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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.7Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation

Last update: 27 November 2023

Bilateral agreements

As a result of increasingly close relations with other countries, the regulation of areas where it is necessary to establish international rules, or the reaffirmation of its participation in international organisations, much like other democratic states, Portugal uses bilateral or multilateral treaties, agreements or conventions as voluntary and discretionary foreign policy tools.

There are mainly two types of areas within education where treaties or agreements are forged:

  • aid (non-commercial transfer of goods, capital and services – educational aid, technical assistance, cooperation, etc.).

  • culture (exchanges and other joint programmes in the field of culture - education, science and technology, etc.).

These agreements, normally generic in character, sometimes require, in specific cases, further regulation, establishing specific measures of cooperation and aid.

The programmes arising from these agreements, which typically last three years, are defined by the joint committees. These programmes generally include the following areas of cooperation:

  • the ongoing exchange of documents and information in education, in order to get a better understanding of the different educational systems.

  • the exchange of education experts, in order to constantly update knowledge of reforms and innovations, both in education systems and pedagogy.

  • the teaching of languages and cultures of respective countries.

  • recognition and equivalence of qualifications.

  • the creation of partnerships between schools.

  • cooperation in higher education.

In terms of bilateral cooperation, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Ensino Superior - MCTES) and the Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação - ME) work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, preparing and monitoring the negotiation of agreements, protocols and other forms of international cooperation, and action programmes.

Regarding the education sector, the priority areas of these policy instruments are:

  • the exchange of information and educational practices.
  • the recognition of equivalent studies.
  • the mobility of teachers, students and experts. 
  • partnerships among schools.

It is also worth mentioning that Portugal, and the Ministry of Education in particular, have maintained negotiations and the implementation of cooperation tools with around a hundred countries, across the various continents.

As a result of armed conflicts, the flow of refugees from Syria and Ukraine has impacted the organisation of the education system, and it was necessary to implement special educational measures to welcome children and young people who have applied or who have been beneficiaries of international protection - educational measures.

Some of the most recent measures: the publication of guidance for receiving refugee children and young people in basic and upper secondary education schools; making Ukrainian textbooks available; publication of a document regarding equivalences and the integration of children and young people in the Portuguese education system; provision of Portuguese as a Non-Mother Tongue classes.

Migrants aged 16 or over, whose mother tongue is not Portuguese and/or who do not have basic, intermediate or advanced skills in Portuguese, according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), may attend courses in Portuguese as Host Language.

In this context, it is important to refer to Ordinance No 183/2020, 5 August, amended by Ordinance No 184/2022, 21 July and Order No 2044/2022, 16 February.

Bilateral cooperation in the field of education is more significant with certain countries, with whom the ME regularly has joint initiatives. There is an annual or sporadic schedule. For example, the ME’s cooperation with France specifically including:

  • promotion and development of Portuguese and French provision in education systems.
  • promotion of European and international sections.
  • the Luso-French Language Assistant Bilateral Programme.
  • the linguistic and pedagogical development of teachers and comparability of qualifications in vocational education.

Cooperation with Spain is regular, including:

  • activities connected with the Pilar Moreno Prize.
  • the Bilateral Conversation Support Programme, which also includes the knowledge and dissemination of both countries’ culture.
  • reciprocal teaching of the language, literature and civilisation in educational institutions of the respective countries.
  • the Bilingual and Intercultural Border Schools Project (PEBIF).
  • the institution and operation of teaching establishments.
  • the negotiation of a specific agreement regarding the equivalence of degrees and diplomas in both non-higher and higher education.

In recent years, there has been bilateral cooperation with China and the Macao Special Administrative Region (MSAR), with emphasis on teaching Mandarin in Portuguese upper secondary schools and twinning between Portuguese high schools and MSAR schools.

In addition to the above-mentioned agreements, it is worth mentioning bilateral cooperation with Portuguese-speaking countries (Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor), due to the historical links between the various nations.

In recent years, bilateral cooperation between Portugal and these countries has occurred as part of the Indicative Cooperation Programmes, and, since 2015, as part of Strategic Cooperation Programmes, including the Portuguese Cooperation Strategy 2030 (Council of Ministers Resolution No 121/2022, 9 December 2022), which establish cooperation between Portugal and each of the other countries and the parameters governing the Portuguese contribution to the economic and social development of the partner country.

