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Iceland: Report on new entrants to upper secondary education

In April 2018 Statistics Iceland published an overview of new entrants to upper secondary education. There were two major findings: a reduction in new entrants at upper secondary level and the increasing number of new entrants that had chosen to enter general programmes rather than vocational ones.

Fewer new entrants to vocational programmes

In 2016, 16% of students had chosen vocational programmes. During 1997-2015 the average percentage of these students was roughly 25%. A steady decline is observed from 2005 onwards.

The difference in registration numbers between general and vocational programmes can be explained by the fact that students initially choose to enrol in general programmes to be able to take the matriculation examination before shifting their study path to vocational training programmes; these were, therefore, counted as new entrants in general programmes.

The enrolment rate of boys in vocational training programmes was higher than that of girls in 2016. The opposite applies for enrolment rates of the genders in matriculation examination programmes where girls represented the majority of applicants (64%) in 2016. Figure 1 shows the difference in new entrants by type between the genders over period 1997-2016.  

Figure 1. New entrants to the upper secondary school level by type of study in 1997-2016, general programmes versus VET (light blue)


Most new entrants to upper-secondary studies are aged 16; the average age of students in vocational programmes is higher than for general programmes.

In 2016, 90.7% of the students enrolled in upper-secondary programmes were 16 years of age. Over time, the group of new applicants to post compulsory education, who are older than 16 has declined.

The average age of students in vocational programmes continues to be considerably higher than for students entering general programmes (Figure. 2).  In 2016, this average stood at 22 years.

Figure 2. Average age of new entrants in general programmes (dark blue) and vocational programmes (light blue) in 1997-2016



Rise in new entrants with foreign background

In 2012-216 there was a small average difference in new entrants when background is examined, with an increase in the enrolment of students with a foreign background. This is in line with a general trend reflecting a significant increase in net migration of non-Icelandic born citizens the past two decades

The proportion of new entrants with a second-generation immigrant background is 95.5%, higher than that of students with no foreign background (95.2%). New entrants, born abroad with Icelandic background are 93.6%, whereas those born in Iceland with one foreign parent are 91.8%. The figure for new entrants born abroad who have one foreign parent was 84.3%, while for students born abroad with both foreign parents it is 82.3%.

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Fewer new entrants to vocational programmes at the upper secondary level

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