Polar Law Program

The concept of Polar law and the idea of a programme of legal education with some of the core subjects of what can be defined as Polar law was already being discussed when the first steps were taken towards a full blown legal education at the University of Akureyri (UNAK) around the turn of the millennium. When the first group of students finished their BA-degree in 2006, the concept of Polar law was developed and given a central place in the research objectives and teaching of the Faculty. The Faculty held a preparatory conference in 2007 with many international experts, including Professor Nigel Bankes who, in 2010, would be only the third scholar ever to be awarded an honorary doctorate from UNAK. The masters programme in Polar law was launched in 2008. This was taking place at same time as domestic and international interest in the Arctic increased heavily. The Polar law initiatives at UNAK were amongst dozens connected to the Fourth International Polar Year (2007-08).


Interest in the Arctic and Arctic studies has proliferated since UNAK welcomed its first Polar law students in 2008.Polar law, however, remains distinct and unique for two reasons. First of all, it is not focused exclusively on the Arctic but draws together governance issues that pertain to both poles. This is not to suggest that the regimes are identical or require the same approach to governance. Nevertheless, the experience of nearly 70 years of peaceful cooperation in the Antarctic offers a number of important insights into how peace and security can be maintained in the High North. For example, the groundbreaking regimes for managing living marine resources in the Antarctic and processes of environmental protection offer lessons for management of the opening of the Central Arctic Ocean. Indeed, the precautionary approach, pioneered in the Southern Ocean, is at the heart of the latest international treaty for cooperation in this area and the principle of the environmental impact assessment that is central to management of activities in the Antarctic is now regarded as customary international law.

The second distinct feature of UNAK’s programme is its emphasis on law. Although the programme is interdisciplinary and encourages students (including law graduates) to learn new tools of analysis from economics, social science, political science and anthropology, it does not shy away from legal analytics. It prepares students with no former legal training to find, interpret, apply and evaluate legal sources, based on a firm education in international law, law of the sea, environmental law, and indigenous peoples’ rights.


The Polar Law programme at the University of Akureyri involves teaching by experts from the University of Lapland, the University of Tilburg, the University of Tromsø, the University of Tasmania, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the National Museum of Natural History of France, the Arctic Council and the Stefansson Arctic Institute.

On the LLM and MA programmes, there is an opportunity for a 30 ECTS semester exchange at one of the partner schools in the West Nordic Studies Masters cooperation, namely: University of the Faroe Islands, Nord University, University of Greenland or University of Iceland. A generous grant is available to students undertaking an international exchange to the Faroe Islands, Greenland or Norway.


The University of Akureyri (Háskólinn á Akureyri) is located in North Iceland and has served Akureyri and its rural surroundings since 1987. The University has built a reputation for academic excellence and good industrial relations. Located in the capital of North Iceland, Akureyri, the University has been instrumental in the economic growth of the region and is central in its planning for a future as a knowledge-based society. 

The University of Akureyri prepares students for a wide range of opportunities in both the private and the public sectors. Education offered by the University aims at providing its graduates with specific skills and knowledge of scientific methods as well as  theoretical skills that will enable them to improve their qualifications. Education and research are closely linked to achieve this, first and foremost by assigning equal importance to them in the daily work of the academic and scientific staff and whenever possible course work is based on research.

The University was founded in September 1987,  by establishing two Faculties, in Health Sciences and in Industrial Management. The University is at present operating in three Schools; School of Business and Science, School of Humanities and Social Sciences and School of Health Sciences. The number of students is around 2,000 and members of staff are around 200.


For further information, course descriptions,  learning outcomes and application form please visit the Polar law home page.