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Home Education Higher Education Study in Portugal: a guide to Portuguese post-secondary education
Last update on June 09, 2021

This overview of the Portuguese higher education looks at universities, polytechnics, and adult education opportunities for those that want to study in Portugal.

Higher education in Portugal involves universities and polytechnics (technological education).

Applications are normally submitted in July or early August to the admission services in the applicant’s area of residence or through the Internet. Electronic applications are sometimes available via the website of the Directorate General for Higher Education (Direcção Geral do Ensino Superior). University education leads to the degrees of Licenciado (graduate degree), Mestre (Master’s degree) or doutor (doctorate). A bacharel (Bachelor’s degree) can also be awarded after three years’ study. Polytechnic education leads to the graduate degrees licenciado and bacharel.

Access to higher education is restricted – numerus clausus – and admission is competitive. Higher education is open to students holding a diploma de ensino secundário or equivalent and who satisfy the other legal requirements, including national examinations in specific disciplines for which a minimum grade may be required.

To be accepted, EU and European Economic Area nationals must present an academic qualification equivalent to the 12th year of Portuguese schooling. To obtain a direct comparison or equivalence between your qualifications and those recognised in Portugal, you should contact:

  • CIREP or DGIDC in the Ministry of Education (in Lisbon), for primary or secondary qualifications;
  • NARIC Portugal for higher education diplomas.

In Portugal, the university system is based on research and theory whilst the polytechnic system provides practical training and is based on a particular profession. Degrees in fields such as medicine, law, natural sciences, economics and psychology are taught only in university institutions. Fields like engineering, technology, management, education, agriculture, sports, or humanities are taught at both institutions. Specific profession-orientated degrees such as nursing, health care technician, accounting technician and teaching are only offered by the polytechnic institutions.

University education aims to guarantee a solid scientific and cultural education and to provide technical training for the pursuit of professional and cultural activities. It encourages the development of conceptual, innovative and critical analysis skills.

It is offered at universities which are structured as administrative units known as faculties, institutes, schools or departments, and in university colleges which are not affiliated to universities and are generally specialist in nature. The oldest university is the University of Coimbra (set up in 1290) and the largest university is the University of Porto (28,000 students).

Polytechnic education aims to provide a solid, higher-level cultural and technical education, to develop innovative and critical analysis skills to provide the theoretical and practical scientific knowledge required for professional activities.

This education is provided in polytechnic institutions which are structured as specialised administrative units, normally known as colleges. Polytechnic weekend and evening classes are usually organised.

The two systems of higher education are linked, and it is possible to transfer from one to the other. It is also possible to transfer from a private institution to a public one. Public university’s tuition fees are higher than those of polytechnics.

There are also special higher education institutions linked with the military and the police. These institutions generally have good reputations and are popular among students. 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.

Remedial basic education (ensino básico recorrente)

Remedial basic education is a special form of education intended for individuals who have passed the usual age for this level of education (i.e. are aged over 15) and who were not able to follow normal education at the time. It has the same objectives and leads to the same certificates as normal basic education, but uses study plans and methods suited to its target group.

Remedial secondary education (ensino secundário recorrente)

This special form of education is open to individuals who have passed the usual age for this level of education (aged over 18). This form of education uses plans and methods suited to its target group and leads to a certificate identical to that obtained after standard secondary education. Remedial secondary education comprises a general course of study and technical courses in various disciplines. Technical courses lead to a Level 3 vocational qualification certificate in addition to the diploma de ensino secundário.

Vocational training

For students who have completed basic education, vocational training provides vocational courses intended to prepare students for employment. They lead to a Level 3 vocational qualification certificate and a diploma equivalent to the diploma de ensino secundário. These courses last three years, on average, and are taught in vocational schools.

Distance learning

Distance learning, making use of multimedia and new information technologies, both complements standard education and constitutes an alternative form of schooling.

It has been used to provide education to adults following distance self-study schemes, involving the use of written and electronic educational materials and regular correspondence between the students and the organising body. Its use is particularly common in teacher training – both continuing training and retraining for active teachers – and for out-of-school education. The main distance learning institution is the Open University.

Adult education and training courses

EFA provides preparation for entry to the employment market for people aged 18 or over with few or no qualifications and who have not completed the four, six or nine years of basic schooling. When taught as part of vocational training for the unemployed, these courses may contain an element of practical training in a workplace context. There are also re-training/refresh courses and initial and refresher vocational courses: these lead to a vocational qualification but are not equivalent to a school education.