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Short-cycle higher education


7.2.First-cycle programmes

7.2.2Short-cycle higher education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Short-Cycle Higher Education

Branches of Study

In many higher education institutions, a diploma or certificate is awarded after one or two years’ study in various subjects, such as pedagogy, business and languages. These diploma courses are short, practically-oriented and theory-based. It is not common for them to be combined with placement (in industry).  

Admission Requirements

Generally, students enrolling in higher education 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.    


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 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.  

Teaching Methods 

The governing bodies of each institution are responsible for the organisation of teaching, learning and assessment. 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.  

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 must repeat the whole year of study, but can do so only twice during their studies. In the short cycle programmes, there is a limit on the overall time spent on studies towards a degree.  


Faculty members, companies or entrepreneurs can apply to an Innovation Fund, established by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, to hire students to work on defined projects. The Fund pays the student salaries, while the company or the supervisor for the project provides workspace and materials. This gives students the opportunity to gain practical experience that may open future job opportunities and promotes innovation.  

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 organisation 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 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 in short cycle programmes. Examination results and assessments are stated on the certificate. These are awarded when the student successfully completes the examinations or projects described by the subject regulations.  

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.  

Organisational variations 

As the Higher Education Institutions Act does not distinguish between institutions at university level and university college level, there is no organisational difference in short-cycle programmes in Iceland.