Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland, and Joan T.A. Gabel, President of the University of Minnesota, yesterday signed an agreement in Minneapolis extending the partnership between the universities by another five years. The University of Minnesota and the University of Iceland have been partners in student and staff exchange for 40 years, a milestone that the universities celebrated in Minneapolis this week.
In 1982, the University of Minnesota became the first university abroad to sign a bilateral partnership agreement with UI. The agreement marked the beginning of extensive international collaboration at UI that has flourished so much in recent years through the Aurora University Network in Europe, which is currently headed by the University of Iceland, under the leadership of Jón Atli Benediktsson.
"It matters a great deal to the University of Iceland that we strengthen our ties with the University of Minnesota and continue along the path that we set out on together exactly forty years ago," said Jón Atli. "This agreement allows our students to study here in Minnesota, at one of the most prestigious research universities in the world, broadening their horizons to the benefit of Icelandic and international society. The University of Iceland is working systematically to expand international collaboration in a wide range of areas and this agreement is part of those efforts."
Yesterday, the Rector of UI and the President of UMN also signed a declaration of intent for the University of Minnesota to join Aurora, which would make it the first non-European university in this dynamic network of outstanding universities.
Two Icelandic students from UI received scholarship grants from the Val Bjornson Exchange Scholarship this autumn and are both now studying in Minneapolis; Edmondo Steinar De Santis, MA student in pharmacology and Marta María Harðardóttir, BA student in sociology. They were present at the signing of the agreement yesterday and are here with the Rector of the University of Iceland.
A very strong relationship between two prestigious universities
The partnership between UI and the University of Minnesota has been remarkably strong over the past 40 years and a large number of Icelanders have completed degrees at UMN or gone on exchange there. The relationship between the two universities is based not least on the Val Bjornson Exchange Scholarship, which funds University of Iceland students to study at the University of Minnesota. Two Icelandic students from UI were in fact present at the signing of the agreement yesterday. They received scholarship grants this autumn and are both now studying in Minneapolis.
The Val Bjornson Exchange Scholarship was established in memory of Valdimar 'Val' Bjornson, the former State Treasurer for Minnesota (1906–1987), who had Icelandic roots and was a great supporter of Icelandic students in Minnesota. It has received a lot of support from the Icelandic American Association of Minnesota and over 40 students have now gone on exchange from the University of Iceland to Minnesota with a scholarship from the fund.
The University of Iceland also provides scholarships for students at UMN who come on exchange to Iceland. There is a fund at UMN in the name of Carol Pazandak, as well, from which University of Iceland staff may apply for funding to visit or conduct research at UMN. Furthermore, there is an alumni organisation for former students of UMN here in Iceland. Jónína Ólafsdóttir Kárdal, student counsellor at the University of Iceland, is chair of the organisation.
The University of Minnesota is one of the best in the world
The University of Minnesota is one of the top universities in the United States and also a leading institution globally. It was founded in 1851 and now has a student population of over 60,000 spread over several locations in the state of Minnesota. The largest campus is in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The University is a comprehensive research university and is ranked 86 on the Times Higher Education list of the best universities in the world.
The University of Minnesota boasts a number of impressive alumni, including eight Nobel Prize winners, two Pulitzer Prize winners and two former Vice-Presidents of the United States: Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. The most famous UMN alumnus, though, is probably the musician Bob Dylan, who was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.