Program Organisation

The program consists of 120 ECTS at the master’s level; this includes 75 ECTS in the form of courses and 45 ECTS in the form of a thesis. All courses are taught in modules. The program starts in the autumn semester and the first year is made up of core courses and elective courses from the teaching schedule.

Teaching Schedule 2022-2023

Teaching Schedule 2021-2022

In order to complete 75 ECTS in one academic year, courses are taught in intensive modules from August through July of the next year. Courses are weighted from 1 ECTS to 6 ECTS and range from one to three weeks in length. Each ECTS is expected to involve approximately 25-30 hours of student work. On average students take 2 ECTS a week which corresponds to no less than a 50 hour workload per week.

After the courses finish, at the end of June/beginning of July, more of the students’ attention moves to the 45 ECTS thesis. According to the above work time calculation, the 45 ECTS should be equivalent to 1.5 semesters’ work. Students are free to choose whether or not they stay in the Westfjords to complete their theses. Theses are submitted for marking and defense at the beginning of the spring semester the next year. In this manner it is possible to complete the whole program in 18 months. No provision for summer holiday is made, however, if this pace of study is chosen. It is also possible to submit theses in April and the program then takes 21 months.

While the program covers a wide arc of geographical and development related areas students can specialise within this sphere through elective courses and with their choice of a topic for their thesis. Students are welcome to take elective courses at other universities, with the Master’s program committee's approval.

Students at the University Centre of the Westfjords are formally enrolled at the University of Akureyri and graduate with a MA (Master of Arts) degree from the University of Akureyri. Studies however are entirely conducted at the University Centre of the Westfjords in Ísafjörður and are wholly supervised by the University Centre of the Westfjords

Master’s Degree in Coastal Communities and Regional Development (Sjávarbyggðafræði):

120 ECTS to MA degree

120 ECTS credits, international and cross-disciplinary master‘s program in social sciences with a clear focus on regional development of coastal communities, organised by and taught at the University Centre of the Westfjords, Iceland.

The program is classified as a terminal master’s program from which students receive a master’s degree – an MA (Master of Arts) degree. The program’s learning outcomes are based on the Icelandic Ministry of Education, Science and Culture’s National Qualification Framework for Higher Education, which defines knowledge, skills and competences for cycle 2.2. The program qualifies graduates to be admitted to doctoral programs at cycle 3.

Study structure

The program comprises of 120 ECTS credits. It is divided into four semesters, starting with ten months of intensive courses taught in three consecutive semesters (in total 75 ECTS credits), and seven months allotted to the student‘s final project, 45 ECTS credits. Study breaks are during Christmas and Easter.

Up to half of the program‘s courses are classified as core courses and the remaining courses are classified as elective courses.

Academic and administrative responsibility

The University of Akureyri is responsible for ensuring academic quality of the program through majority representation in the program‘s academic quality committee. Students are registered as students both at the University Centre of the Westfjords and at The University of Akureyri and have rights and obligations to both institutes. The University of Akureyri confers and certifies the MA degree.

The program is organised and administrated by the University Centre of the Westfjords. Teachers, thesis advisors and thesis readers are recruited by the program director and approved/nominated by the master‘s program‘s academic quality committee.


Candidates must have completed a first university degree (BS, BA or other equivalent degrees), and fulfil other considerations set by the program‘s academic quality committee. First class grade is usually required.

Upon completion of the degree, each student has fulfilled the following goals, in addition to what was gained at the previous level.


Degree holders in Coastal Communities and Regional Development possess the knowledge, skills and competences to play a leading role in the social and economic development in relation to space/region worldwide, with special emphasis on the coastal areas along the North Atlantic.


  1. Knowledge

This entails that degree holders:

1.1.    understand the premises on which the development of coastal communities and regional development rests, as a field of knowledge, and have knowledge of basic principles and processes of its core subjects, including geography, planning, sociology, economics, law, political sciences, history and anthropology.

1.2.    possess knowledge of how coastal communities and coastal regions can be developed sustainably, following core principles of economics and social sciences in relation to space/region.

