The University of Iceland (Icelandic: Háskóli Íslands) is a public research university in Reykjavík, Iceland and the country's oldest and largest institution of higher education. Founded in 1911, it has grown steadily from a small civil servants' school to a modern comprehensive university, providing instruction for about 14,000 students in twenty-five faculties. Teaching and research is conducted in social sciences, humanities, law, medicine, natural sciences, engineering and teacher education. It has a campus concentrated around Suðurgata street in central Reykjavík, with additional facilities located in nearby areas as well as in the countryside.
The University of Iceland was founded by the Alþingi on June 17, 1911, uniting three former post-secondary institutions: 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. During its first year of operation 45 students were enrolled. The first rector of the university was Björn M. Ólsen, a professor in the faculty of humanities.
The university played an important role in the construction of the Icelandic nation-state and was perceived by Icelanders as an important stepping stone towards full independence. Demands for a national Icelandic university stretch as far back as to the first session of the elected assembly of Althingi in 1845. Icelandic nationalist leaders petitioned Denmark at the time to create a "national school" to achieve cultural and material progress, but also to make sure that the education that Icelanders obtained was sufficiently national in character.
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 recent years there has been some major restructuring. In 2008 the university was divided into five different schools. Simultaneously, the Iceland University of Education was merged with the University of Iceland to become its School of Education. Increased competition from local colleges has encouraged the university to greatly improve its marketing strategies, which had previously been deemed unnecessary.
The university's main campus lies immediately south-west of Tjörnin lake in the centre of Reykjavík. It covers about 10 hectares in total. There are around 30 buildings in total, the oldest of which, Gamli Garður, was built in 1934. The Main Building overlooks a semi-circular lawn, featuring a statue of Sæmundur fróði. In 2007, a new service centre was opened next to the main building and many of the most vital service desks were relocated there. Some lectures take place in Háskólabíó cinema at the northern end of the campus. There are also a gym, several dormitories, and smaller research institute buildings on the grounds. Most buildings are located on the main campus and nearby neighbourhoods. The Faculty of Sport, Leisure Studies and Social Education, on the other hand, is located in the village of Laugarvatn.
In 1994 the university library (formally established in 1940) merged with the national library of Iceland, Landsbókasafn Íslands (est. 1818) to form one large academic library, the National and University Library of Iceland (Icelandic: Landsbókasafn Íslands - Háskólabókasafn). The library main building, Þjóðarbókhlaðan, is situated next to the main campus.
Education and research at the University of Iceland are closely tied with the National University Hospital in Reykjavík. The facilities of the School of Health Sciences are therefore largely located on the hospital grounds.