Universities and Democracy

A Critical Analysis of the Civic Role and Function of Universities in a Democracy

About the project

The project is an interdisciplinary study of the civic, democratic role and function of universities in Iceland. The study offers a critical perspective by problematizing the assumption that universities in Iceland are democratic institutions supporting a healthy democratic society. 

The project is divided in two parts:

  1. Philosophical: Using conceptual and critical analysis, the civic role of universities in a democracy is examined by applying normative models of democracy and considering different conceptualizations of universities, citizenship, and the relation between knowledge and democracy.
  2. Empirical: Using questionnaires, interviews, student journals and participant observation, internal function of the university are examined with the aim of illuminating what democratic values are reflected in curricula, how students and staff influence curriculum development, how democracy is contextualized by students and staff in everyday practices, and how institutional and external forces influence democratic practices.

The project will run for three years (June 2018 – June 2021), funded by RANNIS, Icelandic Centre for Research. It is led by the University of Akureyri in collaboration with researchers from the University of Iceland.


Anna Ólafsdóttir, Senior Lecturer, University of Akureyri
Sigurður Kristinsson, Professor, University of Akureyri
Edward Huijbens, Professor, University of Akureyri
Guðmundur Heiðar Frímannsson, Professor, University of Akureyri
Guðrún Geirsdóttir, Senior Lecturer, University of Iceland
Jón Torfi Jónasson, Professor Emeritus, University of Iceland
Valgerður S. Bjarnadóttir, Postdoc, University of Akureyri
Vilhjálmur Árnason, Professor, University of Iceland
Jóhann Helgi Heiðdal, Ph.D student, University of Iceland


Daniel Jacoby, Professor, University of Washington
Jani Ursin, Senior Researcher, University of Jyväskylä
Jussi Välimaa, Professor, University of Jyväskylä
Lawrence D. Berg, Professor, University of British Columbia
Peter Niesen, Professor, University of Hamburg