1.3.    have acquired knowledge through own desktop-based and/or field-based research and can place latest knowledge in the context of  regional development. They have strong understanding of local, regional and national administrative and governmental instruments dealing with regional policy and development and the premises they are based up on and are familiar with present and historical policy perspectives on regional issues at key international institutions.

1.4.    are familiar with the most commonly used research methods and with best practices in exploring spatial scales and concepts, the dimensions of space in economy, society and policy making, local and regional economy and its contexts as well as diversity and social justice at different spatial scales.

1.5.    have knowledge of science ethics, both in regards to their own scientific subjects and other members of the scientific community (e.g. plagiarism).


  1. Skills

This entails that degree holders:

2.1.    can provide arguments for and defend their own findings and recommendations, as well as providing constructive criticism for other people’s findings and recommendations.

2.2.    have gained skills in locating and assessing relevant, up-to-date and reliable resources of information through multiple means.

2.3.    can understand and tackle complex subjects in a professional context, both as individuals and as members of a group.

2.4.    understand how coastal communities and regions develop in a national context with respect of various national and international parameters, and can apply their knowledge, understanding and proficiency to situations in their scientific and professional work which require the best available development strategies.

2.5.    can target a defined problem, assess information at hand and draw inferences about how best to approach its resolution.

2.6.    are able to apply administrative steering instruments, including international approaches, to a local context and can evaluate their effect on a region or a local coastal community.

2.7.    are capable of integrating knowledge, resolve complex issues and present an opinion based on the available information.

2.8.    can collect, analyse and evaluate scientific data and are able to write and edit and review professional reports and academic reports. They understand research and research findings and can effectively apply relevant research methods and implement small-scale research projects.


  1. Competences

This entails that degree holders:

3.1.    can apply their knowledge and skills in a practical way in their profession, e.g. as analysts, administrators or consultants specialised in communities' or regions' development, and/or further studies, e.g. a doctoral degree.

3.2.    can initiate and lead projects within the field of development of coastal communities, and be responsible for the work of individuals and groups.

3.3.    can effectively participate in public and academic discourse and communicate specific problems within the scope of coastal communities and regional development, facilitate discussions (e.g. with stakeholder audience), and deliver presentations using academic terminology and/or layman terminology.

3.4.    are able to identify and interpret local circumstances and traditional knowledge by applying scientific methods, taking existing best available practices and relevant, available, research findings into account.

3.5.    can make decisions in an independent, professional manner and defend them.

3.6.    They can implement cross-disciplinary analysis involving mixed methods and data of different types (e.g. from economics, geography and/or social sciences) and effectively present and defend their findings and recommendations, orally and in writing, according to accepted academic standards at level 2.2.

Students are required to do independent research and write a 45 ECTS credits master thesis. This takes place in the second year. 

Finding a topic for your thesis

Developing the thesis, as well as finding an advisor, is done in close cooperation with the program director. They also provide a list of possible thesis topics to choose from. Students do not need to have their thesis topic ready before they start the program.Most of the core courses are taught during the autumn semester, this is a perfect time to get an inspiration for a thesis topic. Students have access to instructors, both in class and during office hours, to discover opportunities.

Developing a thesis

The development of the thesis begins at the beginning of the program through the Autumn seminar. This is a one credit course taught throughout the autumn semester (the only course that is not taught in module form), where students learn about research design and academic writing.

At the beginning of the spring term, students take the course Applied Methodology. During this three week course, students explore suitable methods for the thesis topic and future research activities.

Finding an advisor

Our students have great freedom to pick topics and advisors for their thesis project or in cooperation with the program director. The advisor can be an instructor from the program, but can also come from universities, research institutions or the working world across the globe. Please note that the thesis advisor needs to be approved by the master's program committee.

Writing the thesis! You can choose, Ísafjörður, Iceland or anywhere in the world

You have the freedom to choose a topic anywhere in the world. A growing number of second year students, up to 50%, decide to stay here in the Westfjords while writing their thesis. For those who want to write about the Westfjords, UW assists connecting students to institutions and companies in the region.


As the master's programme in Coastal Communities and Regional Development is just starting, there are yet no master's theses in the directory But in the link below you can access theses written in the paralell CMM program: