded. The responsible authority for the Icelandic participation in OECD activities in the field of education is the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. Icelandic officials participate in the work of the OECD in the field of education through meetings of its Education Committee. The OECD has evaluated the Icelandic educational system twice. Iceland has also participated in an OECD Review of Tertiary Education.  

Nordic co-operation in the field of education has a long tradition. The Nordic Committee for Cultural Affairs was established in 1947 and the Nordic Council in 1952. In recent decades, the formal basis for co-operation has been the Nordic Treaty on Cultural Affairs, which was signed in 1971. The Nordic Council of Ministers, which was set up in the same year, supervises co-operation between the governments in this field. In the field of education and research the work is carried out by the Nordic Committee of Senior Officials for Educational and Research Issues (EK-U). This committee has three advisory bodies, on school education (the Nordic School Cooperation - NSS), higher education (the Nordic Advisory Committee on Higher Education - HÖGUT) and adult education (Cooperation for adult education - SVL). In 2008 an ad hoc group on research was appointed. These advisory bodies will cease to exist at the end of the year 2012 and will be replaced with temporary ad hoc groups, whenever needed. 

Nordic co-operation is extensive in several fields, including education. Primarily, co-operation is based on projects within university, upper secondary, compulsory and adult education. Entities from all the Nordic countries participate. A system is in force for the reciprocal admittance of Nordic students to universities, which does not require transfer of money between institutions.  

Co-operation and Participation in Worldwide Programmes and Organisations  

The Nordic institution called NordForsk, which reports to the Nordic Council of Ministers on education and research is responsibility for Nordic co-operation on research and education of researchers. Furthermore, NordForsk is responsible for cooperation and coordination with Nordic Centre for Innovation (NICe) and the development of Nordic policies in this field. Priority in given to areas in research and research training where the Nordic countries together show considerable strength in an international comparison. The Nordplus system of grants, established by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1988, is a part of the co-operation on education among the Nordic countries. The aim of the Nordplus scheme is to strengthen the Nordic region as one market for education. Grants awarded through Nordplus go mainly to those who are studying at higher education institutions, but grants are also given to participants in joint research projects. Nordic research co-operation is the forum for special schemes not detailed further in this context. 

Iceland co-operates in several education and research programmes on the basis of the Agreement on the European Economic Area. When the Agreement on the European Economic Area came into force, participation in education programmes became a part of the co-operation under the Agreement.  According to the relevant articles of Protocol 31 to the EEA Agreement, the EFTA/EEA countries participate in all actions and programmes of the European Union in the field of education, with rights and obligations equal to those of the EU Member States, with a few exceptions. 

Since Iceland is a party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area, European Union directives concerning mutual recognition of examinations and degrees have been incorporated into Icelandic law.  

Iceland is an equal partner with full rights and obligations in the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme. The Icelandic Lifelong Learning Programme National Agency is hosted the Icelandic Center for Research.

Initially, one of the main hindrances to receiving more students in Iceland was perceived as being the language barrier. However, as Icelandic higher education institutions have gradually been increasing the number of courses taught in English, Iceland has experienced a significant rise in the number of incoming Erasmus students. These students enrol for studies in a number of subjects, including Icelandic for foreign students. 

On the basis of the Agreement on the European Economic Area, Iceland participates in EU’s Horizon 2020 programmes.

Co-operation with the EU in the field of education, training and research is based on Protocol 31 in the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA). According to this protocol, the EEA/EFTA states are entitled to participate in all programmes in the areas of education, training and youth, and research.  In addition, the directives for mutual recognition of professional qualifications fall within the scope of the EEA Agreement.  Thus, according to the EEA Agreement, Iceland has full access to the action programmes for education and training, and participates actively in the Lifelong Learning programme, in Erasmus Mundus. In addition, Iceland takes an active part in the activities that are related to the Europe 2020 strategy and specifically the work programme Education and Training 2020 including participation in Peer Learning Activities and thematic work groups.

In terms of volume, the EU programmes by far constitute the largest arena for cooperation open to Icelandic schools and higher education institutions.

There are no specific national programmes or initiatives for facilitating international co-operation between universities. The opportunities are opened by multilateral or bilateral agreements and the institutions receive budget appropriations to make use of the opportunities under existing agreements. However, a few fellowships are awarded to students from foreign countries for studies in Iceland. These schemes are operated on a reciprocal basis. The legal framework for the higher education institutions provides for their own initiatives in entering international co-operation.  

Before the expansion of research-based training in the country, students in many disciplines had to go abroad to complete their studies.