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Education in Portugal

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Education in Portugal

Education in Portugal
Ministry of Education and Science
Minister Nuno Crato (2011- )
National education budget (2006)
Budget €6.1 balonies
General details
Primary languages Portuguese
System type Central
University Schools
Polytechnic Schools
Industrial Institutes
Polytechnical Institutes
Major reorganizations
Bologna process
12th century2 (established)
12903 (established)
1837 to 19114
1852 to 19745
1970s - 1980s6 (established)
1990s and 2000s7
20078 (established)
Literacy (2011)
Total 95.4
Male 97.0
Female 94.0
Total 1,930,645
Primary 767,872
Secondary 766,172
Post secondary 396,601
Secondary diploma 15%
Post-secondary diploma 12,2%

Education in Portugal is free and compulsory until the age of 18, when students complete the 12th grade. The education is regulated by the State through the Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Science. There is a system of public education and also many private schools at all levels of education. The first Portuguese medieval universities, such as the University of Coimbra, were created in the 13th century, and the national higher education system is fully integrated into the European Higher Education Area.

The basic literacy rate of the Portuguese population is 95.4% (97.0% male, 94.0% female).[1] According to INE (Portuguese Institute for National Statistics), only 3.7 million Portuguese workers (67% of the working active population) completed basic education (81% of the working population attained the lower basic level of education and 12% attained the intermediate level of education).[2]

According to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009, the average Portuguese 15-years old student, when rated in terms of reading literacy, mathematics and science knowledge, is placed at the same level as those students from the United States, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Denmark, United Kingdom, Hungary and Taipei, with 489 points (493 is the average).[2] Despite its gradual modernization and relative expansion since the 1960s, the educational system remained underdeveloped until the 2000s when it finally reached some of the developed world's best practices and trends.


  • History 1
    • 19th and 20th Century 1.1
  • Years of schooling 2
  • Pre-primary education 3
    • Nursery 3.1
    • Kindergarten 3.2
  • Pre-higher education 4
    • Basic education 4.1
      • 1º Ciclo - 1st Cycle 4.1.1
      • 2º Ciclo - 2nd Cycle 4.1.2
      • 3º Ciclo - 3rd Cycle 4.1.3
    • Secondary education 4.2
      • General Courses 4.2.1
      • Professional Courses 4.2.2
      • Specialized Artistic Courses 4.2.3
    • Access to higher education 4.3
  • Other types of school education 5
  • Higher education 6
    • Overview 6.1
    • University and polytechnic 6.2
    • The Bologna process in Portugal 6.3
    • Degree significance 6.4
    • Admission 6.5
      • With secondary school credential 6.5.1
      • Extraordinary exam process 6.5.2
  • Teacher education 7
  • Non-traditional studies 8
  • Private vs. public 9
  • School violence 10
    • School safety 10.1
  • Foreign international schools in Portugal 11
  • Criticism 12
  • See also 13
  • Notes and references 14
  • Sources 15
  • External links 16


In the beginnings of the Portuguese nationality, the Christian clergy was the main player in the educational endeavour. Portuguese universities have existed since 1290. Within the scope of the Portuguese Empire, the Portuguese founded in 1792 the oldest engineering school of Latin America (the Real Academia de Artilharia, Fortificação e Desenho), as well as the oldest medical college of Asia (the Goa Medical College) in 1842.

19th and 20th Century

However, by the end of the 19th century the illiteracy rate was over 80 percent and higher education was reserved for a small percentage of the population. 68.1 percent of Portugal's population was still classified as illiterate by the 1930 census.
Portugal's literacy rate by the 1940s and early 1950s was low for North American and Western European standards at the time. From the 1960s, the country made public education available for all children between the ages of six and twelve, expanded a robust network of industrial and commercial technical schools aimed at intermediate education of future skilled workers (ensino médio), recognized the Portuguese Catholic University in 1971, and by 1973 a wave of new state-run universities were founded across mainland Portugal (the Minho University, the New University of Lisbon, the University of Évora, and the University of Aveiro - Veiga Simão was the Minister in charge for education by then).

From the 1960s to the 1974 Carnation Revolution, secondary and university education experienced the fastest growth of Portuguese education's history. After 1974 the number of basic and secondary schools as well as of higher education institutions, increased until the end of the century, sometimes without the necessary allocation of quality material and qualified human resources.

Education more than basic (4th or 6th grade) wasn't affordable for most Portuguese families, the real democratization of education, specially secondary and higher education, only happened in the 1980s. After mid-2000s programs of modernization of schools (basic and secondary) and the construction of new elementary schools called "educational centres" (mostly to reduce the number of overloaded elementary schools, to widespread the 9 AM to 5h30 PM schedule system, because in most overloaded schools there are classes with 8 AM-1 PM schedule and other with 1 PM-6 PM) are being held.

The Baloney process for higher education has been adopted since 2006. However the higher-education rate in the country still remains the lowest in the European Union, this rate was around 7% in 2003 (Source: OECD (2003) Education at a Glance and OECD Statistical Compendium), and improved to 11% in 2007 - as compared to Slovakia's and Slovenia's around 16%; Germany's, Estonia, Spain's and Ireland's 28%; or Belgium's, Netherlands', Denmark's, Finland's, Cyprus's and UK's, over 30% (Source: EuroStat, March 2007).

