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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023

Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes 

Organisation of Doctoral Studies 

All higher education institutions in Iceland accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture under the Higher Education Institution 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 the various levels. The NQF also demands that each higher education institution describes the learning outcomes of each study programme and each course. The NQF for higher education and degrees contains a description of the structure for studies and degrees, where emphasis is placed on a description of a student’s knowledge and competence at the end of a course of study. The NQF contains clear guidelines on the structure of courses of studies and for the degree the universities will award.  

The Doctorate degree is a course of study covering three to four years providing 180-240 credits in cycle 3, level 5. The full workload in one year normally corresponds to 60 credits.  

There are three higher education institutions in Iceland that are allowed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to award a third cycle degree, University of IcelandUniversity of Reykjavik and the Agricultural University of Iceland

Admission Requirements 

A master’s degree provides access to doctorate studies in cycle 3. Higher education institutions can demand a minimum final grade for admission. The scope of research and/or final project shall cover at least 30 credits.  

Admission requirements are: a research-based Master’s degree or equivalent, final examination from cycle 2. Higher education institutions can demand a certain minimum grade for admission. Vocational degrees at master’s level do not normally provide access to further studies in cycle 3.  

Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates 

Doctoral students have the same right as other students at higher education institutions. They are not normally employed by the institutions, though they can in some cases be employed as adjuncts or part-time teachers or as research students through grants.  

Supervision Arrangements 

According to regulations stipulated by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, each doctorate student is entitled to have at least one supervisor. If there is more than one supervisor, the role of each supervisor is to be defined in the research plan of the doctorate. The main supervisor shall always be a professor at the Higher Education Institution where the doctorate is conferred.  

The contractual research plan of each doctorate student shall always include issues on multiple supervision arrangements defining the rights and obligations of the institution, the doctorate student and the supervisors.  

Under the regulations on Doctoral studies, at least one of the supervisors shall have a PhD in the subject, shall have been involved in international research projects and have some experience of applying for funds and grants for research activities.  


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 higher education institution involved often serves as the mediator for the placement of students for practical training.  

Research institutions within the higher education institutions hire PhD students to work on research projects that have been negotiated with state or with private agencies.  


On completion of a Doctorate degree, specific criteria shall be fulfilled, in addition to the criteria fulfilled at former level(s).  


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 Universities Act, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is to issue a list of degrees recognized by the Ministry, and their content.  

Organisational variations 

There is no organisational variation within the third cycle studies at Higher Education institutions in Iceland. Third Cycle studies are only offered at three institutions.