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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Higher education


7.Higher education

Last update: 19 June 2024

Main objectives and current policies 

Investment in higher education is envisaged as a collective project for the future of the country, essential to improve the Portuguese population’s skills to the level of the most developed European countries.

Such measures include:

  • the promotion of vocational and technical higher education courses (cursos técnicos superiores profissionais - CTeSP), which correspond to a short cycle linked to a first cycle of the Bologna Process), offered by the polytechnic higher education institutions (HEIs), and the redefinition of graduate admission criteria for first cycle courses.
  • broadening the student recruitment base in the higher education access system.
  • the development of a mechanism that supports the inclusion of refugees with the aid of higher education institutions.
  • the implementation of a National Policy of Open Science that focusses on public and open access to scientific publications and data resulting from research financed by public funding.
  • the approval of a Scientific Employment Stimulus Programme, including the phased replacement of post-doc scholarships with employment contracts and the rejuvenation of research staff.
  • as part of the strategy to improve qualifications and scientific development in the area of health, the creation of:
    • ​a National Council of Clinical Academic Centres to stimulate and support the coordinated development of their work.
    • a working group to design a development plan for clinical and translational research, as well as biomedical research, including the creation of a Clinical Research and Biomedical Innovation Agency.
  • the support and creation of consortiums in several fields via cooperation between higher education institutions, research units and public laboratories.
  • the launch of “Public Participation Laboratories” initiative, in close cooperation with the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Culture, Ciência Viva.
  • the restructuring of assessment methodology used for R&D units. The Evaluation of Science and Technology working group was created for this purpose, identifying guidelines to be adopted by the Science and Technology Foundation assessment programme (principles and good practices).
  • the launch of a plan to rationalise administrative, reduce bureaucracy and simplify procedures in all R&D and higher education institutions.
  • the joint effort to launch a “Knowledge for Development Initiative”, which is in the process of rebooting “GLOBAL Science”. This programme facilitates national involvement in boosting the skills of researchers from Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.

Under Ordinance No 67-A/2024, 22 February and Decree-Law No 134/2023, 28 December 2023, a programme for qualified young people was launched. This is aimed at encouraging people to acquire qualifications via a financial incentive to pursue a profession in Portugal. This rewards study in higher education and contributes to improving the incomes of qualified young people working in the country.

These young graduates are entitled to 697 euros and master's graduates to 1,500 euros. If they have completed an integrated master's degree, the award is 697 euros for the period corresponding to the first cycle degree and 1,500 euros for the period corresponding to the master's degree. The sum will be paid annually, for the same number of years as that of the cycle of studies. 

The award applies to young workers resident in Portugal, up to the age of 35 at the time the award is bestowed and who have obtained a first cycle degree and/or master's degree from Portuguese higher education institutions (public or private) from the year 2023 (inclusive) onwards. The rules apply to the same academic degrees obtained abroad, provided they are recognised in Portugal.

This support is designed for young people who have category A (dependent work) or category B (self-employed) income. They must have submitted their income tax return within the legal deadline, as well as having their tax situation regularised. 

The award can also be solicited by first graduates and holders of master’s degrees who obtained their qualifications before 2023, provided that the number of years that have elapsed since the degree was awarded is fewer than the number of years of the cycle of studies.

Organization of the higher education system

Portuguese higher education includes the university and polytechnic systems.

The  Education Act (Law No. 46/86, 14 October), amended by Laws 115/97, 19 September49/2005, 30 August and 85/2009, 27 August and 16/2023, 10 April, establishes, via the 2005 amendment, the adoption of the three study cycle model that leads to three types of academic degrees:

  • Bachelor’s degree (Licenciatura) - 1st cycle degree programme
  • Master’s degree (Mestrado) - 2nd cycle degree programme
  • Doctorate (Doutoramento) - 3rd cycle degree programme).

It also establishes the need to create conditions that provides access to lifelong learning for all citizens.

In pursuit of those goals, the legal system for higher education degrees and diplomas was approved via Decree-Law No 74/2006, 24 March, and later amended by Decrees-Law No 107/2008, 25 June, No 230/2009, 14 September and No 115/2013, 7 August.

The adoption of tools for the creation of the European Higher Education Area, in particular the ECTS credit system and the Diploma Supplement, had been established with the approval of Decree-Law No 42/2005, 22 February, later amended by Decree Law No 107/2008, 25 June.

According to this legislation, the academic year can be divided into years, semesters, terms or another duly detailed form. Generally speaking, the academic year is divided into two semesters with breaks lasting around one to two weeks (maximum 3). Some advanced study programmes (ISCED 7, for example) can also be structured into terms.

In any of these cases, a full-time academic year lasts between 1,500 and 1,680 hours, which is the equivalent of between 36 and 40 weeks.

According to the legislation, higher education institutions (universities and polytechnics) have statutory, pedagogical and scientific autonomy with regard to the state, and are responsible for scheduling academic activity and holidays.