According to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the average Portuguese 15-years old student was for many years underrated and underachieving in terms of reading literacy, mathematics and science knowledge in the OECD, nearly tied with the Italian and just above countries like Greece, Turkey and Mexico. However, since 2010, PISA results for Portuguese students improved dramatically.[2]

The Portuguese Ministry of Education announced a 2010 report published by its office for educational evaluation GAVE (Gabinete de Avaliação do Ministério da Educação) which criticized the results of PISA 2009 report and claimed that the average Portuguese teenage student had profund handicaps in terms of expression, communication and logic, as well as a low performance when asked to solve problems. They also claimed that those fallacies are not exclusive of Portugal but indeed occur in other countries due to the way PISA was designed.[3]

Due to the Portuguese sovereign debt crisis in the late 2000s, and the subsequent IMF-EU financial assistance to the Portuguese Republic from 2011 onward, many universities and other higher education institutions suffered financially. Many were on verge of bankruptcy and were forced to increase its admissions and tuition fees as the budget dwindled and the staff members and bonuses were being reduced.[4]

Years of schooling

School Year Age of entry School Stage
- 0 Infantário / Creche
- 1
- 2
- 3 Jardim de Infância
- 4
- 5
1st year 6 1º Ciclo - 1st Cycle Ensino Básico
Basic Education
2nd year 7
3rd year 8
4th year 9
5th year 10 2º Ciclo - 2nd Cycle
6th year 11
7th year 12 3º Ciclo - 3rd Cycle
8th year 13
9th year 14
10th year 15 Ensino Secundário
Secondary Education
11th year 16
12th year 17
  • Students must turn 6 years old until the end of the civil year of entry.

Pre-primary education


Children from four months (the usual maternity leave) until they are three years old may frequent a nursery (Infantário or Creche). The large majority of nurseries are private. Other nurseries are run by the Portuguese Social Security and are partly financed by the state. In these nurseries parents pay according to their income.


Pre-primary education is optional from the ages of three to five, and is provided in both state-run and private kindergartens schools. State-run kindergartens provision is free of charge. The schools are known as Jardins de Infância (Kindergartens). Most international schools offer an international approach to pre-primary learning and follow a curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate.

Pre-higher education

Basic Education (Ensino Básico) lasts for nine years divided into three stages of four, two and three years respectively. The stages are respectively 1º Ciclo (1st Cycle), 2º Ciclo (2nd Cycle) and 3º Ciclo (3rd Cycle). A Diploma/Certificate is awarded at the end of the third stage. Secondary Education (Ensino Secundário)- public, private or cooperative - is compulsory since the school year of 2012/2013 and consists of a three-year cycle after basic education.

Access is through the Certificate of Basic Education. There are two types of courses: general courses and technical/vocational courses, providing instruction in technical, technological, professional fields and in the Portuguese language and culture. Permeability between the courses is guaranteed. The teaching and practice of technical, technological or artistic courses are provided by vocational schools and special schools for education in Arts.

Courses are sanctioned by the Certificado de Habilitações do Ensino Secundário/Diploma de Ensino Secundário (Secondary School Credential/Diploma), which is the prerequisite for access to higher education through national access examination.

Basic education

In Portugal, Basic Education consists of nine years of schooling divided into three sequential cycles of education of four, two and three years.

Children aged six by 15 September must be enrolled in their first school year in that calendar year. In addition, children who reach the age of six between 16 September and 31 December may be authorized to attend the first stage of education, provided a request is submitted by their parents or guardians to the school nearest to their residence (or place of work) during the annual enrollment period. State-run schools are free of charge; private school tuition is refunded by the State in part or fully, when state-run schools in the area are filled to capacity. The first cycle of basic mandatory education covers years 1st-4th, the second cycle years 5th-6th and the third cycle years 7th-9th. The curriculum contains only general education until the 9th year at which point vocational subjects are introduced.

Schools do not give (or sell) any books or materials; financial assistance is available for poorer families. The school books are chosen at school's level every four years.

1st Cycle State-run schools are owned by the municipalities; all other State-run schools are owned by the State.

At State-run schools, 1st Cycle students and kindergarten students get free mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks, generally consisting of a 20 cl milk carton.

1º Ciclo - 1st Cycle[5]

1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th years

General subjects:

  • Portuguese Language
  • Environment Study
  • Mathematics

Enrichment Activities:

  • English
  • Artistic Education
  • Physical Education
  • Musical Education
  • Verbal Education


  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education

2º Ciclo - 2nd Cycle

5th and 6th years

  • Portuguese Language
  • Mathematics
  • History and Geography of Portugal
  • English (levels 1 and 2)
  • Natural Sciences
  • Visual Education (Arts)
  • Technological Education (Crafts)
  • Physical Education
  • Musical Education
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (facultative)

3º Ciclo - 3rd Cycle

7th, 8th and 9th years

  • Portuguese Language
  • Mathematics
  • English (levels 3, 4 and 5)
  • 2nd Foreign language - French, Spanish or German (levels 1, 2 and 3)
  • Natural Sciences
  • Physics and Chemistry
  • History
  • Geography
  • Physical Education
  • Visual Education (Arts)*
  • Technological Education (Crafts)*
  • Drama/Music*
  • Computer and IT / an alternative of the school (only in 7th and 8th years)
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (facultative)

(*) In the 9th year the student has to choose between Visual Education, Technological Education, Music and Drama, according to the school's availability.

