Icelandic educational system

The educational system in Iceland is divided into four levels:

Pre-school education (leikskóli)  for which the Ministry of Education is not responsible

·         Pre-schools are defined by law as the first level of the educational system, providing education for children who have not reached six years of age, at which point compulsory education begins.

·          Pre-primary education is the first level of the Icelandic educational system - for all children in the age group of 1-6 years old. 

·         Governed by municipalities


Compulsory education (grunnskóli)  .

·         Compulsory education is organised in a single structure system, i.e. primary and lower secondary (including pre-vocational) education form a part of the same school level, and generally take place in the same school.

·         The law concerning compulsory education stipulates that education shall be mandatory for children and adolescents between the ages of six and sixteen.

·         Governed by municpalities

Upper secondary education (framhaldsskóli)

·          Upper secondary education is not compulsory, but anyone who has completed compulsory education has the right to enter a course of studies in an upper secondary school. Students are usually 16-20 years of age.

·         General academic education is primarily organised as a four-year course leading to a matriculation examination. The length of the courses in vocational education varies, lasting from one semester to ten, but most prevalent are four-year courses.

·         Governed by the ministry (state)


The main types of schools offering upper secondary education are as follows:

·         Grammar schools, which offer four-year general academic branches of study which conclude with a

matriculation examination. Pupils who complete the course satisfactorily are entitled to enter higher

education institutions in Iceland. 

·          Comprehensive schools, which offer an academic course comparable to that of the grammar

schools, concluding with a matriculation examination. These schools also offer  theoretical and practical

courses, as in the industrial vocational schools (see below) and, in addition, some other courses providing  vocational education. A few of the comprehensive  schools also offer post-secondary non-tertiary programmes, such as programmes to educate master craftsmen. 

·         Industrial vocational schools, which offer theoretical and practical branches of study in the certified and some non-certified trades. These schools also offer post-secondary non-tertiary programmes to educate master craftsmen. 


Upper secondary schools vary in size; the largest schools have around 2,000 pupils in day schools and the

smallest less than 100. For the relative size of the various branches of study, s


Higher educational system (Háskólar)

·         The modern Icelandic system of higher education dates back to the foundation of the University of Iceland in 1911  - i.e. educational institutions provide higher education leading to a degree and which have been accredited by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture

·          From the foundation of the University of Iceland in 1911, higher education institutions in the country have mainly offered undergraduate programmes that last from 3-4 years. Students had to go abroad for their postgraduate studies, although the number of post graduate programmes has multiplied in recent years.

·         There are currently seven higher education institutions in Iceland that fall under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

·         Four higher education institutions are operated by the state, while private parties with state support operate three institutions.

·         Institutions of higher education vary in the extent to which they engage  in research and the number of programmes of study offered.

·         They can also be categorized into four groups according to their specialization:

o    two agricultural institutions

o   one academy of arts

o   four institutions offering a wide ranges of studies.


·         As  a  main  rule,  students  enrolling  in  higher  education institution must have completed matriculation examination or equivalent study.

·         The Higher Education Act allows higher education institutions to set specific admission requirements for students enrolling in study at higher education level, such as requiring students, who meet with the aforementioned demands, to pass an entrance examination or assessment. 

·         The University of Iceland has no general restrictions on admission for those who have passed the matriculation examination. However, in the Faculty of Medicine there is a selection procedure for students of medicine and physiotherapy at the point of entry. Competitive examinations at the end of the first semester are held in the Faculties of Nursing and of Odontology.



Links: (thorough on all aspects of the Icelandic educational system) (general info) ( secondary schools) (primary schools) (universities) (a list of all Icelandic universities and information on each of them)