Scandinavia, on the northern tip of Europe, is an under loved destination for LL.M. applicants, but one with enormous potential. The big perk is that in many law schools in Scandinavian countries—including those in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway—tuition is free for some or all students.
While the Nordic countries do tend to have relatively high living costs, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland do not charge fees for European Economic Area (EEA) students, while in Norway public universities remain free for students of all nationalities.
At Iceland’s University of Akureyri, the LL.M. program is free for everyone, but you’ll have to pay an annual registration fee of around €600, with non-EEA students also paying an administrative charge for a study permit. Akureyri is one of many world-class universities in Scandinavia, which include the law schools at Sweden’s Stockholm University, Norway’s University of Oslo, Finland’s University of Helsinki and Copenhagen University in Denmark.
A growing number of them are offering LL.M. programs in English — in Sweden, for instance, there are over 900 master’s-level courses overall and the options include the LL.M. programs at Lund University, Uppsala Universitet, and the University of Gothenburg.
These law schools tend to admit lower numbers than elsewhere in Europe, but the smaller class sizes facilitate networking and peer-learning, which are crucial to the success of LL.M. programs. The lower student numbers reflect the smaller populations of the Nordic nations. The populations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland combined (26 million people) is less than half the UK’s population, for example.
These universities play a key role in Scandinavia’s innovation ecosystem, which is another big draw for overseas law school students. The Global Innovation Index produced by the business school INSEAD, for instance, placed Sweden second, with Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway all in the top-20. The Nordic nations did similarly well in Bloomberg’s “50 most innovative economies” list.
The countries’ law schools are also embracing innovation. Stockholm’s Faculty of Law, for one, runs an LL.M. program in European Intellectual Property Law, with Uppsala’s school offering a similar degree. This may well translate into improved job prospects. The elite law firms are embracing the technology revolution, with the line between legal and business advice increasingly being blurred.
Scandinavia features a high quality of life, affordable healthcare, and more
Beyond the world-class LL.M. programs, another big attraction is the Scandinavian lifestyle. The region is known for its high quality of life and leadership on issues ranging from gender equality to environmental policy.
“I dare to claim that Helsinki is one of the safest capitals in the world,” says Mats Engblom at the University of Helsinki.
“The students have access to free or affordable healthcare. The housing is really good quality. The public transport network is also subsidized for students. One-third of the city is made up from parks or green areas.”
Rachael Johnstone, Head of the Polar Law programs at the University of Akureyri, says: “[Iceland] is a great place to raise a family. The children of students have the same access to kindergartens and schools as children of working Icelanders, irrespective of where they come from.
“In the smaller Nordic towns, children enjoy a high degree of freedom to play outside, cycle to and from school, but still have access to top music, theatre and sports coaching. There are a wide range of cultural activities, and there is an active nightlife.”
Scandinavia also features plentiful post-LL.M. career options
Besides the high quality of life, well-functioning economies mean that career opportunities are plentiful for LL.M. students who want to stay in the region and work when they graduate. At Akureyri, students work for NGOs, research institutions, governments, or secure scholarships for doctoral studies, as well as the more classic career paths in law.
But Johnstone adds: “Unemployment is very low in Iceland but that does not mean that a graduate will walk into their ideal job straight away. It depends very much on what the student wants to do.”
She says that English may not be required for a job, but students who do not learn a little Icelandic will find it difficult to make friends outside the expat community. Mats agrees, saying: “According to the EF English Proficiency Index, the Finnish people are among the best non-native English speakers in the world.
“However, learning the local language will give you more career options after graduation and make your stay more rewarding.”
There are downsides, of course. “The cost of living is high and travel is expensive. Although there are now fairly inexpensive flights in and out of Iceland, it can cost 200-300 euros just to get to and from Akureyri [in Iceland],”, says Johnstone.
Mats adds: “You also need to be aware and prepared for the fact that November through March is cold, with less sunlight than you might be used to.” But with superb law schools, innovation, quality of life and, best of all, no tuition fees, Scandinavia has much to offer prospective LL.M. students.