The Portuguese Higher Education System

Higher education in Portugal is made up of binary system that consists of university and non-university (polytechnic) education. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education is responsible for higher education in Portugal.
The higher education institutions in Portugal are managed and overseen by the General office of higher education (Direccao Geral do Ensino Superior). The head of each institution in Portugal is a rector, and all rectors are members of the National Board of Education.

Higher education provides scientific, technical and cultural groundwork that prepares students for to enter the labour market. The University education is the oldest in the Portugal and dates back to the 13th century, while the non-university (polytechnic) higher education started in the 1980s. The traditional higher education institutions of Portugal are located in Oporto, Lisbon, and Coimbra. The University of Coimbra is the country’s oldest higher education institution established in the year 1920.

Higher Education Facts

Public higher education institutions:
  • Universities: 14
  • Polytechnic Institutes (non-university higher education institutions): 20
  • Military and police higher education institutions: 6
Private higher education institutions: 
  • Universities: 36
  • Polytechnics: 64

Main Laws Regulating Portugal Higher Education

Law: Comprehensive Law 46/86 on the Education System later amended by Law 115/97 and Law 49/2005 
Year: 1986
Deals with: All university and non-university (polytechnic) higher education institutions, along with structure of the higher education system

Law: Law 296-A/98 (dated 25 September), later amended by Law 99/99 (dated 30 March) and Law 26/2003 (dated 7 February) and 76/2004 
Year: 1998
Deals with: Entry to public and private higher education institutions in Portugal

Law: Law 42/2005 (dated 22 February) on the principles and instruments for the formation of a European Higher Education Area 
Year: 2005
Covers: All university and non-university higher education institutions, along with the instrument for the implementation of the Bologna Process.

Law: Law 1/2003 (dated 6 January) on the Development and the Quality of Higher Education 
Year: 2003
Covers: Public and private higher education institutions

Law: Law 108/88 on University Autonomy amended by Law 252/97 
Year: 1988
Covers: Public universities

Law: Law 16/94 on the Statute of Private and Cooperative Higher Education amended by Law 37/94 and Law 94/99 
Year: 1994
Covers: Private higher education institutions

Law: Law 37/2003 (dated 22 August) on the Funding of Higher Education 
Year: 2003

Law: Law 38/94 on the Assessment of Higher Education amended by Law 1/2003 
Year: 1994
Covers: Public and private higher education institutions

Law: Law 49/2005 (dated 30 August) initiating changes to the Basic Law on the Education System in accordance with the Bologna Process 
Year: 2005

Law: Law 54/90 on the Statute and Autonomy of Polytechnic Higher Education Institutions (dated 5 September) amended by Laws 20/92 and 71/93 
Year: 1990
Covers: Polytechnic institutions

Higher Education Institutions

Higher education in Portugal has gone through many transformations in accordance with the Bologna process. Higher education in Portugal is split up into two types:
  • University education
  • Non-university higher education or polytechnic education
In Portugal, there are both public and private higher education institutions

University Education: The university higher education lays emphasis on theory and research. Universities in Portugal offer bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.

Non-university Higher Education (Polytechnic): The polytechnic education offers practical and professional knowledge and skills. Polytechnics in Portugal award bachelor and master’s degree. 

Higher Education Qualifications

The higher education degrees conferred in Portugal are: 

First cycle: This cycle comprises of bachelors degree, also called as licenciado. The bachelor degree lasts for 3-4 years (5 or 6 years also) depending upon the field of study.

Second cycle: This cycle includes Masters, also called as mestre. The master’s degree requires 1-2 years of study.

Third cycle: This cycle includes PhD, also called as doutor. The duration of the doctorate degree varies. 

First and second cycle degrees are offered by university as well as non-university higher education institution (polytechnic). The third cycle degree is award only by the universities in Portugal.

Academic Year

The academic year in Portugal is split up into 2 semesters:

First semester starts in September and goes on until January

Second semester starts in February and ends in June

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements vary from university to university. Public higher education institutions make use of a national examination, while the private higher education institutions conduct their own entrance examination. 

To gain admittance into the first cycle of the Portuguese higher education, students must hold a secondary school leaving certificate. For second and third cycle requires an undergraduate and master’s degree respectively. 
Contact the individual higher education institution to know about the additional prerequisites for your academic programme.

To know more about the admission requirements and procedure, click here.

Language Requirements 

Portuguese Language Proficiency

As the language of instruction at the higher education institutions in Portugal is Portuguese, students are required to demonstrate their Portuguese language proficiency level. Students can submit either the result of the school exams if Portuguese was the subjects as part of the curricula, or can submit a Portuguese language proficiency certificate.

Centre for Evaluation of Portuguese as a Foreign Language or (in Portuguese Centro de Avaliacao de Portugues Lingua Estrangeira), or CAPLE   is a certificate of proficiency as second language in European Portuguese,  prepared by the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon.

TELC - The European Language Certificates: This language tests offers Portuguese exam at Level B1.
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