The University of Iceland was founded 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.
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 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 and research in more than 60 degree programmes in the humanities, science and social sciences, and in professional fields such as theology, law, business, medicine, odontology, nursing, pharmacology and engineering. 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 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.
In addition to a re-education center, there are faculties of:
The University has the following buildings:
There is also a gymnasium, a student service center and several dormitories and research institute buildings.
The University of Iceland is a public, government-funded university, and as such it does not charge school fees (although a small 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.