Many Portuguese higher education institutions can trace their heritage back to long-established centres of learning. Other institutions are more modern, founded to develop and communicate new ideas and technologies.
In recent years Portugal has also adopted reforms in accordance with the Bologna Process, allowing its higher education providers to combine traditional expertise with the potential for international flexibility in a modern format.
Today Portuguese higher education institutions arrange degrees into a familiar three-cycle format: undergraduate licenciatura are followed by postgraduate mestrado (Masters) and doutoramento (Doctorate, or PhD) level qualifications.
The European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) is also used to organise and weight units within programmes.
Universidade and politénico
Portuguese higher education providers are divided into two types:
- Universities (universidade) undertake research and maintain the higher level expertise required to award PhD degrees.
- Polytechnic institutions (politénico) specialise in more applied training and often focus on professional fields.
Both types of institution offer the opportunity to study a Masters degree in Portugal.
Programmes at universidade may be more academic and theoretical, while courses in applied or professional subject-areas are more common at politénico. There is some overlap however, including a small number of politénico integrated with universidade to offer specific training in appropriate fields.
Politénico may charge lower fees in some instances, but the overall distinction between Portugal's two categories of higher education institution is one of specialism rather than quality. Your own choice of institution will probably depend upon the availability of programmes in your specific field.
Both universidade and politénico may be public or private institutions:
- Public institutions are more tightly regulated in terms of the fees they can charge and the places they are allowed to make available.
- Private institutions have greater freedom, but are often more expensive in practice.
Accreditation and regulation of Portuguese Masters programmes
Initial approval of programmes at Portuguese higher education institutions is undertaken by an independent body, the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES). Official recognition is then granted by the government's Directorate-General for Higher Education (DGES), a branch of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education.
This ensures that the government remains responsible for insuring the quality of institutions and programmes, while also allowing for non-partisan scrutiny.
The majority of university-level teaching in Portugal is carried out in Portuguese, but English-language teaching is more common on Masters programmes.
Appropriate language tests in English or Portuguese may be required on some courses.
Don't forget either that Portuguese is spoken by more people worldwide than any other European language except English and Spanish, so coming out of your Masters with some ability to speak it certainly won't hurt your future employment and study prospects!
Portuguese university rankings
Portugal does well in international university rankings, despite the country's small size.