Secondary education

It is only after the 9th year of basic schooling that the Portuguese General Education system branches out into different secondary programmes, one higher education-oriented (general secondary courses/programmes) and the other more work-oriented (technological secondary courses/programmes). The conclusion of secondary education (general or technological courses) with passing grades confers a diploma, which will certificate the qualification thus obtained and, in the case of work-oriented programmes the qualification for specific jobs. All General and Technological courses share the following subjects known as General Formation:

  • Portuguese Language (10th, 11th and 12th years)
  • Physical Education (10th, 11th and 12th years)
  • Philosophy (10th and 11th years)
  • Foreign Language (10th and 11th years)
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (10th, 11th and 12th years - facultative)

General Courses

Sciences and Technologies

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - Mathematics A
  • Specific Subjects - 10th and 11th years - Biology and Geology, Descriptive Geometry, Physics and Chemistry (two of these)
  • Optional Subjects - 12th year - Biology, Geology, Physics, Chemistry, Psychology or others (two of these)

Social and Human Sciences

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - History A
  • Specific Subjects - 10th and 11th years - Geography, Foreign Language II (or III), Latin, Portuguese Literature, Math Applied to Social Sciences (two of these)
  • Optional Subjects - 12th year - Law, Sociology, Latin, Geography, Psychology, Philosophy or others (two of these)

Socio-Economic Sciences

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - Mathematics A
  • Specific Subjects - 10th and 11th years - Economy, History B, Geography (two of these)
  • Optional Subjects - 12th year - Economy, Geography, Sociology, Psychology, Law or others (two of these)

Visual Arts

  • Main subject - 10th, 11th and 12th years - Drawing A
  • Specific Subjects - 10th and 11th years - Descriptive Geometry, Mathematics B, Art and Culture History (two of these)
  • Optional Subjects - 12th year - Art Atelier, Multimedia Atelier, Materials and Technologies, Psychology, Philosophy or others (two of these)

Professional Courses

  • Sport
  • Architect Technician
  • Civil Construction
  • Electronics
  • Computing
  • Equipment Design
  • Multimedia
  • Administration
  • Marketing
  • Environment and Territory Order
  • Social Action
  • Social Animation, among others.

Specialized Artistic Courses

  • Music Courses
  • Dance Courses
  • Drama and Cinema Courses
  • Visual and Audiovisual Arts Courses

Access to higher education

In the end of 11th grade, students have national exams of the two specific subjects of their course. In the end of the 12th grade, the exams are of Portuguese language and the main subject of the course. The access to higher education is made through a national online process, where the students enter the college by priority based on their grades.

The average of grades obtained in all subjects (except Physical Education) represents a part of the application grade to enter college. The other part is based on the grade of the specific exams that the college request which are related with the course the student is applying for. The average of both averages is the application grade to college. That number is between zero and 20 and the higher it is, the better is the chance to enter the college.

Other types of school education

There are also special modalities of school education. The programmes offered by vocational schools, those of the apprenticeship system and those of recurrent studies are considered as a special modality of school education. These programmes are not regular, because they are not included in the mainstream regular progression of the education system to which they are an alternative given that they were designed to respond to specific educational needs of different target-groups of the population.

All of these programmes offer initial vocational and education training, although the recurrent studies also offer general education. Recurrent education consists of non-regular programmes of study or modular or single units because they are not complete training cycles and they are not included in the regular progression of the education system. The recurrent education provides a second opportunity of training for those who did not undertake training at the normal age or who left school early. Recurrent education covers the three cycles of basic education and the secondary education.

The recurrent education is characterized by the flexibility and adaptability to the students’ learning cycle, availability, knowledge and experiences. The recurrent secondary education branches into two types of courses: the general course for those who want to continue their studies and the technical courses that are work-oriented and confer a level III vocational certificate, although they also permit the access to higher education. Any of the secondary courses, vocational courses, apprenticeship courses (level III), recurrent courses and others (artistic and those of technological schools) share a three-dimensional structure (although the importance of each dimension could vary according to the specific course):

a) general / socio-cultural

b) specific / scientific

c) technical / technological / practical / vocational

The Portuguese educational/vocational system is open. This means that once any student finishes his/her basic studies successfully he/she can choose, freely, any kind of course in any training domain/area. Any secondary course completed successfully allows the student apply to any course of higher education, independently of the training domain the student chose in the secondary level of education. However, to ingress college each superior course requires specific exams correspondent to subjects of a knowledge domain.

In Portugal initial vocational education and training can be divided into two main modalities according to the Ministry responsible for the training:

a) Initial vocational education and training in the education system (under the regulation of the Ministry of Education): - The technological secondary courses are work-oriented and confer qualification for specific jobs, which correspond to the E.U. level III of vocational qualifications. There are eleven technological courses in the domain of natural sciences, arts, social-economic sciences and humanities;

- The vocational schools courses are a special modality of education that has a primary goal: the development of youngsters’ vocational training. In this type of course the students spend most of their time in practical, technological, technical and artistic training, which allows the development of specific skills indispensable to an occupation. The vocational courses are drawn to give answers to both local and regional labour market needs. These courses function under the regulation of the Ministry of Education, although under the direct initiative and responsibility of civil society institutions, such as municipalities, enterprises, trade unions, etc. The vocational courses are available in the third cycle of basic education (level II) – only a few - and in the secondary education (level III).

