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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Mobility in higher education


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.2Mobility in higher education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Mobility in Higher Education

Student mobility

Students have many opportunities for participating in international collaboration and for certain subjects such co-operation is essential. Despite the expansion of the Icelandic higher education system in the latter part of the 1990s, the number of students studying abroad did not decrease. The inflow of foreign students has also increased substantially in recent years. 

The numbers of students that take parts of their studies abroad, through programmes as Erasmus+, increases every year. The same goes for the Inter-Nordic Nordplus programme that enables Icelandic students to take a year of their studies within a higher education institution in another Nordic country. On the side of the NORDPLUS exchange programme, The Nordic Masters Programme, initiated by the Nordic council of Ministers, has increased in recent years, enabling graduate students from Icelandic higher education institutions that participate in the programmes to take parts of their degree abroad.

The Nordplus and Erasmus- programmes are run by RANNIS – the Icelandic Center for Research

The greatest number of foreign students in Iceland are enrolled at the University of Iceland, which offers the greatest variety of subjects. The total number of foreign students at universities in Iceland has been on a steady rise and has reached 12% of the total student body. The greatest number of foreign students come from European countries, but there are also a considerable number from other countries, and altogether over 93 nationalities are represented among these students in 2016-2017.

The number of students coming to Iceland is higher than expected.  While humanities are the most popular subjects chosen, receiving 50% of the incoming foreign students, other subjects, including natural sciences, social sciences and business studies also attract foreign students. A large proportion of the foreign students in the humanities are enrolled in a two-year programme in the Icelandic language and literature. 

It is the responsibility of each higher education institution to recognise foreign degrees, exams or courses of students. When necessary, the ENIC-NARIC office, hosted at the University of Iceland, is responsible for assistance on validation of the document in question.

The high number of exchange students, both those who go abroad from Iceland and, more particularly, foreign students who come to Iceland, confirms the relevance of international co-operation. 

Issues subject to debate in Europe, such as portability of grants, recognition of diplomas, transferability of credit units, are part of a stable routine. 

Academic staff mobility

In Iceland there are no national policy goals or national programmes for staff mobility in higher education. The government leaves it up to each higher education institution to organise, coordinate and finance mobility programmes. There is no central collection of information about annual participation in such programmes. Salaries, financial compensation and social security in respect of mobility programmes are regulated in the agreements made between each higher education institution in Iceland and the unions of academics within the higher education. Individual institutions are responsible for setting remuneration for staff taking part in international mobility programmes. The agreements concerning sabbatical leaves are generally restricted to researchers - professors, assistant professors, associated professors and, though with stricter rules, adjuncts. Other staff of higher education institutions can apply for leaves on educational basis.

Academic staff, almost without exception, spend their sabbatical leaves abroad participating in specialised studies or research projects. Such projects may receive additional support. 

In Iceland, disciplines vary in terms of their international exposure and there are also variations between larger and smaller institutions. For instance, the disciplines of Icelandic language and law, have traditionally had relatively little international exposure. Other disciplines have maintained more international ties, mainly through exchange of faculty and international research co-operation. Most professors in the universities have received their postgraduate degrees abroad and preserve international relations through, for example, research collaboration after they move back home. In universities, support for professors to take sabbatical leave abroad is generous, which encourages the maintenance of international links. Since the University of Iceland, was for a long time, the only HEI with an extensive research role, smaller tertiary institutions have generally had less international contact, since their teachers have had limited research obligations. This has changed during the last decade with the expansion of the higher education system and increased research within the smaller institutions. However, modes and approaches to internationalisation have gradually changed from sporadic and individual-based relations and networks to more systematic and institutionalised processes. 

There are only three higher education institutions in Iceland that are accredited to offer doctoral studies. The greatest part of doctoral students is conducted within the University of Iceland. Rules for doctoral studies vary between different disciplines but doctoral students are encouraged or obligated to spent at least a year of their studies abroad at other research institutions.