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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Mobility in higher education


13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.2Mobility in higher education

Last update: 30 March 2024

Student mobility

It is the Portuguese government’s firm conviction that student mobility is a great opportunity. As such, it aims to offer most students access to at least a short period of mobility, not only for the experience and chance to benefit from a different education system, but also for the soft skills that can be acquired. For this reason, there has been a conscious effort to remove obstacles to mobility, invest in the modernisation and internationalisation of higher education institutions (HEIs), consolidate the implementation of the Bologna Process and develop quality assurance through a system of evaluation and accreditation. Given this priority, various programs and initiatives have been implemented and promoted, both nationally and internationally.

Regarding the obstacles to student mobility, one of the difficulties is economic. Therefore, the State supports disadvantaged students on vocational and technical higher education courses and in first and second cycles, to help pay for tuition, housing, meals, books, etc. These 'social grants' are transferable and exist for both public and private HEIs. Although no student can survive on the subsidy alone, this represents substantial financial aid.

Despatch No 10973-D/2014 (2nd series), 27 August, created a mobility supplement for scholarship students who are beneficiaries of the Erasmus+ programme. This measure’s main objective is to facilitate access to the programme, and specifically to assist mobility in higher education for study/traineeship or placements for students who find participation difficult for economic reasons. 

In the third cycle and at post-doctoral level, a significant percentage of scholarships are given to students enrolled in foreign universities or joint research programmes, including through scientific research grants and other grants awarded by the Science and Technology Foundation.

Obtaining entry visas can also be considered another obstacle to mobility, particularly for students/teachers in third countries. However, in 2007 a new immigration law was adopted in Portugal (Law No 23/2007, 4 July, later amended, whose latest version is Law No 28/2019, 29 March), which transposed various EU Directives into national law, in particular policies on visas for students and researchers from third countries (2004/114/EC and 2005/71/EC). This measure made it easier and quicker to issue visas for these categories. Additionally, Ordinance No 208/2008, 27 February, establishes a procedure for expeditious issue of visas for students from third countries participating in European programmes or the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries.

Most recently, Regulatory Decree No 9/2018, 11 September, streamlined and simplified the visa process and residence permits for those aiming to study in higher education. In 2019, Ordinance No 111/2019, 12 April was published, which further simplified the process of access and permanence for international students in Portugal, through an effective coordination between HEIs, the Directorate-General of Higher Education, the Directorate-General of Consular Affairs and Portuguese Communities and the Foreigners and Borders Service. 

In 2022, there were new changes to the Immigration Law. These alterations aim to simplify procedures for obtaining visas, granting and renewing residence permits submitted by nationals of Portuguese-speaking member states (CPLP Visa applicants), extending time period to holders of residence permits for research, study, professional internship or voluntary work, not forgetting the Temporary Stay Visa and the residence permit for digital nomads. All these modifications are once again designed to simplify and modernise procedures for all those who come to Portugal.

Moreover, these measures have facilitated the participation in programmes involving participants from outside the EU, such as International Credit Mobility (ICM) of the Erasmus+ Programme, Erasmus Mundus Actions and other bilateral cooperation, insofar as the visa process is complete in 30 days.

In addition to exchange programmes and cooperation agreements, students can also take advantage of autonomous mobility, insofar as Portuguese HEIs have adopted the Bologna process. 

Student and staff mobility has also been facilitated with the revision of national legislation on foreign higher education degree and diploma recognition (Decree-Law No 66/2018, 16 August). This procedure, which is unexpensive and completed within a maximum of 30 days, uses a simplified recognition mechanism, based on the principle of mutual trust that should replace the equivalence procedure based on the scientific re-evaluation of the work done. 

A committee of specialists analyses foreign higher education systems, assessing their comparability with national degrees, deliberates and recognises the degrees that are part of a growing list that currently includes 27 EU countries, 5 other countries that signed the Bologna Declaration, as well as Brazil, the USA, Canada and Macau.
This type of recognition also includes a simplified mechanism for converting final grades for most of these countries. This system removes many of the obstacles, bureaucratic hurdles and delays to the free movement of graduates who wish to work or study in Portugal.
The Directorate General of Higher Education (DGES) is the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education’s core service that deals with all issues related to international cooperation, mobility and recognition in higher education, promoting and supporting its internationalisation.