- The technical recurrent courses. In the secondary education, the recurrent studies branches into two different types of courses: the general courses and the technical courses. The latter are work-oriented, vocationally oriented to confer a level III vocational certificate;

- The courses of initial qualification can be promoted by schools lecturing the third cycle of mandatory education. If it is necessary, schools can establish protocols with other institutions such as municipalities, enterprises or vocational training centres. These courses are open to a) youngsters who have a 9th grade diploma, without any vocational qualification, and who do not intend to continue their studies; and b) youngsters who, having reached fifteen years of age and attended the 9th grade, did not achieve the basic education certificate.

b) Initial vocational education and training in the labour market (under the regulation of the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity through the Institute of Employment and Vocational Training): - Apprenticeship system. The apprenticeship courses are part of an initial vocational training system alternating between the school and the workplace, addressing mainly youngsters aged between fifteen and twenty five years who are not included in the mandatory school system. The training process alternates between the professional/vocational (where the socio-cultural, scientific-technological and the practice training in training context takes place) and the workplace (where the practice training in work context takes place).

In the mid-2000s, education policy was reorganised aiming more choice and better quality in vocational technical education. Enhanced and improved technical education programs where implemented in 2007 in an effort to revitalize this sector which had been almost discontinued after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, when many vocational technical schools were administratively upgraded to higher education technical colleges and other were simply closed. This happened despite those vocational technical schools have been generally regarded as reputed institutions with a record of very high standards in vocational technical education across the decades they were supplying the technical labor needs of the country.

Higher education


Higher education in Portugal is divided into two main subsystems: university and polytechnic education, and it is provided in autonomous public universities, private universities, public or private university institutes, polytechnic institutions and higher education institutions of other types. The university system has a strong theoretical basis and is highly research-oriented; the non-university system provides a more practical training and is profession-oriented.

Degrees in some fields such as medicine, law, natural sciences, economics, psychology or veterinary are university. Other fields like engineering, technology, management, education, agriculture, sports, or humanities are found both in university and polytechnic systems. Nursing, preschool education, accounting technician, or health care technician degrees, are only offered in the polytechnic system. The oldest university is the University of Coimbra founded in 1290, and the biggest by number of enrolled students is the University of Porto with about 28,000 students.

The Catholic University of Portugal, the oldest non-state-run university (concordatary status), was instituted by decree of the Holy See and is recognized by the State of Portugal since 1971. The current public polytechnic subsystem of Institutos Politécnicos was founded in the 1980s. A few polytechnical higher education institutions, though formed as such in the 1980s, have their origin in 19th century educational institutions - this is the case of the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, the Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto and the Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra.

Private higher education institutions cannot operate if they are not recognized by the Ministry of Education. Access is regulated by the same procedures as those for state higher education institutions. The two systems of higher education (university and polytechnic) are linked and it is possible to transfer from one to the other by extraordinary competition. It is also possible to transfer from a public institution to a private one and vice-versa. Admission to public university programmes are often more demanding and selective than to their equivalent in public polytechnic and private institutions. Many specific university institutions and degrees are also regarded as more prestigious and reputed than their peers from the polytechnic system or from certain less notable university institutions.[6]

Many universities are usually organized by Faculty (Faculdade). Institute (Instituto) and School (Escola) are also common designations for autonomous units of Portuguese higher learning institutions, and are always used in the polytechnical system, but also in several universities.

After the mid-2000s, with the approval of new legislation and the Bologna Process any polytechnic or university institution of Portugal, is able to award a first cycle of study, known as licenciatura plus a second cycle which confer the master's degree. Before that, this was the rule only for university institutions. Virtually all university institutions award master's degrees as a second cycle of study, but some university departments are offering integrated master's degrees (joint degrees) through a longer single cycle of study. Some polytechnic institutions offer the second study cycle in cooperation with a partner university. Doctorates are only awarded by the universities.[7]

There are also special higher education institutions linked with the military and the police. These specific institutions have generally a good reputation and are popular among the youngsters because its courses are a passport to the military/police career. These state-run institutions are the Air Force Academy, the Military Academy, the Naval School and the Instituto Superior de Ciências Policiais e Segurança Interna.

Over 35% of college-age citizens (20 years old) attend one of the country's higher education institutions[8] (compared with 50% in the United States and 35% in the OECD countries).

Most student costs are supported with public money. However, with the increasing tuition fees a student has to pay to attend a Portuguese state-run higher education institution and the attraction of new types of students (many as part-time students or in evening classes) like employees, businessmen, parents, and pensioners, many departments make a substantial profit from every additional student enrolled in courses, with benefits for the college or university's gross tuition revenue and without loss of educational quality (teacher per student, computer per student, classroom size per student, etc.).

University and polytechnic

Portugal has two main systems of higher education:

  • The university system, which is the oldest, has its origins in the 13th century. It is composed of thirteen public universities, one public university institute, a public open university, and several private universities and university institutes.
  • The polytechnic system, that began offering higher education in the 1980s after the former industrial and commercial schools were converted into engineering and administration higher education schools (so its origins could be traced back to some earlier vocational education schools of the 19th century).[9] It is composed of fifteen state-run polytechnic institutes, public and private non-integrated polytechnic institutions, and other similar institutions.

The Bologna process in Portugal

The Council of Europe.

The reform aim was to create by 2010 a higher education system in Europe, organised in such a way that:

  • it is easy to move from one country to the other (within the European Higher Education Area) – for the purpose of further study or employment;
  • the attractiveness of European higher education is increased so many people from non-European countries also come to study and/or work in Europe;
  • the European Higher Education Area provides Europe with a broad, high quality and advanced knowledge base, and ensures the further development of Europe as a stable, peaceful and tolerant community.