There has been support for bilateral and multilateral activities as part of cooperation for development, geared towards integrated action that focusses on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals - 2030 Agenda of the United Nations.

On a bilateral level, the ME's work focuses on identifying the different constraints that the respective education systems have to deal with. It supports expanding coverage and improving the quality of vocationally oriented pathways, as well as supporting institutional capacity building through training activities for trainers, teachers and managers and specialists. It also introduces new technologies and teaching methods, supporting the design and development of teaching materials, such as textbooks for students and teachers, and support for the definition of appropriate forms of school and pedagogical management and planning and resource management methods.

The teaching and dissemination of the Portuguese language is a major priority, either explicitly or implicitly, in all programmes. One example is the work done to improve the quality of education, as one of the constraints of the education systems of Portuguese-speaking countries is that students’ and teachers’ Portuguese (the language of teaching) is not particularly proficient.

In recent years, bilateral relations with the various members of the Portuguese-speaking community, such as Angola, Cape Verde and East Timor have been considerably strengthened.

Cooperation and participation in worldwide programmes and organisations

Organization of Iberia-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI)

Portugal is a Member-State of the Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI), an international body for cooperation among Ibero-American countries in the fields of education, science, and culture within the context of development, democracy and regional integration.

Portugal has cooperative relations with all the countries that comprise the OEI, which, in addition to Portugal are, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Guatemala, Equatorial Guinea, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Principality of Andorra, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Portugal has participated in the OEI’s projects and initiatives, as well as monitoring and participating in decision-making and technical bodies, including:

  • the Ibero-American Conference on Education, "Educational Goals 2021: the education we want for the Bicentennial generation".
  • the Languages in Education Programme.
  • the Artistic, Cultural and Citizenship Education Programme.
  • the Ibero-American Literacy and Lifelong Learning Plan (ILP).
  • the Ibero-American Knowledge Forum for international academic mobility in higher education (which focusses on research, development and innovation to improve the region’s productivity and competitiveness).

In April 2009, in Lisbon, the "Educational Goals 2021" project, which Portugal has been involved with from the outset, was considered by the OEI Ministers of Education to be a historic opportunity and a strategic challenge to give the definitive boost that education required in each of the Ibero-American countries. As such, it was adopted by this organisation, in order to develop the education systems of its member-states.

As part of the OEI, the XX Ibero-American Conference of Heads of State and Government in 2010, approved the project Metas 2021: la educación que queremos para la generación de los Bicentenarios, as a mechanism and collective commitment to address the region’s main educational challenges. The project includes a plan for evaluation and supervision based on progress reports, which must be discussed and approved by the Ministers of Education before being published and disseminated.
The DGEEC is the national representative in the Instituto de Evaluación y Seguimiento de las Metas Educativas (IESME)
Dedicated to the expansion of the Portuguese and Spanish languages in the world, the CILPE initiative (nternational Conference of Portuguese and Spanish Languages) was held in both 2019 and 2022.

At the end of 2017, the OEI regional office was opened in Lisbon, which cemented Portugal's commitment to participate more actively in OEI programmes and activities, consolidating the existing collaboration, while highlighting Portugal's position as an important partner and a platform for contact with other regions or regional spaces, such as the CPLP and EU.

Community of Portuguese-speaking countries (CPLP)

Portugal is a founding member of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (Comunidade dos Países de Língua PortuguesaCPLP), an international organisation set up on 17 July 1996 and based in Lisbon. In addition to maintaining good political-diplomatic relations among its members, the aims of the CPLP in terms of international relations involve cooperation (in economic, social, cultural, legal, technical and scientific fields) and the implementation of projects promoting and disseminating the Portuguese language (including the promotion of the International Institute of Portuguese Language). Portugal, as a member state of the CPLP, is represented at all levels.

Currently, in addition to Portugal, the members of the CPLP are Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, East Timor and Equatorial Guinea, which joined in 2014.

In terms of cooperation, the CPLP has focussed mainly on priority areas, such as education, health, citizenship and training. On a multilateral level, cooperation for development involves activities within the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, which constitutes an excellent multilateral forum for enhancing mutual friendship and cooperation among its members.