Participation in EU programmes

Erasmus+ Programme

In the Erasmus+ programme, student mobility for studies and/or traineeships, during the study period and one year after the completion of a degree, are included in Key Action 1: Learning Mobility of Individuals. This aims to develop competences, broaden understanding on practices and policies in different countries, enhance learning quality, encourage modernisation and internationalisation of the HEIs involved, promote the mobility of students, teachers and other staff working in HEIs.

Unsurprisingly, transnational mobility between 2020 and 2021 was affected by the pandemic in all participating countries, with the European Commission allowing the delay of activities, and the option to combine online and/or face-to-face activities, between the country of the home institution and the host country. Subsequently, transnational mobility has also suffered the effects of the conflict in Ukraine that began in February 2022.

With Erasmus+ 2021-2027, any study or internship period abroad (including mobility of doctorate students) can take the form of mixed mobility, i.e. combining physical mobility with a virtual component. Mobility can be 100 % virtual only in situations of force majeure validated by the National Agency.
The Erasmus+ Programme has seen increased participation from higher education students and is now the main source of funding for transnational mobility of students, teachers and academic staff, relevant in the context of the internationalisation of HEIs.
Portugal adopted the European Quality Charter for Mobility (Erasmus Student Charter), reinforcing the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education – (ECHE ). As such, Erasmus+ student mobility for studies (SMS) and/or traineeship (SMT), centrepieces of Erasmus + Programme (for higher education), provides additional quality assurance.
Students with fewer opportunities and less inclined to participate in an Erasmus+ mobility scheme for financial reasons, either due to their economic situation or higher participation costs due to their specific situation, such as students with disabilities, may be offered financial support and possible adjustments to national grants to facilitate their inclusion.

The Erasmus Charter for Higher Education - ECHE is a pre-requisite for HEIs that wish to participate in the Erasmus+ Programme, regardless of the type envisaged: student and new graduates mobility; teaching staff or other institution staff (included in Key Action 1 – Learning Mobility of Individuals); or strategic partnerships and knowledge alliances (Key Action 2 - Cooperation among organisations and institutions (centralised Action).

Applications for ECHE accreditation occur annually in order to reach a growing number of HEIs throughout Europe. Those institutions with positive monitoring benefit from simplified procedures.

In Portugal, there are approximately 90 HEIs involved with Erasmus+ every year. At the beginning of the 2021-2027 Programme, 84 institutions obtained the Erasmus/ECHE Charter.

Student mobility for studies (SMS), which is implemented by HEIs, promotes student exchanges within Europe or to third countries, via International Credit Mobility (ICM), enabling mobility to study at a partner HEI for a period of two to 12 months. This specifically meets the programme’s aim to support the creation of a European Higher Education Area and seeks to:

  • contribute to the development of quality lifelong learning and the opportunities it affords.
  • consolidate personal fulfilment, social cohesion, active citizenship and European citizenship.
  • promote creativity, competitiveness and employability.
  • increase participation in lifelong learning.
  • promote learning and linguistic diversity.
  • explore the results, innovative processes and products.

The student mobility for traineeships involves student exchange in the European area or to third countries via International Credit Mobility for periods between two to 12 months, for traineeships at enterprises that have signed protocols. This traineeship aims to:

  • help students adapt to the demands of the EU labour market.
  • allow students to develop competences, like learning a new language and improve knowledge about the economic, social and cultural situation of a country while acquiring work experience.
  • promote cooperation between HEIs and enterprises.
  • contribute to the development of a group of future, international-class professionals who are well-qualified, experienced and open-minded.

Traineeship mobility also includes new graduates (up to 12 months after completing their degree). The application has to be undertaken via the student’s regular HEI during the last graduation year.

The Erasmus+ cycle (2021-2027) makes it possible for students to enjoy up to 12 months of mobility per study cycle, combining mobility for studies and traineeships up to one year after course completion. There is no limit to the number of times students can undertake the same type of mobility, provided that the established minimum number of months is respected (at least two months mobility for studies or placements/traineeships).

Institutions can participate in the programme individually and/or within a national consortium, thus achieving better cooperation between HEIs and businesses, while improving employability amongst higher education graduates.

