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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Lifelong learning strategy


2.Organisation and governance

2.2Lifelong learning strategy

Last update: 27 November 2023

Lifelong Learning Strategy

The emphasis on “a second chance” for adults who have not finished upper secondary education is strong in Iceland’s education policy.  There are several ways and means of getting prior learning, courses and other life and working experiences validated in Iceland.  Lifelong learning possibilities are also plentiful.

The first wide-ranging legislation on adult education was passed in 1992 (Act 47/1992). This legislation gave way to an amendment on the framework legislation for upper secondary schools which opened access for adults with little formal education, towards the possibility of matriculation, through partial integration of practical experiences.  This also marked the start of a co-operation between educational authorities and institutions, as well as stakeholders such as trade unions, towards the goal of better serving this group of learners. 

Toward this goal, the Education and Training Centre (ETSC) was established in 2002 when Iceland’s Ministry of Education and Culture made a contract with the country’s labour and employers’ confederations to run this centre. In the period of 1998-2000, nine educational and lifelong learning centres across Iceland were opened. In 2010, the operations were expanded significantly and more actors (including municipalities and other state actors) joined the cooperation. The centres also offer guidance and counselling for adults as well as validation of real competences for foreigners. 

Today, Centres for Lifelong learning and Centres for Continuing Education have been established around the whole country. The centres vary in organisational structure but are all supported in some way by the local government in question, by colleges of further education, by employees’ associations and by companies in a variety of ways.

Between 2006-2008, a comprehensive policy review of the Icelandic school system took place, a process which concluded in 2008 with the passing in parliament of new framework legislations for all school levels as well as the framework for teachers’ education. A comprehensive policy on lifelong learning was however missing, although aspects from European Union’s Lifelong Learning Strategy was already somewhat integrated into the 2008 legislation changes. Between 2008 and 2010 however, comprehensive work was commenced toward forming a comprehensive lifelong learning strategy, in close cooperation with stakeholders. Traditionally, the Icelandic adult education field has benefitted from the proximity of strong trade unions and businesses, who have demonstrated apt ability to quickly react to the needs of the volatile Icelandic market landscape. 

In 2010 a milestone was reached with the passing of a new framework legislation for adult education and lifelong learning, named the Adult Education Act (Act 27/2010). The law was set to meet the needs of individuals with short formal education, falling outside the scope of the legislation governing upper secondary school or universities. The law’s stated objective was to offer opportunities and encouragement for this group of people, to increase their vocational skills and to create a necessary scope and solutions to meet the demands of the industry for increased competences.

In 2012-2014, with support from the European Commission, Icelandic authorities underwent a voluntary review of the state of play of its lifelong learning strategy as well as on the implementation status of the legislation concerning this matter (including Act 27/2010) against the backdrop of EU’s Agenda for Adult Learning. The aim was furthermore to identify specific areas of importance, to assess the main implementation challenges and to examine if and how measures taken have succeeded in resolving the issues at hand. Toward this goal, Lifelong Learning Centres across the country were asked to organize seminars where the broadest possible range of stakeholders were consulted.

Some of the core findings of the stakeholder consultation were that the adult education system in Iceland was functioning relatively well after a steady growth in adult education and a consequent increase in government funding. It was also noted that promoters of adult education in Iceland have similar overarching goals and face similar challenges as their colleagues in other European countries regarding encouraging people without formal qualification at upper secondary level, to seek learning opportunities and thereby to increase their chances of gainful employment. Another finding of the stakeholders was that efforts made toward meeting the challenges that arose from the economic and banking crisis of 2008 had a significant impact towards the road to recovery.  There, efforts by adult education organizations played an especially important role in addressing the post-2008 economic challenges, including by getting people into employment and fighting social exclusion. It was noted that solutions and responses to this situation might be of contribution to the European Agenda for Adult Learning. A special “Adult Education Fund”, along with other funding relating to the economic crisis in Iceland, clearly strengthened the work of lifelong learning centres in the country, and has enabled them to respond quickly to new challenges arising from the crisis that the formal school system has not been able to meet. Guidance counsellors have played a crucial role in making these efforts a success, as they are to be found both within the formal system and in lifelong learning centres. In that way, it can be maintained that the two systems complement each other.

In June 2014 a white-book on educational reform was introduced, where some major plans and benchmarks were indicated, including on adult education and lifelong learning.  Alongside the white-book a major survey on the adult education and financing was commenced. A main conclusion was that the adult education system was working well, with clear division of work between the different partners and scrutiny of funding.

Since 2007, a qualifications framework for higher education has been in place.

The Icelandic Qualification Framework (ISQF, since 2016) has seven qualification levels. Higher education qualifications are at levels 5, 6 and 7 in the ISQF, with two sublevels at 5 and 6. Work on the Icelandic National Qualifications Framework, where focus was on the inclusion of qualifications from the non-formal sector is ongoing.

In the most recent times, there has been a measurable steady increase in lifelong learning in Iceland.