Portugal, like other European States, has conducted educational policies and reforms to accomplish these objectives. This include the reorganization of both university and polytechnic subsystems and the implementation of extensive legal and curricular changes. Since its field application in 2006 it has being widely contested by students (many lost an academic year with the change), and several universities had disrepute the concept by introducing integrated master degrees in several courses.

Degree significance

Schools that adhered to the Bologna process (since 2006 - 2007) maintained the degree names but their significance changed. In ascending order of importance:[10]

Bacharelato The Portuguese bacharelato degree was awarded by polytechnical institutions or its predecessors. - title: Bacharel or Engenheiro Técnico for engineering technologists - abbreviation: Bach. (popular: Eng.Tec. for Engenheiro Técnico)

  • Non-Bologna: three-year course in a polytechnic (before 2007)
  • Bologna: no longer used

Licenciatura (Academic License) - title: Licenciado (popular: Doutor or Engenheiro for a License in engineering) - abbreviation used in front of holder's name: Lic. (popular: Dr. or Eng. for Engineer, used extensively (formal and colloquially))

  • Non-Bologna: The licenciatura degree was equal to an honours bachelor's degree with a four- to six-year course in a university, or a Bacharelato complemented with one or two extra years in a polytechnic (called licenciatura bietápica, meaning dual-stage license) or university (before 2007)
  • Bologna: three-year course in a university or polytechnic. (The licenciatura is now the academic title for Engenheiro Técnico.)

Pós-Graduação or Especialização (Postgraduate degree) - no specific title

  • Usually one year of specific study for holders of a Licenciatura or Mestrado.

Mestrado (Master's degree) - title: Mestre

  • Non-Bologna: advanced degree in a specific scientific field, indicating capacity for conducting practical research. Courses last two to four semesters, including lectures and the preparation and discussion of an original dissertation. It is only open to those who have obtained a grade average of 14/20 or higher in the Licenciatura course. Those with less than 14/20 may also be eligible for a Mestrado course after analysis of the curriculum by the university.
  • Bologna: Licenciatura complemented with one or two extra years in a polytechnic or university; or, in some cases, a 5- to 6-year joint degree (Mestrado Integrado) in a university. Students have to present their public thesis defense in order to be awarded the degree.

Doutoramento (Doctorate) - used in front of holder's name: Doutor

  • The Doutorado is conferred by universities to those who have passed the Doctorate examinations and have defended a thesis, usually to pursue a teaching and researching career at university level. There is no fixed period to prepare for the Doctorate examinations. Candidates must hold a degree of Mestrado or Licenciatura (if their grade average is equal or higher than 16/20) (or a legally equivalent qualification) and have competences and merit that are recognized by the university.

Agregação (Agrégation) - used in front of holder's name: Professor Doutor

  • This is the highest qualification reserved to holders of the Doutor degree. It requires the capacity to undertake high level research and special pedagogical competence in a specific field. It is awarded after passing specific examinations.


Admission to state-run higher education level studies requires either a secondary school credential, Diploma de Ensino Secundário, given after twelve study years, and the required ENES exams. An extraordinary exam process is available to anyone aged 23 or older. Admission to private institutions is at the total discretion of each school.

Every higher education institution has also a number of other extraordinary admission processes for sportsmen, international students, foreign students from the Lusosphere, degree owners from other institutions, students from other institutions (academic transfer), former students (readmission), and course change, which are subject to specific standards and regulations set by each institution or course department.

With secondary school credential

Students must have studied the subjects for which they are entering to be prepared for the entrance exams, but they are not required to have previously specialised in any specific area at the secondary school. Students sit for one or more entrance exams, Concurso nacional for public institutions or Concurso local for private institutions. In addition to passing entrance exams, students must fulfil particular prerequisites for the chosen course.

Enrollment is limited; each year the institution establishes the number of places available. This is called the numerus clausus. For the public institutions the exam scores count for the final evaluation, which includes the secondary school average marks. Then the students have to choose six institutions/courses they prefer to attend, in preferential order. The ones, who reach the marks needed to attend the desired institution/course, given the attributed vacant, will be admitted. This means that the students could not be admitted at its first or second choice, but be admitted at the third or even sixth choice.

In some cases, those entering polytechnics or nursing and health technologies schools, should have some previous vocational training and preference will be given to applicants from the catchment area of the institution concerned. From the academic year 2005/2006 onwards, access rules have enforced minimum grades of 95 (out of 200) in the national access examinations for all candidates in every sector of public higher education. In practical terms, and unlike what happened in the past, the new rule meant the exclusion of a large number of applicants who otherwise would have been admitted with negative grades to the less selective courses of some public institutions, and consequently lead to a number of available places for students left vacant every year in many courses.

Extraordinary exam process

Even without a complete secondary school education, anyone 23 or above can apply to state-run higher learning institution through the Exame Extraordinário de Avaliação de Capacidade para Acesso ao Ensino Superior (extraordinary exam to assess the capacity to enter higher-level studies), also called the Ad-Hoc exam. The process consists of the general Portuguese exam, an interview to evaluate motivation and CV, and additional exams specific to each school and course, obligatorily written and oral. Candidates approved go through a separate numerus clausus or enroll directly at the discretion of the school's board.

