Rangárþing eystra is a municipality located in southern Iceland in the region Suðurland, between the river Eystri Rangá in the west and the river Jökulsá á Sólheimasandi in the east. The northern border is the Emstur area, northwest of Mýrdalsjökull. The population of the area is around 1750. The main livelihood of the community is within agriculture and tourism. The area is well known for its tourism attractions; waterfalls, glaciers, Þórsmörk as a protected site of natural interest, and now the latest volcano eruption in Eyjafjallajökull. It also has to offer a wide range of accommodation and activities for guests visiting the area.
The largest settlement is the town Hvolsvöllur (population 850) which is one of the few inland located towns in Iceland. It started developing in 1930 and is now the main service centre for the agriculture and tourism in the area. The town is situated in one of the most important Saga regions of the country, with some of the main stages of the renowned Njal’s Saga.
Mýrdalshreppur is a municipality located in southern Iceland. Population of the area is around 510 with a total geographical area of 755 km2. Vík, the main town of the municipality, has developed as an important local commercial centre and service for the travel industry. Mýrdalur is the southernmost district of Iceland, bordered by the glacial river Jökulsá to the west and the river Blautakvísl to the east. Its northern border is the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which caps the volcanic Mt. Katla, while its southern limits are black sands and the rolling Atlantic waves. Vík and its surroundings is one of the main bird life areas in Iceland. Just east of Vík is one of the largest colony of Artic terns in the country, and huge colonies of puffin, kittiwake and fulmar inhabit the cliffs sheltering the village to the west. Fulmar nests in cliffs and mountain gullies all along Mýrdalur. Visitors will find a wide variety of leisure attractions in the majestic nature of Vík and its surroundings in Mýrdalur, including bird watching, walking, trout fishing, jeep safaris and sightseeing by an amphibious landing craft.
Skaftárhreppur is the second largest municipality in Iceland in areal size with the village Kirkjubæjarklaustur centrally located. Population is around 450 with the geographical area of 6956 km2 and its reaches from the river Blautakvísl on Mýrdalssandur in the west to the river Sandgígjukvísl on Skeiðarársandur in the east. Roads radiate from Kirkjubæjarklaustur in many different directions; The Ring Road runs through he district. The Laki road, just west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, leads into the highlands. The circular Landbrot-Meðalland road serves the southern part of the district. The Fjallabak roads (north and south), lead from the ring road into the interior via Skaftártunga. The Álftaver road is a circular road serving Álftaver close to Mýrdalssandur. There are good all year hotels at the Kirkjubæjarklaustur area as well as a nice camping area, shop, car mechanics gas station, café and grill. A horse rental is located in the village. The village is the trade centre of a for the local farming community. Well sheltered with the low mountains of the plateau edge at its back with wooded slopes and a picturesque small waterfall behind. In front there are views over the river and the lava beyond.
It was the site of a Benedictine nunnery from 1186 to the Reformation, the grass-covered insignificant remains of which can be seen a little to the east of the farm. The modern chapel with slanted walls commemorates Jón Steingrímsson, the pastor of the parish during the Haze Famine. In the home field is Kirkjugólf, a small area, with the ends of regularly jointed basalt, looking like a pavement of stone slabs. Nearby is Systrastapi, a prominent knoll of moderate high, but the view from the top is of charm and interest. Wooded slopes and rough grazing land rise behind Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This hinterland is in many places of great scenic interest and ideal for hill walking. There are also many attractive walks and possibilities for trout fishing in the neighbourhood.
Kirkjubæjarstofa in Kirkjubæjarklaustur was founded as a reasearch- and culture center and has been opperating in good cooperation with the University of Iceland and other reasearchers. It also houses one of the main offices for the Vatnajokull National Park.
The Skogar museum (Skógasafn) first opened in 1949 and has steadily grown to become one of the leading museums in Iceland with around 45.000 visitors every year. Skogar Museum is a unique collection of artefacts preserving the history and culture of South Iceland, including old buildings, agricultural implements, boats and other relics of the local fisheries, art, handcrafts, books, manuscripts etc. A recent addition to the Skogar museum site is the Museum of Transportation.
Katla centre (Kötlusetur) in Vík is situated in one of the oldest houses in town and mainly houses two exhibitions and a tourist information centre. One of the exhibition tells the history of the town as a fishing village and the other one is connected to the geological site of the volcano Katla, its surroundings and informs visitors about the danger in connection to the floods that can follow the eruptions.
The University Centre of South Iceland is a limited company owned by 13 municipalities in South Iceland. The main purpose of the company is to improve the quality of life, economically and socially, in South Iceland. It is intended to provide the highest level of training and educational development for its residents. Its underlying purpose is to provide a ladder of achievement for all the citizens of the region with easy access to upper levels of university education. The full extent of the curriculum should enable residents of South Iceland to have easy access to learning at whatever levels they desire in the context of contemporary social and economic opportunities of Iceland and measured against the best international standards of achievement and provision.
The aim of the company has never been to build up a regional university with four walls and professors – but to use the strengths of the area to build on and to build bridges between the municipalities, the universities and research centres in Iceland and the rest of the world. The southern area of Iceland offers unique knowledge in many fields – in agriculture, earthquake engineering, tourist behaviour and perceptions, public health, food production construction and so forth. A part of the strategy is based on the triple helix model of innovation. There are many academic institutions in the area already working with the industry and governmental institutions – but the aim is to strengthen these projects and more over to explore fully the possibilities of working relationship between the academic institutions themselves.
This unique knowledge could then possibly be explored in Higher Education project, led by the company. Furthermore, the aim is to be a switchboard for domestic and foreign research groups and students. It is important that academic results are translatable and transferable to practical use, not least in the rural areas of Iceland. That is where UCSI believes it can boost innovation and job creation.
The more practical results the rural academia gives to the area they work in the less alien they become in the eyes of the general public– which in turn creates trust and more opportunities.
The University of Iceland‘s Institute of Regional Research Centres was founded in 2003. The Institute is a venue for the University‘s collaboration with local authorities, institutions, businesses and individuals in rural areas. Its objectives are to meet the demand for research and education all over Iceland, to provide facilities for research projects dealing with local environmental and societal conditions, to provide facilities for students’ field work, to increase access to research based education in rural areas, and to strengthen the University’s ties to local enterprises and daily life in rural areas. Eight Regional Research Centres are currently run by the Institute.
The Centres have had a positive impact on local societies by encouraging – and enabling – young researchers with families to make a career in research outside the capital area, by channelling research activities and research funding to rural areas, and by increasing the University’s cooperation with local research initiatives.
In 2008, the Centres employed forty-three people, permanent staff, part-time staff and students. The majority of the Centres’ turnover is generated by research funds.