The Erasmus Consortia (of HEIs) include all types of mobility (studies, placements, teaching assignments and teaching and non-teaching staff training).

Authorities responsible for organising and coordinating

HEIs must manage projects, Erasmus+ grants allocated to them annually (via application) and, in addition to academic and institutional responsibilities, they oversee candidate selection, the organisation and completion of application processes, the transfer of funds to students, monitoring mobility, as well as information and dissemination activities. The HEIs performance in these areas is reported to National Agency, which manages and supervises the programme at national level.

Validation and recognition

Key Action 1 allows students of Portuguese HEIs to take advantage of an integrated period of study (between two and 12 months) or internship abroad (between two and 12 months, without any academic obstacle to return to their HEI regarding the validation or recognition of study periods abroad. Responsibility for recognition through the ECTS in the case of SMS, or by other means in the case of SMT, is the responsibility of the HEIs involved.

Validation and recognition of mobility periods for learning (formal or non-formal) necessarily involved transparency as a pre-requisite for obtaining qualifications within the European space, emphasising experience and learning in the context of mobility. 

Certification of periods of study and/or internship are important in relation to mobility processes. The Erasmus+ 2021-2027 cycle maintains the same principle, ensuring the recognition of mobility periods by attributing several previously defined ECTS for studies or traineeships, by all parties in the "Learning Agreement" or "Traineeship Agreement”, and the record of mobility competences and knowledge via Europass (Mobility and Diploma Supplement), in the case of extracurricular traineeships or post-graduate courses.

Erasmus Mundus joint master's degrees

Portugal has been extremely active in the Erasmus Mundus Actions since the implementation of the first phase (2004-2008).  Through these joint actions and legislation regulating joint degrees (Decree Law No 67/2005, 25 March, and Decree Law No 74/2006, 24 March, amended by Decree-Law No 107/2008, 25 June, No 230/2009, 14 September, and No 115/2013, 7 August) this programme has also helped to implement the Bologna Process and to internationalise Portuguese higher education, through integrated partnerships.

The Erasmus Mundus Actions, which promote mobility and cooperation with countries outside Europe are managed within the Erasmus+ Programme, by the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA).

European universities initiative

Part of the European Commission's vision, presented in 2017 regarding the press release "Towards a European Education Area by 2025: promoting European identity through education and culture", an opportunity taken by the leaders of EU member states to discuss how to promote European cooperation in the areas of education and culture, the European Universities Initiative, a pilot action funded by Erasmus+, complemented with support from the Horizon 2020 Programme, has benefited from four applications, with increasing levels of funding, totalling in 2023 around 387 million euros, with significant take-up from the HEIs. At the end of 2023, the initiative had 50 alliances operating, with 19 Portuguese HEIs participating in 17 alliances, coordinating three. In 2024, the initiative's goal is to number 60 alliances, involving around 500 European HEIs. The next application, which is scheduled for 2026, will aim to guarantee sustainable funding for alliances until 2028-2029. To do so, the European Commission is already working with European university alliances, other organisations - stakeholders in higher education - and EU countries on an investment pathway for European university alliances beyond 2028/29.

These innovative EU University networks will enable new joint training, as well as the testing and development of original pedagogies and curricula, allowing students to obtain a degree via the combination of studies in different EU countries, building bridges between higher education, research, innovation and society, and contribute to European HEIs’ international competitiveness. This flagship initiative has been a great success and has seen its budget increased, contributing to the creation of a European Education Area, decisively contributing to achieving the ambitious vision of an innovative, globally competitive and attractive European Education Area and European Research Area, in full synergy with the European Higher Education Area.

National programmes

The Camões - Institute for Cooperation and Language, IP, (Camões, I.P.), which is overseen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has a scholarship programme for students from Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and East Timor, to study in Portugal. Camões, IP, offers important opportunities for students from these countries, awarding them scholarships for bachelor’s degrees (licenciatura), for a period of 12 months that may be renewed for the number of years of their course. This also applies at post-graduate levels, for master's (mestrado) and doctorate (doutoramento) degrees. These scholarships for post-graduates are also granted for periods of 12 months, in the case of masters (second cycle) they may be renewed for an equal period, but only once; for doctorates (third cycle) they are granted for a period of 12 months that can be renewed for equal periods, and a maximum of twice. Other areas of studies, such as military and police studies and law are also covered by special scholarships and programmes. The main goals of these programmes are to: train young graduates in priority areas of development for their country of origin; give priority to applications for non-existent courses in local schools; give priority to scholarships for postgraduate studies.