To achieve the organisation’s strategic objetives, the CPLP currently intends to consolidate cooperation with other international organisations, such UNESCO, UNICEF, OEI, the FNDE-PAM (World Food Programme Centre of Excellence) and the African Union.

Portugal participates in initiatives and projects resulting from the decisions of the Conference of CPLP Education Ministers, particularly in the areas of educational evaluation, vocational education and training, distance learning, history and literature teaching, education statistics, being responsible for coordinating some of these projects.

The current strategic areas are: youth and adult education; food, nutrition and school health; evaluation of learning and educational systems; education in emergency situations; inclusive education; vocational technical education; education statistics; promotion of the Portuguese language in educational systems; CPLP Friendly Schools network.

The Multilateral Cooperation Strategic Plan for Education for 2022-2026, as well as the CPLP Multilateral Cooperation in Education Action Plan 2022-2024were approved at the Second Extraordinary Meeting of CPLP Ministers of Education, held virtually in Luanda, 31 March 2022

This Plan aims to implement coordinated, harmonised and results-oriented multilateral cooperation in areas that contribute to the development and quality of the communities’ education systems.

In addition to the Action Plan and the activities/initiatives involved in its implementation, the "1st Joint Exercise on CPLP Education Inspection Practices" was held at the end of February 2023, whose main objective was to promote the sharing of knowledge, strategies, procedures and work criteria between the education inspection bodies of the CPLP.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

Portugal participates in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s  activities, being involved with joint reflection and work on finding solutions to the difficulties that education systems currently face, within a context of human resource development.

Portugal is represented on the Education Policy Committee, on the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (Centro para a Investigação e a Inovação no Ensino - CERI) Governing Board, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), on the Council of Participating Countries in the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), the Council of the Countries Participating in the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the INES Working Party, the INES Network for the Collection and Adjudication of System-Level Descriptive Information on Educational Structures, Policies and Practices (NESLI), INES Network on Data Collection and Development on Economic, Labour Market and Social Outcomes of Education (LSO), the Informal Working Group on Higher Education, the National Expert Group on Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Early Childhood Education and Care Network (ECEC), the Working Group on National Skills Strategies, the Working Group on the Analysis of Educational Resources and the Working Group of the Project “Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030”. In relation to Portugal’s more recent participation, it is worth mentioning its involvement in the work done within PISA, TALIS, INES and the “National Skills Strategies”, “Education Resources Analysis” and “Education 2030” projects and in the working group for the "Strengthening through Diversity: Educating for Inclusive Societies" project.

In relation to Portugal’s more recent participation, it is worth mentioning its involvement in the work done within PISA, TALIS, INES and the “National Skills Strategies”, “Education Resources Analysis”, “Education 2030”, and in the working group for the "Strengthening through Diversity: Educating for Inclusive Societies" project.  

Regarding some of these projects, the Skills Strategy for Portugal Implementation Guide - Evaluation and Recommendations and the Evaluation of Educational Resources in Portugal were made available in 2018. In addition to this, as part of the framework of the "Education 2030" Project, a network of Portuguese schools was established nationwide and worldwide, in order to exchange experiences and discuss curriculum management and the changes to be implemented in the learning environments, so that all students acquire key competences for the 21st century. The evaluation "Inclusive Education in Portugal" is underway for the "Strengthening for Diversity: Educating for Inclusive Societies" project.

In December 2022, the OECD gathered ministers to reflect and discuss the issue "Rebuilding an inclusive and equitable society through education". The meeting focussed on how the OECD can best support countries construct more effective education systems through synergies across countries and other policy areas. There were discussions on: equity and inclusion in education, redesigning curricula to meet learners’ socio-emotional needs, the role of digitisation in equity and inclusion, how to build foundations for lifelong learning, how education can better respond to the world of work, and how alternative credentials can boost inclusive lifelong learning and modernise education. Portugal co-chaired the meeting alongside Norway and Korea.

United Nations (UN)

The United Nations' objectives, which have officially existed since 24 October 1945, are to maintain international security, develop peaceful relations between nations, foster cooperation in solving international cultural and humanitarian issues and promoting respect for human rights.

Portugal has been a member state of the United Nations since 14 December 1955, and its participation in the education sector in the UN’s international projects has been characterised by preparing responses to requests of various kinds, such as reports on the implementation of treaties, pacts and conventions signed by Member-States, which this ministry has made a major contribution.

