Epic landscapes providea hot place for research

The national universities of Iceland and of Cyprus are both emblematic of countries with a rich heritage and an active engagement with the wider world, says Alan Osborn

A fascination for Iceland has made its national university something of a lure for students from across Europe and even North America. Many come to study Icelandic sagas and myths, while the country's lava fields and volcanoes are of inexhaustible interest to geology students.

Kristín Ingólfsdóttir, rector of the University of Iceland, told The Times Higher : "This is a field in which our scientists are quite strong, and it's the area that attracts most foreign students for postgraduate work."

In the current academic year, 7.3 per cent of the university's students are from abroad - a rise of 24 per cent since 2001.

UoI, in Reykjavik, is not the only Icelandic higher education institution to call itself a university, but the other seven are more akin to vocational colleges, mostly teaching business. Just over half of all those in higher education in Iceland attend UoI, which was founded in 1911 and is the country's largest single employer.

Its students come from some 70 countries, said Professor Ingólfsdóttir, with Germany in the lead followed by other Scandinavian states, America and England.

Most faculty are Icelandic "but they've studied abroad. I think it's strengthened the university and the nation as a whole that our people have been to universities worldwide and come back with lots of different experiences," Professor Ingólfsdóttir said.

Although Iceland is not a member of the European Union, the university has close relationships with higher education bodies and universities in the EU and engages in collaborative projects and student and staff exchanges.

Where funding is concerned "the university has autonomy, but at the same time we are dependent on the Government for our funding so it's very important for us to have good relations with the Ministry of Education", Professor Ingólfsdóttir said. Funding draws on three sources: government funding for tuition (45 per cent), direct state funding of research (20 per cent) and own income (35 per cent). Within this, some 5 per cent of the total is in the form of business sponsorship. In 2005, total income of the university was the equivalent of £60 million.

The PhD programme is being strengthened, Professor Ingólfsdóttir said.

Previously students have gone abroad "but in the past eight to ten years we've been preparing the foundations for a strong postgraduate programme.

Now we feel ready to take a big step forward to increase the numbers of PhD students graduating from the university."

The university has set a target of a fivefold increase in the number of PhD graduates in the next five years, from the present 13 to 65.

ICELAND

  • Population: 300,000
  • Students enrolled at University of Iceland: 9,526
  • Percentage of students from Iceland: 93
  • Percentage of Iceland's population attending university: 5.8
  • www.hi.is

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