Main characteristics of the adult education and training system
In recent decades, Portugal has made a significant effort to improve the qualifications of its population, thus addressing a historical weakness in this area.
Although some progress has been made, qualifications remain far below the levels of more developed countries, hampering development in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.
Innovative solutions became necessary regarding objectives, organisation and methods used to overcome difficulties and achieve rapid and sustained improvements to the population’s skills and qualifications.
The National Qualification System (Sistema Nacional de Qualificações – SNQ) aims to promote widespread completion of upper secondary education as the population's minimum qualification. It also deals with the mechanisms necessary for its implementation, in conjunction with the appropriate financial frameworks, the Partnership Agreement and Operational Programmes to be implemented in the 2021-2027 period, in particular.
Improving the workforce's basic education and training must also generate the necessary competences for personal development and modernisation of enterprises and the economy, as well as facilitating citizens’ academic and vocational achievement.
On the grounds of social justice and development imperatives, these objectives apply to both young people and adults, as something that promotes new qualification opportunities for the unemployed and people already in the employment market, specifically those disadvantaged by leaving school early or dropping out.
The SNQ adopts the principles established in the agreement with the social partners, restructuring vocational training within the education and training system and in the job market, integrating them with common objectives and tools and placing them within a revised institutional framework.
Taking a retrospective approach, the main aim of the New Opportunities Initiative presented in late 2005, was to overcome the structural deficit in qualifications by making general schooling available to the population.
With regard to adults, this initiative put an emphasis on recognising, validating and certifying competences gained in formal, informal and non-formal contexts, as well as vocationally oriented education, creating conditions of access in both cases.
Likewise, an effort has been made to diversify and extend provision so, with the necessary adaptations, it covers the whole population with qualifications lower than upper secondary education. The aim is to “develop the ability to build individual learning pathways that value the acquisitions of each person, promoting flexible education models and giving greater relevance to training in a work context...”.
This development involved increasing adult education and training courses, (Cursos de educação e formação de adultos - Cursos EFA), extending the network of recognition, validation and certification of competences centres, later called New Opportunities Centres (Centros Novas Oportunidades - CNO), now Qualifica centres, designing a key competences reference framework for upper secondary adult education and training and the promotion of the integrated management of provision and the providers network.
In 2016, the Qualifica Programme was launched. This government programme was implemented for better adult qualifications, contributing significantly to improving the general population’s qualification levels and employability.
The Qualifica Programme is based on a qualification strategy that combines educational and training provision and various mechanisms that promote adult qualification, involving a broad network of operators.
This programme focusses on improving the Portuguese population’s qualifications, which continues to show a deficit, which affects the country’s development. According to PORDATA (2019), 47.8 % of the population (aged 25-64) possess qualifications lower than upper secondary education. The Qualifica Programme aims to bring Portugal more in line with the EU average in terms of schooling and lifelong learning, mobilising the adult population to improve qualifications.
One of the Government’s priorities is to revitalise adult education and training as a cornerstone of the qualifications system, ensuring the continuity of lifelong learning policies and permanent improvement of learning processes and outcomes.
This Programme essentially seeks to achieve the following objectives:
- Increase the workforce’s qualifications and improve employability equipping them with skills that meet the needs of the job market.
- Significantly reduce literal and functional illiteracy rates, as well as combating semi-illiteracy.
- Improve the system with young adults investing more in education and training.
- Correct the country’s structural weakness in terms of schooling and bring it in line with European levels.
- Tailor provision and training network to the needs of the job market and the national and regional development model.
Apart from the Qualifica Programme, adult education and training provision also includes face-to-face and distance learning (ESRaD). Although targeted at adults, it is also accessible to young people between 16 and 18 who are working or at risk of dropping out of school:
- Recurrent education is designed for adults who have not completed a certain level of education at the normal age of schooling and is divided into four science-humanities courses: science and technology; socioeconomic sciences; languages and humanities; visual arts.
- Recurrent secondary distance education (ESRaD) is also aimed at adults who have not completed this level of education at normal school age, and is organised to allow any candidate, resident in Portugal or abroad, to access this training provision.
Statistics on adult education and training
The Qualifica centres and adult education and training
In 2016, when the Qualifica Centres were first created, there were 261 centres and 303 in 2017. Currently, the network is made up of 316 Centres. In terms of centre enrolments, there has been a constant effort to guide adults towards qualifications within the National Qualifications System.
In addition to recognising skills previously acquired by adults in formal, informal and non-formal learning, these centres also provide guidance and referral to other qualification solutions, such as adult education and training courses, certified modular training, upper secondary conclusion pathways, etc.
All these training types contribute to achieving goals recommended by the Qualifica program, focused on the work of Qualifica Centres, which are responsible for mobilising adults and helping them discover the different qualification options that exist.
Qualifica Centres Network, activity indicators from January 2017 to December 2021
|Results (January 2017 to December 2021)|
|Total of centres||310|
|Total of enrolments||713 374|
|Total of referrals||621 672|
|Total of referrals (other qualification types)||469 390|
|Total of referrals - RVCC||152 282|
|RVCC certification (total and partial)||71 198|
|Certifications of other qualification types (total and partial)||757 431|
The Qualifica Centres provide national coverage and are distributed by NUT III in the following way:
Distribution of the Qualifica Centre network by NUTS III in December 2021
Área Metropolitana de Lisboa - Norte do Tejo
Área Metropolitana de Lisboa - Sul do Tejo
Área Metropolitana do Porto - Norte do Douro
Área Metropolitana do Porto - Sul do Douro
Beiras e Serra da Estrela
Lezíria do Tejo
Região Autónoma da Madeira (RAM)
Região de Aveiro
Região de Coimbra
Região de Leiria
Tâmega e Sousa
Terras de Trás-os-Montes
Viseu Dão Lafões
Source: ANQEP, 31st December 2021
The following table shows the total number of certifications by qualification level (school, vocational and dual) obtained by adults, as a result of Qualifica Centres, from January 2017 to December 2021
Number of total certifications by qualification level (academic/vocational/dual), January 2017 to December 2021
Level of certification
3rd cycle + Level 2
Upper Secondary + Level 4
Source: ANQEP and SIGO, 31st December 2021
This table shows that, from 2017 to December 2021, there were more school certifications than vocational and dual certification, which must be related to the structural qualification deficit due to early school leaving for adult age groups. It also shows a greater number of upper secondary level certifications, not only at the level of RVCC processes but also other training solutions, such as EFA courses.
It is also important to demonstrate how certifications have changed over the years. In the following table we can see this in terms of total as well as partial certifications, as not all adults acquire them, as a result of RVCC processes or qualification options resulting from referrals made by Qualifica Centres, a certification total. Partial certifications require additional training to obtain a certain level of qualification.
Change in the number of certifications (parcial and total) from January 2017 to December 2021
|Type of certification||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021|
Source: ANQEP and SIGO, 31st December 2021
Obs.: In 2017, there was no data from certifications in other qualification options (EFA, FMC, CTC and DL 357/2007 courses), resulting from Qualifica Centre referrals. In 2018, 2019 and 2020 all certifications, total and partial, resulting from referrals from Qualifying Centres obtained through the RVCC process, EFA Courses, DL 357/2007, CTC and FMC are included.