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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Second Cycle Programmes

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 different 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 has a clear guidelines for 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 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 categorised 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. 

Graduate studies at master’s level entail a study programme of six months to two years, providing 30-120 credits at cycle 2. The full workload in one year is supposed to correspond to 60 credits.  

Admission Requirements 

To enter a postgraduate programme, a first university degree (B.A., B.S. or B.Ed. degree) in the area of study is required. In some master’s programmes the admission requirement is a B.A./B.Sc. degree with a 7.25 grade average on a scale of 1 to 10 (the highest grade being 10). Admission is based on selection by the faculties involved. In research-oriented programmes, students must reach an agreement with a supervisor on a research project for their master's thesis, and then file a joint application with that supervisor for a specific research project. The project must then be accepted by a review committee for the student to be allowed to enter the programme.  


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 specialized 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 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. Teaching methods vary somewhat between programmes and level of study. 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. Teaching materials are also decided by the individual teacher, department, faculty, institution or a combination of these.  

Increasingly, instructors integrate the newest information technology with their teaching methods. For example, they use WebCT and other teaching software to post-course-related material and interact with students on the Internet. Some programmes are offered by distance learning via the Internet and/or through video conferencing.  

At the graduate level, great emphasis is placed on students’ gaining practical experience in scientific work by engaging them in research under the supervision of a professor. Teaching also takes place through seminars, lectures, individual tutoring and individual training in thesis writing.  

Most higher education institutions offer courses for new teachers as well as more specific courses, for example on information technology.  

Progression of Students 

Rules regarding progression of students vary between institutions and faculties. Students may repeat examinations in an individual course once. Students who fail to meet the requirements have to repeat the whole year of study, but can do so only twice during their studies. Although the time-frame for finishing a second cycle degree may be more flexible than two years, there is a limit on the overall time spent on studies towards a degree.   


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.  

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 provides the overall organization of the examinations within the regulatory framework of the institution. In some cases, there are external examiners. Degrees are 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 specialised 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 recognised by the Ministry, and their content.