As such, the first semester usually begins between the first and third week of September and ends in February. During the first semester there is a seven-to-ten-day break for the Christmas holidays. The second semester begins in February and finishes at the end of July. During this semester there is a three-day break for the Carnival season (a date that changes every year and usually occurs in February) and one or two weeks for the Easter holidays (also a movable date that takes place in March or April).

The assessment calendar is set by the responsible legal body provided for in the statutes, after consultation with the scientific or technical-scientific council and the pedagogical council. Normally there are two examinations periods:

- the first between the end of December and the first week of February.

- the second between the beginning of June and the end of July.

As a complement to Decree-Law No 74/2006, the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (Agência de Avaliação e Acreditação do Ensino Superior - A3ES) was created via Decree-Law No 369/2007, 5 November and is an independent body responsible for assessing and accrediting higher education institutions and their study cycles as part of higher education quality assurance system.

The legal framework for higher education assessment applied by the A3ES is approved by Law No 38/2007, 16 August.

The study cycles leading to academic degrees lacks accreditation by the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education and subsequent registration with the Directorate General for Higher Education. This registration implies general validity of the degree(s) granted.

Law No 62/2007, 10 September, amended by Law No 16/2023, 10 April, establishes the legal framework for higher education institutions, regulating their creation, duties and organization, the operation and responsibilities of their different bodies and even the overseeing and supervision by the state, as part of its autonomy.

The general access and enrolment system in higher education is established by Decree-Law No 296-A/98, 25 September, in the wording of Decree-Law No 64-A/2023, 31 July.

There are special enrolment processes regulated by Decree-Law No 113/2014, 16 July, amended by Decree-Law No 63/2016, 13 September, No 11/2020, 2 April, No 77-A/2021, 27 August and No 64-A/2023, 31 July,  which are designed for candidates with particular academic achievement profiles, such as:

  • Students who have passed exams ministered to assess the ability to attend higher education of those students over 23.
  • Holders of a technological specialisation diploma.
  • Holders of a Technical Higher Education diploma.
  • Holders of other higher education qualifications.
  • Holders of a bachelor degree for entering Medicine.
  • International students.
  • Holders of upper secondary level dual certification courses and specialised artistic courses.

Decree-Law No 11/2020, 2 April, created the special application system for higher education for holders of dual certification courses in upper secondary education and specialised artistic courses.

The special application is voluntary and available to higher education institutions, universities and polytechnics, which can now provide a new entrance route to first cycle degrees and integrated master’s, matching specific skills of graduates of the educational and training provision covered by this decree law.

All students, including those on vocationally oriented courses, can apply for the National Access Application for all courses. In these cases, students can take the national final exams they choose as entrance exams for higher education, when they intend to enter study cycles that are only entered via the appropriate routes for students with science-humanities education.

Law No 37/2003, 22 August, establishes the funding basis of higher education, which is based in a three-way relationship between the state and HEIs, students and HEIs, and the state and students. This law was amended by Law No 49/2005, 30 August, by Law No 62/2007, 10 September, by Law No 7-A/2016, 30 March, by Law No 42/2016, 28 December, by Law No 68/2017, 9 August, by Law No 114/2017, 29 December, Law No. 42/2019, 21 June and by Law No 75/2019, 2 September.

As part of the amendment of Decree-Law No 74/2006, 24 March, by Decree-Law No 63/2016, 13 September, the rules governing vocational and technical higher education were incorporated into the legal framework for higher education degrees and diplomas. This is because the technical higher education diploma granted by these courses is a higher education diploma.

In February 2023, the 23rd Constitutional Government revised the higher education access system, employing a process of reflection and public discussion between the education and higher education ministerial departments.

For further information about ongoing reforms in higher education see Subchapter 14.4 National Reforms in Higher Education.

Foreign student statute

International students can access undergraduate studies and integrated Master’s studies  through a special access application (Decree-Law No 36/2014, 10 March, amended and republished by Decree-Law No 62/2018, 6 August and amended by Decree-Law No 77-A/2021, 27 August).

The current International Student Statute, which facilitates access to Portuguese higher education for foreign students, enables HEIs to charge fees above the threshold fixed by law for Portuguese students.

These students will be admitted exclusively through the above-mentioned special application. Candidates can apply if they have a diploma that allows access to higher education in the country where it was obtained, or if they have completed Portuguese upper secondary education or an equivalent study cycle.

Students admitted in this new application will not be considered for state higher education funding. However, in accordance with the laws governing the financing of higher education, state institutions may set different fees, taking into account the actual cost of the training course.

The approval of this legislation does not affect the special arrangements for access and admission to higher education for scholarship students from African Portuguese-speaking countries, within the framework of cooperation agreements signed by the Portuguese State.

It is important to note that this legislation is part of the strategy of internationalization of higher education.

For further information about ongoing reforms on Higher Education see Subchapter 14.4 National Reforms in Higher Education.