As what happens with the Concurso Nacional through the Exames Nacionais do Ensino Secundário (ENES), the Extraordinary Exam Process for over-23-year-old candidates is more demanding and has a much higher selectiveness in public universities than in the public polytechnics. Humanities and other non-mathematical-intensive fields have also much higher admission rates than classical university engineering, economics or medicine. This implies that almost all new students admitted by this extraordinary process enter a polytechnic institution, private institution, or humanities programmes.

Teacher education

Training of pre-primary and primary/basic school teachers

Teachers of basic education attend 4-year courses in Escolas Superiores de Educação or at the universities to obtain a Licenciado degree.

The government as passed a law (February/2007) that makes a teacher to have also a " mestre " degree in Basic and Secondary Education.

Training of secondary school teachers

Teachers of secondary education must hold a Licenciado degree and follow courses that last for between four and six years. Studies are sanctioned by a Licenciado em Ensino or a Licenciatura - Ramo de Formação Educacional, according to the issuing institution. Educators and basic and secondary education teachers, with practice in regular or special education, may obtain a qualification to teach in specialized education. Continuous training for teachers is offered in Centros de Formação Continua.

The government as passed a law (February/2007) that makes a teacher to have also a " mestre " degree in Basic and Secondary Education.

Training of higher education teachers

Teachers at this level receive no formal professional training, but minimum qualifications are laid down for each category.

University: assistente estagiário (Licenciado); assistente (Mestre); professor auxiliar (Doutor); professor associado (Doutor and five years' service); professor catedrático (Agregação and three years' service).

Polytechnics: assistente (Licenciado); professor adjunto (Mestre or DESE); professor coordenador (Doutor and 3-years' service).

Non-traditional studies

At present, distance higher education is provided by the Universidade Aberta (Open University).

Private vs. public

Private Basic and Secondary schools and also private higher education institutions do exist in Portugal and are sometimes elite institutions (like the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon and Porto, or some private primary, basic and secondary schools, mainly located in the biggest cities), existing among them many religious or speciality institutions. Many of the best ranked secondary schools in the country are private schools, as well as some of the worst ranked secondary schools. This secondary schools ranking has been released every year in Portugal, and is based on the student's average grades in the National Examinations which are used for higher education admission.[11]

Among the best ranked public and private secondary schools are those of Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra. Schools from litoral areas are better ranked than schools from interior and less populated regions. The worst gap between internal school marks by course and the national examination marks is seen among private schools, with higher grades attributed by the school to students who perform poorly in the national examinations.

Some Portuguese employers and families are of the opinion that the existence of private education institutions, where accessibility is based primarily on ability to pay, is not as fair as the public system and could gloom the meritocracy concept, leading to easier entrance criteria and lower teaching standards. Some private institutions are known for making it easy for students to enter and also to get higher grades - as long as they pay. Others claim that the private systems could prevent a significant portion of Portugal's population from being able to attend these schools that is also unfair. The quotas imposed on public education institutions to create room for students from former Portuguese colonies, who get automatically a place in those institutions also creates a big problem in terms of fairness, as some of these students can enter with very low grades excluding a portion of the Portuguese born students from studying in the public institutions and first choice courses they want.

On the other side there are some people who prefer to attend private institutions because they don't trust in the public educational infrastructure they have near their residential area. This could be related with overcrowded classes, bad reputation, criminality levels, incidence of ethnic minorities generally considered problematic, lack of quality teaching staff or bad infrastructures in that specific institution.

Without large endowments like those received, for example, by many of the US private universities and colleges, and with little tradition of excellence in the sector, the private higher education institutions of Portugal, with a few exceptions, do not have either the financial support or the academic profile to reach the highest teaching and research standards of the major Portuguese public universities. In addition, a lack of collaboration between the most prominent private sector enterprises and the private universities is also restrictive, and represents another comparative disadvantage between public and private higher education institutions.

Traditionally, public system's institutions are regarded in general as having higher quality and accountability, but private institutions have developed quickly after the 25 de Abril revolution of 1974, and some have today a great reputation. There are both public and private institutions considered of the highest standard and quality. However, a large majority of Portuguese students attend public schools, universities and colleges because it is considerably less expensive than the private ones, the public system has a much older implantation, and for the other side it covers well the entire territory. There are also some students who simply desire and can afford to attend an elite private institution, even if they have availability to attend one of the largest or most renowned public institutions.

A number of scandals and affairs involving private higher education institutions (Universidade Moderna (1998), Universidade Independente (2007) and Universidade Internacional (2009), among others), and a general perception of many of those institutions as having a tendentially relaxed teaching style with less rigorous criteria, have contributed to their poor reputation which originated a state-run inspection of private higher education institutions in 2007.[12]

School violence

The teaching quality of Portuguese learning institutions depends on the population that is receiving the training, their family background support, the teaching staff quality and motivation, the sociocultural environment and the economical development of that population. In some ghettos, specially in Greater Lisbon's suburbs where many immigrants, immigrant descendants from PALOP countries, among some other ethnic minorities, are concentrated, and also areas with higher unemployment rates and other severe social problems, exist schools with generalized high dropout and juvenile delinquency rates. In Greater Porto, there are no African or other significant immigrant ghettos like in Lisbon, but there is a high dropout and juvenile delinquency rates among nationals from former rural areas, of humble origins or from ethnic minorities from specific districts or quarters.

School violence in Portugal is not unique to public schools or the major urban centers. Public and private Portuguese schools have all experienced an increase in school violence. However, due to the general wealth and educational background of private school student's families, and the increased private security measures adopted, private schools have generally a lower level of violence.

