The history of Bifröst University began in 1918, when the Cooperative College (Samvinnuskólinn) was founded in Reykjavík. In August 1918, the board of the Federation of Icelandic Cooperative Societies (SÍS) resolved to establish a school for members of the movement. The Cooperative College began operations in December of that year. Jónas Jónsson from Hrifla was chosen as the first headmaster. Jónas defined the school’s mission as the training of leaders, using Ruskin College at Oxford (where Jónas himself had studied) as a model.
In the summer of 1955, the school moved to Bifröst in the Borgarfjörður region of West Iceland, where it has been ever since. The move was a turning point in the school’s history. Guðmundur Sveinsson took over the rector’s chair, and Jónas, by then seventy years old, retired. The school was reorganised as a boarding school, and as the faculty and student numbers grew, the university village of Bifröst slowly took shape.
The university occupies land which previously belonged to a farm called Hreðavatn. Sigurlaug Daníelsdóttir and Kristján Gestsson had lived at Hreðavatn from 1913 until 1949, when Kristján died in an accident. Þórður, one of their six sons, had taken over the farm at the time when the school moved from Reykjavík. Initially, the Federation of Icelandic Cooperative Societies leased the land from the family. On 1 December 1985, Sigurlaug and Kristján’s children generously donated the land at Bifröst to the school in memory of their parents. In 1987, a memorial plaque honouring Sigurlaug and Kristján was set up on a lava pillar by the driveway to the old school building. The plaque is in the form of a birch leaf and reads: “In memory of Sigurlaug Daníelsdóttir and Kristján Gestsson from Hreðavatn. With thanks from the members of the Icelandic cooperative movement for the land at Bifröst on which the Cooperative College stands.”
The Cooperative College changed its name to the Cooperative University in 1988, to the Bifröst School of Business in 2000, and finally to Bifröst University in 2006. These many changes reflect the tremendous growth and development of the Icelandic higher educational system over the last few decades. Until 1990, the school was a division of the Federation of Icelandic Cooperative Societies. It was owned by the Federation and served largely as a training college for Federation employees.
Following the dissolution of the Federation, Bifröst has been an independent institution that attracts students from all sectors of Icelandic society. Formerly, Bifröst offered a secondary-level programme of study lasting only a few months. Today, Bifröst’s strongest enrolments are for its three-year bachelor’s degrees. In keeping with its tradition as an educator of leaders, Bifröst also continues to offer preparatory studies at a secondary level, aimed at mature students who have gained experience in the working world but lack an Icelandic matriculation examination. Since 2003, Bifröst offers master’s degree programmes as well.
The opening of the Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel in 1998 brought Bifröst within an hour and a half’s driving distance of Reykjavík and had a major impact on life in the entire Borgarfjörður region. In turn, Bifröst has had a strong influence, both direct and indirect, on Borgarfjörður and the local community here.
The number of students studying at Bifröst has grown rapidly in recent years, as has the university village. The majority of Bifröst’s students are enrolled in distance learning programmes, but many students and their families live on campus. The campus boasts a shop, café/pub, gym, sauna, sports facilities and a preschool, and the elementary school at Varmaland is only a short bus ride away.
Business education and social affairs have been the school’s focus from the beginning, and Bifröst has always been progressive and innovative – sometimes, even controversial – in its educational methods. In recent years, Bifröst has continued to be an “early adopter” among Icelandic universities by reducing class sizes, focusing on practical assignments rather than exams, and increasing the use of computers and online communication in teaching and learning.
Today, Bifröst University is a leading educational institution in Iceland, with a strong commitment to its students and the community. Bifröst offers its students quality training in business, law, and the social sciences, and prepares them for positions of responsibility and leadership both in Iceland and abroad.
Jónas Jónsson 1918 - 1955
Guðmundur Sveinsson 1955 - 1974
Haukur Ingibergsson 1974 - 1981
Jón Sigurðsson 1981 - 1991
Vésteinn Benediktsson 1991 - 1995
Jónas Guðmundsson 1995 - 1999
Runólfur Ágústsson 1999 - 2006
Ágúst Einarsson, from 2007 - 2010
Magnús Árni Magnússon 2010 -2011
Bryndís Hlöðversdóttir 2011-2013
Vilhjálmur Egilsson 2013-
1988: University-level instruction begins at Bifröst.
January 1990: Bifröst parts ways with the Federation of Icelandic Cooperative Societies and becomes an independent institution under the name of the Cooperative University (Samvinnuháskólinn).
Spring 1990: The first students graduate from Bifröst’s two-year university-level management programme.
Spring 1995: The first students graduate with a B.S. degree in Management.
Spring 1999: The first distance learning students receive their B.S. degrees in Management.
2000: The university’s name is changed to the Bifröst School of Business (Viðskiptaháskólinn á Bifröst).
2001: The first students receive a B.S. degree in Business Studies.
Fall 2001: A bachelor’s degree programme in Business Law (unique in Iceland) is offered for the first time.
November 2002: An attractive new main building for the university is opened.
Summer 2003: Master’s-level instruction begins.
Spring 2004: The first students receive a B.S. degree in Business Law.
Spring 2005: The first students receive master’s degrees from Bifröst.
Fall 2005: Teaching begins in the new Faculty of Social Science and Economics.
2003-2005: Bifröst’s research centre opens, housing research institutes in Housing, Retail Studies, European Studies, and Labour Law and Equality.
2006: The university’s name is changed to Bifröst University (Háskólinn á Bifröst).
2008: Cultural Research Centre and Research Centre for Management and International Affairs founded at Bifröst.