It terms of Portugal's participation in the UN, it is also worth mentioning the role of the education sector, which relates to the Portuguese state’s obligations in relation to human rights. Portugal adheres to the different international mechanisms in this area.

The Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (MCTES) and the Ministry of Education (ME) work alongside the UN, an international organisation that was founded in 1945, which currently has 193 member countries and whose mission and activities are governed by the objectives and principles stipulated in the Founding Charter.

The ME's contribution to the UN mission is particularly important regarding the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

As a member state of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Portugal created the Portuguese National Commission in 1979.

Since then, Portugal has been involved in many of the organisation’s major initiatives, participating in the general conference and all activities in this area.

Nationally, there has been work ongoing regarding the Dakar Framework for Action in two main areas:

  1. support for the preparation of the national education plans for the Portuguese-speaking African countries.
  2. development projects for bilateral and multilateral cooperation through "Education for All" project, and more recently through the Education 2030 Agenda (based on the Declaration of Incheon and embodied in the Sustainable Development Objective 4, adopted in September 2015 as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda), which aims to ensure inclusive education, quality for all and lifelong learning.

Portugal was also involved with the “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development” initiative (2005-2014), launched by the United Nations, whose closing conference was held in Aichi-Nagoya, in Japan (November 2014). Here, the Global Action Programme for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), whose main objective is mobilising key ESD stakeholders, providing a practical implementation guide.

In 1981, Portugal was also involved with the Associated Schools System, in 1981 whose main goal is promoting peace and international cooperation through education, via the development and implementation of pilot projects and intercultural education, boasting around 50 Portuguese schools associated with the initiative.

Finally, Portugal has been an active participant in the Education 2030 Agenda, focussing on achieving the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030.

Currently, Portugal is part of the High-Level Steering Committee of Sustainable Development Goal 4 - Education 2030, which is responsible for global strategic guidance for the formulation and implementation of evidence-based policies that facilitate achieving SDG 4 aims. It monitors implementation of this Goal, helping countries mobilise and use national and international funding for education more efficiently, ensuring greater harmonisation and alignment between partners. This allows Portugal to contribute to the humanist vision that currently shapes the Portuguese education system.

In 2022, UNESCO organised the Transforming Education Summit in New York, which was held to discuss, share and reflect on potential coordinated measures that lead to the transformation of education by 2030. The meeting, focused on five key areas: schools, quality of lifelong learning, teachers, connectivity and education financing. The Ministry of Education participated at the summit with a delegation headed by the Minister of Education. As part of this, the Ministry of Education held a national consultation with 146 stakeholders from all sections of society, in order to produce a National Declaration. This declaration represented the views of the Portuguese Government and local authorities, community and youth representatives, national and international non-governmental organisations, national and multinational companies, trade unions, social security and child protection, as well as all levels of education, including schools and universities, health organisations, nutritionists and psychologists, the digital sector and media.

The Transforming Education Summit was also attended by students from Portuguese schools who, together with young people from all over the world, contributed to a Youth Declaration presented at the summit in New York.

The Council of Europe (CoE)

Bringing together 46 member states and six observer states (the Holy See, the United States, Canada, Israel, Japan and Mexico), the Council of Europe was created in 1949. Its main mission is defending human rights and parliamentary democracy, with respect for the rule of law. The Council of Europe (CoE) can be described as lending "know-how" in areas such as human rights, local democracy, education, culture and environment.

Among the Council of Europe’s main activities and programmes in the field of education, the following are key:

  • competences for life in democracy (competences for a culture of democracy, education for digital citizenship and the democratic mission of higher education).
  • inclusive approaches to education (linguistic integration of migrant adults, Holocaust remembrance and history, academic freedom and recognition in higher education).
  • ethics and integrity in education.
  • language policies.

It is also worth noting Portugal’s participation in the Council of Europe’s activities: education for democratic citizenship, competences for life in democracy, education for digital citizenship and linguistic integration of migrant adults.

Portugal has played an active role in the Observatory on History Teaching in Europe (OHTE), being represented at various events it has organised.

Portugal participates in the CoE’s governing bodies, namely Steering Committee for Education (CDEDU - formerly CDPPE – the Steering Committee for Education Policy and Practice).