Prior to coming to study at the University of Iceland (UI), I had to pick the courses that I was going to take while studying there. To be considered a full-time student at UI, one needs to enroll in a minimum of 30 ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System) credits. While back at home, at Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE), the minimum number of credits to be considered a full-time student is 9, with a maximum of 15. (Note that there are some exceptions, and I am just going to generalize it to make it more clear and concise.) At CUE, the minimum credit value a course is given is 1.5, the usual is 3 and the maximum 6. Normally, a 1.5-credit and a 3-credit course is completed in one semester, while a 6-credit course is completed in two semesters. As for UI, the minimum number of ECTS credits a course will be valued at is 2 and the maximum is 30. If a course is valued at 30 ECTS credits, it is more than likely a personal research project; most courses range between the credit value of 4 to 8, with quite a few courses in the humanities and social sciences being valued at 10 credits. The department of European Higher Education states that the credit value of a course is determined by the number of working hours a student is required to put in via lecture, seminars, projects, practical work and work placements. Depending on the academic institution, one credit corresponds between 25 to 30 hours of work. While CUE (and I am sure all or most of the universities across Canada) do have a similar system in place for determining how to allocate course credits in correspondence with the overall amount of work hours a student must put in per course, I am unaware of the system in place.
While a general bachelor’s degree in Canada takes four years, a general bachelor’s degree in Iceland (and most of Europe) takes three years to complete. The amount of credits needed to receive a degree, assuming all requirements have been met, are 180 ECTS credits. (Note, that with 30 credits a semester, an academic year would equate to 60 credits.) Back home, a general four-year degree requires 120 credits with the completion of certain credits ranging from core requirements, program requirements, and electives. Between both countries, a master’s program is relatively the same length in time (minimum 2 years) depending on how fast you want to complete it. As for choosing your program of interest, there is no such thing as having a major and a minor. You have an emphasis which follows a pretty focussed path, allowing for little room in taking electives, yet alone taking a different subject altogether.
Now let’s put aside all of these little details to get a look at the quirky differences. When I first opened my online school account to access my timetable, I found it a bit peculiar looking. Each class varied in length, frequency and location of where the lecture was taught. In Iceland, they do not have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Tuesday, Thursday class system. I am enrolled in four classes, three of my courses occur two times a week, while the last class only occurs once. There are no 50 and/or 75 minute classes; my shortest class is 90 minutes and my longest class is 140 minutes. The lectures do not occur at the same time on the instructional days, nor do they take place in the same classroom – so every instructional day is different. For 90 minute classes, students are allocated a 5-minute break in which literally everyone goes and buys a coffee. For classes of 140 minutes in length, we are given two breaks. Most buildings on campus have at least a café, and if there is no café, there is a specialty coffee machine where one may get their cup of joe. University is technically free in Iceland as there is no tuition fees, however, there is an annual fee for student registration (which is like $1000 CAD), and then additional fees such as textbooks, a gym pass (close to $100 CAD), printing and more. Your student ID card does not act as your library card, you must apply for the library card online; although your student ID card acts as a discount card at the school’s bar and grill called Stúdentakjallarinn – known as the Student Cellar in English. What is interesting and totally different from CUE is that all my classes are integrated, meaning that there are master’s students also in the class. UI offers three types of classes: undergraduate classes, master’s classes and an integration of both. However strange you may find that, the most peculiar thing I believe is the fact that students may rewrite exams if failed for a fee of 6,000 ISK – approximately $75 CAD. Now I don’t know about you guys, but I wouldn’t mind paying $75 to rewrite an exam I didn’t do so well on. What do you think?
by Allison Crawford