Violence in Portuguese schools became an educational issue for the first time during the 1990s, mainly through the persistence of parental associations and teacher claims. However, it must be said that this was not the first time that violence appeared in Portuguese schools as a significant situation. After the 25 de Abril revolution" of 1974 the occurrence of violent situations reached the highest point. This was a politically socialized and framed violence, quite different from the kind of violence we can find today. That one had political programs, this one is quite anomic. Its origin is very diverse, from poverty to psychological problems. Theft, random or systematic physical aggression, bullying, destruction of school or teachers properties are realities which become current in many schools.[1]

In May 2006, a television program was broadcast in RTP 1, titled Quando a violência vai à escola (When violence goes to the school) by journalist Mafalda Gameiro. Using hidden cameras in the classrooms, the program shows the violent behavior of many young students (with ages between 10 and 13 years old) inside the classroom of a very problematic unidentified school, and the chaos and fear often generated. Students and teachers privacy was also protected during image recording for TV. In 2004 and 2005, the Portuguese Ministry of Education reported over 1,200 aggressions inside Portuguese schools.

School safety

Escola Segura[13][14] provides a safety program to 11 thousand schools, it involves 600 police officers a day, 300 cars and 160 motorbikes.[15]

Foreign international schools in Portugal

There are some foreign international schools in Portugal, specially in Lisbon and Porto areas, and also in the Algarve region. These places have a large number of settled foreign families from high income countries. In general, they have good reputation.

Aljezur International School is a progressive English speaking international secondary school, with an excellent exam result history, and VVIS International School Algarve reports that it has obtained a 100% academic success rate for the last four years for first attempmt IGCSE examinations. Other private schools have obtained world renowned status, including schools such as the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon (CAISL), VVIS International School Algarve, St Julian's School, St Dominic's International School, Prime School Trilingual International School and Vilamoura International School. Oeiras International School is the latest addition to this set of international schools, opening in September 2010 and catering for students in the area of Greater Lisbon.


Education has been a subject of controversy in Portugal due to a number of erratic policies and the state of flux it has experienced by several long periods, particularly between the carnation revolution coup of 1974 to the Bologna process of 2007.

There has been also concerns related to the large dropout rates (mostly in the secondary and higher education systems), and the high multi generational functional illiteracy (48%[16] functional illiterates in Portugal, among the adult population; all over U.S.A. 30 million (14% of adults)[17] are functionally illiterate) and illiteracy rates (7.5% = ~ 800,000 illiterates) - a quite mediocre statistical record when compared with other developed countries of Europe, North America and Eastern Asia.

The failure of many private universities and other higher education institutions in providing higher education to students due to generalized lack of quality and rigour has also been a major problem - for several years those institutions were awarding degrees to thousands of people who were spread into the economically active population. Some higher education institutions, in particular from the private and polytechnic sector, have been regarded as true diploma mills. In the following decades after their creation in the 1970s and 1980s, the polytechnic institutions didn't assume their specific role as tertiary education vocational schools, which were created to award practical diplomas in more technical or basic fields.

Non-university intermediate professionals and skilled workers for the industry, agriculture, commerce and other services where needed. As more new public university institutions were founded or expanded, polytechnics didn't feel comfortable with their subaltern status in the Portuguese higher education system and a desire to be upgraded into university-like institutions grew among the polytechnic institutions' administrations. This desire of emancipation and evolution from polytechnic status to university status, was not followed by better qualified teaching staff, better facilities for teaching or researching, or by a stronger curricula with a more selective admission criteria, comparable with those enforced by almost all public university institutions. Criteria ambiguity and the general lower standards in polytechnic higher education and admission, were fiercely criticised by education personalities like university rectors, regarding issues like the lack of admission exams in mathematics for polytechnic engineering applicants, and the proliferation of administration and management courses everywhere, many without a proper curriculum in mathematics, statistics and economics-related disciplines.[18]

According to studies and reports, in the 1990s and 2000s, a fast growth and proliferation of private higher education and state-run polytechnical institutions with lower educational standards and ambiguous academic integrity, was responsible for unnecessary and uneconomic allocation of resources with no adequate quality output in terms of both new highly qualified graduates and research.[19]

In March 2008 a mega-protest hit many Portuguese cities along the country, joining over 85,000 basic and secondary school teachers from all the country in the capital city of Lisbon (March 8), criticizing the Portuguese Minister of Education Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues (XVII Governo Constitucional headed by PM José Sócrates) and her new policies, including a new system of teacher's evaluation.[20]