Camões, I.P., is the national body responsible for implementing external cultural and educational policies, promoting Portuguese culture and language abroad, especially at higher education level. Camões, IP awards scholarships for students and researchers of third countries with the goal of supporting the study and research of the Portuguese language and culture, scientific and professional training in the area of Portuguese as a foreign language and training in the field of translation.

Camões, I.P. provides scholarships for summer courses, annual courses, and research scholarships as follows:

  • Scholarships awarded for summer courses, for a period of one month, non-renewable, in Portuguese language and culture. These are taught in Portuguese universities, or other institutions recognised by Camões, I.P., and are intended for both foreign and Portuguese students who reside abroad and wish to improve their linguistic competences. Applications must be proposed by the respective teachers of Portuguese, in the context of protocols of cooperation signed with Camões, I.P., which stipulates the number of scholarships available.
  • Scholarships awarded under the programme for attendance of annual courses, for a period of 8 months, non-renewable, in Portuguese language and culture, taught in Portuguese HEIs or institutions recognised by Camões, I.P., are intended for both foreign and Portuguese students residing abroad and wishing to improve their linguistic competences.
  • Fernão Mendes Pinto Programme scholarships are awarded for a maximum period of 12 months and are renewable. They are aimed at foreign and Portuguese final-year graduate or undergraduate students who are involved in scientific or professional training projects in the field of Portuguese as a foreign language. This is done via the Camões IP Centres of Portuguese Language, Camões lectureships in foreign HEIs and institutions with protocols with Camões, I.P.
  • Vieira Programme scholarships are awarded for a variable period and may be renewed. They are intended for both Portuguese and foreign graduates residing abroad and involved in training and/or improvement projects in the fields of translation and conference interpreting.
  • Scholarships awarded via the protocol with the Fulbright Commission include two types of programmes: Programme A designed for Portuguese PhD holders and teachers/researchers who wish to pursue academic activities at North American universities for a period between three to 12 months; Programme B aimed at American students (master’s or PhD) who wish to pursue their studies at a Portuguese university, for a period of eight months.

Given the historical and cultural links with China, in 1989, the Instituto Português do Oriente (IPOR) was created and established in Macau. It promotes and preserves Portuguese language and culture in Asia. It also disseminates Asian culture to foster intercultural dialogue and encourage East-West relations. The institute awards scholarships for nationals of the Asia and Pacific region to learn Portuguese at summer courses, as well as one-year language courses at one of the Portuguese HEIs.

The Luso-American Development Foundation, (FLAD - Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento) is a Portuguese institution and was founded by Decree-Law No 168/85, 20 May. Its main goal is to contribute towards economic and social development in Portugal by fostering cooperation between Portugal and the United States in the fields of business, education, science, technology and culture. 

FLAD operates an internationalisation programme in the field of education called Study in Portugal Network, which was set up in 2014 and Lisbon based, having received over 1,200 students since its inception.

FLAD also organised the 1st FLAD Forum on Portugal and USA Higher Education, on 24 and 25 October, 2012, which brought together specialists in internationalisation of higher education from the US, Portugal, and other European countries to share knowledge, experiences, and best practices with representatives of higher education in Portugal.

Over the course of 2022, FLAD offered significant support to institutionalise the internationalisation of Portuguese and American higher education institutions via a call for proposals for EUR 100,000, announced at the FLAD Forum. EUR 25,000 will be granted to each of the four Portuguese institutions (polytechnics and universities) selected, demonstrating a certain regional diversity, with the intention of replicating the call for proposals during 2023 and presenting the results at the next FLAD Forum.

Other support can also be found on its website.

Distance learning

Distance learning in Portugal has also become a priority to boost the internationalisation of higher education. This issue is important, considering that new forms of learning (e-learning and b-learning) do not rely on more traditional learning systems. It facilitates the virtual mobility of learners and of academics of several countries, making higher education accessible to new groups.

