Universities are perfect innovation partners

Universities are perfect innovation partners

Iceland is packed with well-educated talent: business school INSEAD ranks the country 12th overall in its Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2022 due to its strengths in high-level, global knowledge, vocational and technical skills, as well as talent impact. 

Almost half the population has benefited from tertiary education and, despite its small size, Iceland contains seven research-focused universities that are increasingly focused on working with others to solve real-life concerns of society and industries. Indeed, according to the European Union’s Innovation Scoreboard 2023, the nation now stands out in areas that include public-private scientific co-publications, international co-publications and collaborative businesses. 

The government has encouraged this connectivity by setting up a Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. “It was an important decision to put our universities closer to key pillars of our economy and to discussions about societal challenges. It is moving our higher education system faster in the right direction toward building up the competences and skills needed for a labor market that is changing so quickly due to new technologies. Added to which, research development from our universities is a robust foundation of Icelandic innovation,” says Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir.

The country’s oldest and largest university, the University of Iceland (UoI), is a good example of how education institutions are promoting collaborative innovation. The broad-based UoI has notable strengths in topics that include Icelandic culture and society, geosciences, health, computer sciences, and engineering. These are taught at its campus that lies at the heart of Reykjavík Science City, a dynamic neighborhood in the capital that is densely filled with established innovative companies and startups working in science and technology, plus the national hospital and another highly regarded educator: Reykjavík University. 

A new addition to UoI’s campus is a state-of-the art science park, says UoI’s president and rector, Jón Atli Benediktsson: “Three major businesses that are strong partners of ours have already moved in — the global leader in human genome analysis deCODE genetics, pharmaceutical company Alvotech and computer gaming firm CCP Games. We’re also attracting smaller innovative firms, students and faculty have space to work on entrepreneurial projects, and we would very much welcome international companies to the park.” 

Like all of Iceland’s universities, UoI has embraced international collaboration, as evidenced by the fact that it has amassed over 400 agreements with universities around the world. “For example, we’re leading a network of European universities called Aurora, and we have great relationships with many US institutions, including the Universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Washington,” states Benediktsson. 

Over 1,700 of UoI’s 13,000 students hail from foreign countries, with the largest number coming from the US, and international enrolments are rising, he adds: “We have a good track record of attracting people from North America, because Iceland is a nice place to be. We have a vibrant community, wonderful nature and interesting topics to study and research. For people coming from a large nation like the US, another of Iceland’s advantages is that almost everybody knows everybody else, so you can get to know a lot of people that are influential connections.”