WENR, September/October 2003: Iceland
Legislation on higher education institutions enacted in 1997 establishes the general framework for the activities of institutions. There currently are eight institutions of higher education in Iceland – five are state-run, and the others are privately run with state support. The ministry believes the Bologna Declaration is in line with Icelandic higher education policy and, therefore, has not made any major changes in either policy or organization of the system. Regardless, the ministry has established a special coordination and advisory committee to formalize and strengthen the implementation process. The committee, comprised of representatives from the ministry and from all Icelandic higher education institutions, will monitor the progress of the Bologna Process and provide input on how to secure successful implementation.
1. Easily Readable and Comparable Degrees
• Iceland signed and ratified (2001) the Lisbon Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications.
• The University of Iceland is promoting the Diploma Supplement, although it is not compulsory. The government has recommended that all universities issue Diploma Supplements. Most have agreed to do so; some began in 2001-02, and others have yet to start because of technical reasons.
• The Academic Recognition Information Center, through the University of Iceland, acts as the ENIC/NARIC body in Iceland.
2. Degree Structure
• In most fields, the degree structure in Iceland is based on the two-tier system of bachelor and master programs. The longer (four to six years), integrated candidatus degree still exists, however, in certain fields – theology, medicine, pharmacy, law, business administration, engineering and dentistry – at the University of Iceland. The long master programs account for only 4 percent of all graduate programs.
• Some faculties that still offer the candidatus, such as the law school at the University of Iceland, are considering changing their structure to a 3 + 2 system.
• The B.A. degree is awarded to students who have completed three to four years of study in the fields of humanities, theology, social sciences, visual arts and design and who have satisfactorily completed a final thesis or research project.
• The B.S. degree is awarded to students who have completed three to four years of study in the fields of economics, management or business administration, natural sciences, health sciences, agricultural science, computer science or technical engineering subjects, and who have passed the prescribed examinations and completed the final thesis or research project.
• Most graduate programs in Iceland are relatively new, and the curriculum is still being developed. They are largely research-oriented, they consist of 30 to 60 study credits or 60 to 120 European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits and the length of study is one or two years. A research project and a thesis can amount to 15, 30 or 45 credits. There are some master programs, such as the master’s in business administration, that are considered somewhat more professional than the usual master’s of arts or master’s of science.
• Higher education is based primarily on two main cycles. Access to the second cycle requires successful completion of the first cycle, and lasts at least three years. The second cycle leads to a master’s degree.
3. Credit Transfer
• The Law on Universities (1997) requires the use of a national credit system, which is based on student workload and is used for accumulation.
• The Icelandic credit system has 30 credits per academic year. One Icelandic credit equals two ECTS credits. There is no legal framework directly related to the ECTS system.
• There is inconsistent implementation among universities. Most give their students information on the link between Icelandic credits and ECTS credits with their transcripts. At least one university issues an ECTS guide with course descriptions and ECTS credits. In some disciplines, professors translate national grades into ECTS grades for mobility purposes.
• All universities use the ECTS system for student exchange.
• Iceland has a long history of student mobility because, before the expansion of research-based training in the country, students in many disciplines had to go abroad to complete their studies.
• According to ministry figures, 16 percent of all Icelandic university students either study abroad full time or go overseas for one semester or more as part of their regular studies.
• The ministry has left the development of agreements with foreign institutions to Iceland’s universities, which explains why there are very few bilateral education agreements between Iceland and other governments. Current legislation encourages the independence of Icelandic universities, which are all trying to increase international cooperation.
• A perceived language barrier has been a major obstacle to receiving more students in Iceland. However, as institutions of higher education have gradually increased the number of courses taught in English, the country has experienced a significant rise in the number of incoming exchange students.
• The greatest number of foreign students in Iceland is enrolled at the University of Iceland, which offers the greatest variety of subjects. For the 2002-03 academic year, there were 572 foreign students at the university, more than 7 percent of all students enrolled.
5. Quality Assurance
• According to the 1997 Universities Act, universities in Iceland are required to adopt a formal system of quality assurance. The form and method are articulated in a contract between individual institutions and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. According to rules set in 1999 regarding quality control of university instruction, higher education institutions are obliged to set up a formal internal quality system. These rules also include provisions for the monitoring of higher education institutions’ self-evaluation systems and regular external evaluation of defined units within the institutions or the institutions as a whole.
• According to the latest “Trends III Report (July 2003),” the Ministry of Education has plans to establish an independent national accreditation agency.
• A division of Evaluation and Supervision was established within the Ministry of Education in 1996 and is a member of the European Network of Quality Assurance (ENQA) and the Nordic network of quality assurance agencies.
6. Promotion of European Dimensions in Higher Education
• The Ministry of Education reports that the present legal situation in the country does not allow joint degrees because only one institution can legally be responsible for issuing a degree.
• The Nordic Academy of Advanced Study (NorFA) provides exchange of ideas and human resources and seeks to develop Nordic research and research training. The organization is heavily engaged in disbursing grants for students who wish to undertake part of their education at another university or college in a Nordic country. It also grants fellowships to students in advanced studies. Acting upon an initiative by the Council of Ministers, NorFA is developing Nordic Research Schools and Nordic Centers of Excellence in research.
• The Nordplus system of grants was established by the Nordic Council of Ministers in 1988. The aim of the Nordplus program is to strengthen the Nordic region as a market for education. Grants awarded through Nordplus go mainly to those who are studying at higher education institutions, but grants are also given to participants in joint research projects.
• Iceland reported in the “Survey on Joint Degrees in Europe (2002)” that one of its universities was involved in three joint degree programs at the master’s level and none at the bachelor’s level.
— Nick Clark
• Survey on Master Degrees and Joint Degrees in Europe, Christian Tauch and Andrejs Rauhvargers, September 2002
• The State of Implementation of ECTS in Europe, European University Association, October 2002
• Diploma Supplement – State of Implementation, European Commission, June 2003
• Lisbon Convention Status Reports, Council of Europe, Aug. 29, 2003
• The Information Network on Education in Europe – Eurydice, European Union
• National Report on the Bologna Process, Ministry of Education, 2003