Academic staff mobility

European programmes

Erasmus+: Key Action 1 – Learning Mobility of Individuals

Higher education staff mobility remains relevant over the years in Portugal via Key Action 1, and participation has recovered in the post-pandemic period. 

This Key Action is essential for supporting teachers’ and non-teaching staff’s professional development, as well as improving teaching and learning methods, and is also a lever for HEI’s internationalisation. These activities may consist of teaching or training periods (on-the-job monitoring, observation periods, training courses, etc.).

Individual grants are awarded by the home institution based on the regulations issued by the European Commission regarding the funding contract. Mobility grants are a contribution to expenses (travel and board) that are incurred during the scholarship for education and/or training of personnel in a foreign country.

Additional costs regarding measures facilitating inclusion should not justify rejecting a mobility application to any HEIs. As such, financial support measures and possible adjustments of national grants are possible for participants with fewer opportunities and less likely to participate in Erasmus+ mobility for financial reasons, be it due to their economic situation or higher participation costs (ex., people with disabilities).

A period of staff mobility abroad can combine education and training assignments (blended mobility), which can be done by teachers and non-teaching staff and can involve experiences recognised in an academic context. Therefore, it is important to continue to invest in the general recognition of these missions, either as part of curriculum assessment, in the case of teachers, or within the context of performance evaluation, when talking about non-teaching staff.

Erasmus+: Key Action 2 – Cooperation among organisations and institutions

Key Action 2 offers the possibility of partnerhips aimed at  cooperation for innovation among HEIs.  All participating HEIs must hold the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE).

HEIs are responsible for managing the funds allocated, in addition to the academic and institutional responsibilities; such an undertaking includes the selection of candidates, organisation of processes, and information/dissemination activities. The performance of these activities is reported to the National Agency for Erasmus+ Education and Training, which is responsible for the management and oversight of programme performance at national level.

Jean Monnet actions

The Jean Monnet Actions aim to stimulate teaching, research and reflection in the field of European integration studies at the level of higher education institutions within and outside the European Community.

Since 2007 the Jean Monnet  Actions that were part of the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007-2013 continued under the current Erasmus + Program, and the activities centrally managed by DGEAC.

Amongst others, this programme is designed for:

  • Students and researchers who focus on the theme of European integration within the context of any higher education system within the EU or outside of it.
  • Higher education institutions located in the EU or outside of it and recognised as such in their own countries.
  • Teachers or other staff from those institutions.

Erasmus Mundus - joint master's degrees

As already mentioned, Portuguese HEIs have been taking part via consortiums in the Erasmus Mundus Actions since the outset. The Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (JMD) Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (JMD) are prestigious programmes, jointly designed and delivered by a group of higher education institutions from different countries, subsidised by Erasmus+. They combine institutional academic co-operation and individual mobility for students taking part in the joint masters with EU-funded scholarships, while also promoting staff exchanges and visiting academics. The joint masters should contribute to the integration and internationalisation of the European Higher Education Area, improving the attractiveness and excellence of European higher education in the world, acting as a magnet to bring talent to Europe. The National Agency for Erasmus+ Education and Training is the contact point for promoting and linking Erasmus+ Mundus actions regarding their centralised management components.

National programmes

In recent years, Portugal has invested in and promoted the mobility of academic staff and researchers, not only through European and international programmes, but also through national initiatives and policies, such as contracting PhD holders (Portuguese and foreign) to work in Portuguese HEIs and research centres and the creation of visiting professor posts. 

The National Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), is the main governmental agency for funding research in Portugal, regularly offers several mobility schemes for academic and scientific cooperation that can be viewed on its website. In addition to this mobility, the FCT funds doctoral and traineeship grants in Portugal and abroad, through annual calls for applications.

The Portuguese Council of Rectors (Conselho de Reitores das Universidades Portuguesas - CRUP), also manages several co-operation programmes, called "Ações Integradas" (integrated activities), which are R&D projects geared towards encouraging scientific projects and post-graduation studies involving research teams and teaching staff from partner institutions from France and Germany.

Camões, I.P. also awards scholarships for researchers and teachers, which are regularly announced on their website.

The Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) offers grants and scholarships for scientific activities in the United States of America, which are announced on their webpage.