In addition, the XVII Governo Constitucional (the government headed by PM José Sócrates), created a policy of certification and equivalence of qualifications for adult people with low levels of formal education who want a 4th, 6th, 9th or 12th grade equivalence without returning to school (for example, through this process, called Novas Oportunidades,[21][22] adults (18 years old and older) with the 9th grade might be granted an equivalence to the 12th grade after a process ranging from a part-time 3-month programme or a 1 day per week 8-month programme; those who have less than 9th grade have a similar programme to get the 9th grade certification and can then apply to the 12th grade programme). The curricula do not include any classical high school discipline or a traditional examination process. These diplomas are awarded based on vaguely construed life experience. Some critics alleged this policy was an effort to make up the poor national statistical indicators on education, with little impact on the quality of the work force's qualification of Portugal in the European Union context.[23][24][25]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ UNESCO Institute for Statistics
  2. ^ a b c (Portuguese) Alunos portugueses pela primeira vez "perto da média" - relatório PISA, Destak
  3. ^ (Portuguese) Estudo do ministério aponta graves problemas aos alunos portugueses, GAVE (Gabinete de Avaliação do Ministério da Educação) 2010 report in RTP
  4. ^ (Portuguese) Universidades sem dinheiro para pagar salários, Expresso (April 13, 2009)
  5. ^
  6. ^ (Portuguese) Cláudia Valadas Urbano, A candidatura ao ensino superior politécnico: Escolha ou recurso?
  7. ^ MINISTÉRIO DA CIÊNCIA, TECNOLOGIA E ENSINO SUPERIOR, Decreto-Lei nº 74/2006 de 24 de Março, Artigo 29º - Atribuição do grau de doutor, accessed December 2006
  8. ^ (Portuguese) Um Contrato de confiança no Ensino Superior para o futuro de Portugal, Government of Portugal official site
  9. ^ ENGINEERING EDUCATION IN PORTUGAL, European Federation of National Engineering Associations, accessed December 2006
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ Ranking SIC das Escolas 2007, SIC
  12. ^ Encerramento: Ministério vai averiguar a base de dados das instituições Privadas inspeccionadas, in Correio da Manhã 2007-03-30.
  13. ^ Polícia de Segurança Pública
  14. ^ School Bullying and Violence - All links mentioned in the book
  15. ^ «Escolas são dos espaços públicos mais seguros»
  16. ^ [3]
  17. ^ General Facts
  18. ^ (Portuguese) Andrea Trindade, “Ausência de regras favorece a concorrência desqualificada”, "O facto de cada instituição poder definir regras próprias de ingresso para os seus cursos é, no entender de Seabra Santos, mais um factor de «concorrência desqualificada e de nivelamento por baixo»: Uma escola de Engenharia, por exemplo, pode decidir que os seus estudantes não precisam de Matemática para entrar.", Diário de Coimbra (February 2, 2009)
  19. ^ (Portuguese) Prof. Manuel Caldeira Cabral, Economics Department, EEG - Minho University Ensino superior cresceu nas instituições menos procuradas e com médias mais baixas, Público (January 8, 2007)
  20. ^ [4], SIC, 8th March 2008
  21. ^ :: Guia de Acesso ao Secundário ::
  22. ^ Portal do Governo
  23. ^ (Portuguese) A Página da Educação, "Estas considerações surgem como necessárias à problematização e questionamento da bondade da muito propalada "Iniciativa Novas Oportunidades", nomeadamente no eixo de intervenção jovens. Se "fazer do nível secundário o patamar mínimo de qualificação para jovens e adultos" se nos afigura como um objectivo socialmente louvável, concretizá-lo pela expansão da oferta das fileiras menos prestigiadas do secundário, segmento com clara sobre-representação das categorias sociais mais desfavorecidas (cursos profissionalizantes), e que proporcionam acesso às ocupações com remunerações mais modestas, pode criar a ilusão de uma certa democratização (desde logo quantitativa), e até melhorar a posição do país no ranking europeu da escolarização (sempre importante para fins de "cosmética política"),..."[5], A Página da Educação (education magazine)
  24. ^ (Portuguese) SPN - Sindicato dos Professores do Norte, Direcção da Área de S. João da Madeira, "A ideia generosa das Novas Oportunidades a massificar-se e a ser aplicada sem condições materiais e humanas, o que a transformará num embuste estatístico para melhorar os índices educativos portugueses."[6], SPN - Sindicato dos Professores do Norte (Teachers' Union of Norte Region)
  25. ^ (Portuguese) António Figueira, : Um conceito que é uma vergonhaJornal de NegóciosFernando Sobral in Fernando Sobral: “Novas Oportunidades”, como conceito, é uma vergonha. Vende a ideia de que as pessoas que passam a ferro, os caixas de lojas ou os executantes de milhares de tarefas indispensáveis à sociedade, são Zés Ninguém. Cria a noção de que se todos aderirem às “Novas Oportunidades”, o sucesso chegará por e-mail. Alguém, claro, terá de fornecer esses trabalhos aparentemente inúteis neste novo conceito. Mas, a acreditar na lógica do Governo, para isso estão cá os brasileiros, os angolanos, os ucranianos e os que não têm direito às oportunidades. Para Sócrates quem não é célebre não interessa e quem não é reconhecido não tem identidade. Esta campanha do Governo não vende ilusões: trafica desejos. E está a alimentar ainda mais um conceito cruel que se desenvolveu na sociedade portuguesa: conhecem-te, existes. “Novas Oportunidades” é a cara do PS “terceira via” de Sócrates. O sucesso está acima de todos os valores. E deve achincalhar o trabalho útil, mas invisível. “Novas Oportunidades” é, simplesmente, um filme de terror governamental. Com sabor a caramelo.”,


  • Education in Portugal -
  • - Structure of Educational System in Portugal
  • Portugal - EDUCATION
  • Funding higher education in Portugal: between State and market, Educ. Soc. vol.25 no.88 special, Campinas Oct. 2004
  • SOURCE: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Global Education Database (note: As of February 27, 2012, the Global Education Database is no longer being maintained and its data and analytical tools are no longer available on the Internet.)
  • Engenharia do Séc.XX (Portuguese)
  • JVCosta - Higher Education in Portugal (Portuguese)

External links

  • Portuguese Ministry of Education
  • Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education
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