University of Iceland

The University of Iceland (Icelandic: Háskóli Íslands) is an Icelandic state university, founded in 1911. During its first year of operation 45 students were enrolled. Today, the university provides instruction for about 16,000 students studying in twenty-five faculties.


The University of Iceland was founded by Alþingi on June 17, 1911, uniting three former Icelandic schools Prestaskólinn, Læknaskólinn and Lagaskólinn, which taught theology, medicine and law, respectively. The university originally had only faculties for these three fields, in addition to a faculty of humanities. The first Rector of the university was Björn M. Ólsen, a professor in the faculty of humanities. The current Rector of the University of Iceland is Dr Kristín Ingólfsdóttir.

For its first 29 years the University was housed in the Icelandic Parliament building, Alþingishúsið, in central Reykjavík. In 1933, the university received a special licence from Alþingi to operate a cash-prize lottery called Happdrætti Háskólans. The University Lottery, which started in 1934, remains a major source of funding for the construction of new university buildings. In 1940, the university moved into the main building, designed by Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson. The main building forms the core of the university campus on Suðurgata, where most of the principal buildings of the university are located today.

In recent years there has been some major restructuring. In 2008 the university was divided into five different schools. Simultaneously, Iceland University of Education was merged with the University of Iceland to become its School of Education. Increased competition from local colleges has encouraged the university to greatly improve its marketing strategies, which had previously been deemed unnecessary.

In addition to the major faculties there are numerous research institutes attached to the university. With more than 400 tenured teachers, approx. 1,800 non-tenured teachers, and about 281 researchers and administrators, the University of Iceland is the largest single work-place in Iceland.


The University of Iceland offers studies in more than 160 undergraduate programmes in the humanities, science and social sciences, and in professional fields such as theology, law, business, medicine, odontology, nursing, pharmacology and engineering. Postgraduate studies are offered by all faculties, most of them research-based although not exclusively. There are also several multidisciplinary master's programmes available in the fields of health and environmental sciences, some of them in cooperation with other European universities.

The principal language of instruction is Icelandic. Textbooks are mainly in English and Icelandic. Most departments offer courses in English and allow foreign students to take their examinations in English. Icelandic language, medieval studies and environmental sciences are some of the university's strongest specialties, owing to Iceland's unique literary heritage and nature. A growing number of English-taught programmes is offered in these fields and others, attracting a large number of foreign students.

Some of the resources available at the university are uniquely Icelandic; these include the manuscripts preserved in the Árni Magnússon Institute, Icelandic census records dating from 1703, exceptionally complete genealogical data, and climatological, glaciological, seismic and geothermal records.


The University Council is the highest administrational authority within the institution and consists of the rector and ten other members, including two students and two members endorsed by the University Forum. The University Forum consists of the rector, faculty heads and various domestic representatives. It does not have any executive powers but works with the Council on the overall strategy of the university. The five academic schools and their faculties are headed by deans and have much control over curricula and day-to-day administration.

Kristín Ingólfsdóttir is the current Rector of the University of Iceland. She took over from Páll Skúlason in 2005. She is the first woman to serve as Rector.

Schools and Faculties

In addition to a continuing education center, the university consists of the following schools:

  • School of Social Sciences
  • School of Health Sciences
  • School of Humanities
  • School of Education
  • School of Engineering and Natural Sciences

There are over sixty research institutes and seven rural research stations run by the university. Some of the most notable are:

School buildings

The university's main campus lies immediately south-west of Tjörnin in the centre of Reykjavík. It covers about 10 hectares in total. Buildings belonging to the university include:

  • Aðalbygging (main building)
  • Askja
  • Árnagarður
  • Eirberg
  • Endurmenntun
  • Gamli Garður
  • Gimli
  • Hagi
  • Háskólatorg
  • Íþróttafræðasetur
  • Lögberg
  • Læknagarður
  • Oddi
  • Tæknigarður
  • VR I, II and III

There is also a gymnasium, a student service center and several dormitories and research institute buildings. Most buildings are located on the main campus and nearby neighbourhoods. The Faculty of Sport, Leisure Studies and Social Education, on the other hand, is located in the town of Laugarvatn.


In 1994 the university library (formally established in 1940) merged with the national library of Iceland, Landsbókasafn Íslands (est. 1818) to form one large academic library, the National and University Library of Iceland (Icelandic: Landsbókasafn Íslands - Háskólabókasafn). The library main building, Þjóðarbókhlaðan, is situated next to the main campus.


Education and research at the University of Iceland is closely tied with the Landspitali National Hospital in Reykjavík. The facilities of the School of Health Sciences are therefore largely located on the hospital grounds.

Notable faculty members
  • Brynhildur Davidsdottir (ecological economist)
  • Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson (political scientist)
  • Páll Skúlason (philosopher)
  • Trausti Valsson (engineer)
  • Vilhjálmur Árnason (philosopher)
  • Þorvaldur Gylfason (economist)
  • Þór Whitehead (historian)
  • Erlendur Haraldsson (social scientist)
  • Guðmundur Finnbogason (writer, teacher)
  • Halldór Ásgrímsson (lecturer, 1973–1975)
  • Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (political scientist, now President of Iceland)
  • Sigurður Nordal (Medieval literature scholar)
  • Sigurður Þórarinsson (geologist)
  • Þorsteinn Gylfason (philosopher)
Notable alumni
  • Arnaldur Indriðason (Writer)
  • Ásgeir Ásgeirsson (politician)
  • Björn Bjarnason (politician)
  • Davíð Oddsson (politician)
  • Elín Hirst (news anchor)
  • Einar Pálsson (literature)
  • Einar Már Guðmundson (writer)
  • Friðrik Sophusson (politician)
  • Guðmundur Finnbogason (writer, teacher)
  • Hreiðar Már Sigurðsson (businessman)
  • Kristín Steinsdóttir (writer)
  • Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir (writer)
  • Sólveig Pétursdóttir (politician)
  • Sigurjón Sighvatsson (film producer)
  • Vigdís Grímsdóttir (writer)
  • Þórarinn Eldjárn (writer)
  • Össur Skarphéðinsson (politician)
Student funding

The University of Iceland is a public, government-funded university, and as such it does not charge tuition (although an enrollment fee must be paid). In terms of living expenses, most students at the University of Iceland either work part-time to finance their studies or receive student loans at favourable interest rates from the Icelandic Student Loan Fund.

The Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture annually offers awards to foreign students for the study of Icelandic language, history and literature at the University of Iceland. Scholarships are usually restricted to students from selected countries each year. Awards are tenable for one academic year and aim to cover board and lodging.

The major source of funding available to foreign graduate students is the Eimskipafélag Íslands University Fund, which is open to both scholars and current or prospective PhD students. Each grant from the fund is approximately 2,5 million ISK per year, for a period of up to three years, and is intended to cover living expenses.

Student politics, unions and services

The Students' Council is the official representative of those studying at the university. It handles all kinds of rights issues and relations with internal and external authorities. Elections for the council take place every year. There are three major parties that participate in the student politics. These are Vaka, Röskva and Skrökva. Many local politicians started their careers as members of the council.

There are over 60 student unions in operation within the university. Each union is made up of students of a particular subject or a few related ones. Postgraduate students in some fields have their own unions. Membership is optional. A large part of the unions' function revolves around social activities, the most common of which are the so called "science trips", a tradition where companies and organizations in the industry invite students in a relevant field over for a presentation and drinks. Some postgraduate student unions also organize small-scale academic seminars.

Félagsstofnun stúdenta is a self-owned institution that runs several services in and around the campus. These include kindergartens, low-rent apartments, cafeterias, and a large bookstore.

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