Education System of Iceland

In Iceland, the parliament is legally in charge for the educational organization and system. The Icelandic parliament frames the policies and sets the administrative structure. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is in charge for the execution of legislations all educational levels in Iceland- pre-primary, compulsory, upper secondary and higher education. The adult education is also under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture. The Ministry develops curriculum guides for K-12 educational levels namely, pre-primary, compulsory and upper secondary schools. The Ministry provides accreditation to the Iceland institutions of higher learning.

In Iceland, Education is mainly organized within the public sector. There are some private educational institutions as well. The private schools get support from public funds.

Iceland Educational Background

In 1907 was laid down the first national law, and in 1926, the first national curricula was prepared and issued. Later, the whole education system was transformed and the Compulsory Education Act, 1974 was introduced. As per this act, special education services were provided to all pupils with disabilities.

In Iceland, the oldest high schools are Menntaskolinn a Akureyri and Menntaskolinn i Reykjavik. The University of Iceland was the first institution of higher learning in Iceland. This higher education institution was set up in 1911, integrating 3 former Icelandic schools:  Lagaskolinn, Prestaskolinn and Laeknaskolinn.  The Lagaskolinn focused on law; Prestaskolinn focused on theology, and Laeknaskolinn emphasized on medicine studies.

Education Profile of Iceland

The education system in Iceland is split up into 4 stages:
  • Pre-school education/Playschool
  • Compulsory/Basic education
  • Upper secondary education
  • Higher education

Pre-school Education- Playschool (Leikskoli)

This level of education is not compulsory to attend in Iceland. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture frames the strategies and policies, and publishes the national curriculum principles for the playschools. Children below the age of 6 may attend pre-primary education in Iceland. 

At this level, children learn basic skills and attitude through playful activities and are prepared for the compulsory education level. This level promotes the holistic development of the children. 

This educational level is regulated by the Pre-primary Schools Act No. 90, Year: 2008.

Compulsory Education (Grunnskoli)-Basic Schools

Compulsory education encompasses primary and lower secondary education. The compulsory education is for children ages 6 to 16. This educational level is organised into a single structure. In Iceland, there is no tuition fee for this educational level.

Upper Secondary Education (Framhaldsskoli)-Continued School

Upper secondary education is not compulsory. Students who have successfully completed lower secondary education are eligible for upper secondary education in Iceland.  These continued schools are also referred to as “gymnasia” in English. Students between the ages 16-20 attend this level. The duration of studies is 4 years, though it may vary. The upper secondary education prepares students for higher education or work.  This level ends with a matriculation exam- the Studentsprof. This examination is considered as entry requisite for the higher education institutions in Iceland.

This level of education is regulated by the Upper Secondary School Act.

The upper secondary schools are split up into following schools: 

Grammar/General academic schools: These schools provide programmes that last for 4 years and end with matriculation exams.

Industrial-vocational schools (ienmenntaskolar): These schools provide theoretical and practical study programmes in various trades.

Comprehensive schools (fjolbrautaskolar): These schools are the combination of industrial-vocation schools and grammar schools, and also provide specialised vocational courses.

Specialised vocational schools (serskolar): These schools offer courses for a particular vocation and trade. 

Secondary Vocational Education

Vocational education in Iceland is provided by industrial-vocational, comprehensive and specialised vocational schools. The duration of the programme varies depending upon the school and course/trade. Most of the vocational courses provide legal certificate for a specific type of work. 

Higher Education (Haskolar)

The higher education or haskoli (“high school”) in Iceland is regulated by the Higher Education Institutions Act. Students aged 20 or above can apply to higher education institutions in Iceland. In Iceland, there are 7 nationally accredited higher education institutions. The University of Iceland is the oldest and the largest higher education institution. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for higher education institutions.

Higher Education Qualifications


Diploma/Certificate: Many of the higher education institutions in Iceland award diploma or certificate after the completion of one and a half or 2-year course in following subjects: languages, pedagogy, and business. 

Bachelor’s degree: This degree lasts for 3-4 years depending upon the programme. 

Candidatus degree: This degree lasts for 4-6 years depending upon the course and the holders of this degree are eligible for a particular profession.

Postgraduate certificate: This qualification is awarded for 1 year of postgraduate study. 

Masters degree: This degree lasts for 2 years and requires a submission of a thesis or research project at the end of the programme.

PhD studies-Doctorate degree: This degree is awarded by only 3 higher education institutions: the University of Iceland, Agricultural University of Iceland; and the Reykjavik University. The duration of studies vary depending upon the area of study. 
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