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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
National reforms in higher education


14.Ongoing reforms and policy developments

14.4National reforms in higher education

Last update: 14 September 2023


Creation of the Cyber Academia and Innovation Hub

The government created the Cyber Academia and Innovation Hub (CAIH), a non-profit association, via Decree-Law No. 34/2023, 23 May to encourage an alignment of interests between industry, the business community, higher education institutions and public administration, specifically the Ministry of Defence.

Focussed on implementing cybersecurity and cyber-defence policies associated with national security and defence, CAIH's mission is to act in the public interest, promoting training and exercises, as well as boosting research, development and innovation in the field of cyberspace. By doing so, it aims to support the national and international ecosystem with the knowledge and skills needed by a new generation of professionals, as well as supporting capabilities regarding cybersecurity and cyber-defence.

In addition to defence, CAIH includes bodies in other governmental areas, such as home affairs, justice, economy and the sea, education, science, technology, higher education and digitisation, and administrative modernisation.

Read here for more information.

More higher education places for deprived students

Deprived students are underrepresented in the higher education system overall, as well as in the most competitive courses. To solve the problem, starting next academic year (2023/2024), over 2,000 National Access System places will be allocated to deprived students.

To this end, those students benefiting from Social Support level A who apply to the National Access System will be prioritised in the allocation of at least two places in each study cycle (2% of the places). 

Although this is a pilot scheme and not compulsory for public higher education institutions, all decided to be involved, marking another step towards equity of access to higher education in Portugal.

For more information, see the Government website

Setting places in higher education

At the end of May, the number of places for special applications and special regimes with regard to public and private higher education (2023-2024) were divulged, thus setting the places for all admission paths.

In addition to the 54 733 places already announced in early April for the general access system, there are now 20 943 more places available in public higher education, distributed among the different special application systems for the over-23s, international students, holders of higher education and post-secondary qualifications, those changing courses, graduates of vocationally oriented courses and graduate entry to medical school. These places also include special regimes for students from Portuguese-speaking African countries and East Timor, as well as for high-level sportspeople, among other situations.

As for private higher education, in addition to setting 17 592 places through the general admission system (institutional application systems), a further 5 564 places are offered in special admissions applications for candidates over 23 years old, international students, holders of higher education and post-secondary qualifications, those changing courses and graduates of vocationally oriented courses.

For the next academic year (2023/2024), there will be a total of 98 832 places available in higher education.

Revision of the higher education access system

Following the reflection and public discussion phases regarding revision of the higher education access system between October 2022 and February 2023, the main policy measures include the following:

  • notification of places for the general admission regime and all special applications will now take place in the first quarter of the year (predominantly in January), four or five months earlier than the current schedule
  • diversified access routes to HEI and institutions’ greater autonomy and accountability have been greatly enhanced with a) the simplification of guidelines and limits determining places for the general regime and special applications, b) with the reduction of exceptional situations, c) with fewer criteria for limiting the autonomy of the HEI but d) with greater demands and regulation regarding the limits of study cycle accreditation
  • bringing forward the entire calendar for national access placements, ensuring a minimum 15-day gap between first phase placements and the beginning of teaching (currently non-existent) and all other students placed by the CNA (national admission application) during September, ensuring that all new students begin at practically the same time. This policy means that students placed in the second and third phases avoiding losing three and six weeks of classes respectively
  • increasing the number of entrance examinations required for the national admission application system to two or three. This is to be defined by higher education institutions, with the CNAES (National Commission on Access to Higher Education) or legislation able to set the list of examinations in certain areas (e.g. engineering, medicine)
  • altering the formula for calculating the application grade for the national admission application system, which will now consider:
    • the final upper secondary education grade counting for no less than 40%
    • the entrance examination grades counting for no less than 45%, with the weight of each entrance examination varying between 15% and 30%
    • when required, the grade for seriation prerequisites, counting no more than 15%
    • the weight of the entrance examinations cannot be less than the weight of the final upper secondary school grade.
  • creating a priority quota of underprivileged students, with 2% of places for each study cycle (or 2 places) for beneficiaries of level A school social assistance
  • extending the priority quota for emigrant candidates, family members who live with them and Portuguese descendants to the second phase of the national admission application. As such, this category of candidate can still be admitted in the first stage (up to 7% of the initial places of the first stage in each institution/study cycle pair) and 3.5% in the second stage.
  • increasing the number of places for candidates over 23 years old, establishing a minimum number of 5% of all the places established, considering all admission routes, whereas previously it was 5% of general admission places.

Supporting refugee students from Ukraine in higher education

Portugal supports war victims and the reconstruction of Ukraine, helping those affected to continue studying and working in the country, integrating refugees in higher education institutions, regardless of their nationality. Applying the status of student in emergency situations for humanitarian reasons has guaranteed refugee students:

  • exceptional parity with Portuguese students regarding payment of the various fees (e.g. tuition)
  • access to scholarships, meals in canteens and bars, accommodation and access to health services
  • when qualifications cannot be proven using documents, higher education institutions can undertake alternative procedures to verify such claims via the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees
  • a waiver of legalisation formalities for documents issued by foreign entities, certification or authentication of translations into Portuguese of documents written in a foreign language, certification of copies, exemption of taxes and fees

By 28 February 2023, 327 students who have taken refuge from the military conflict in Ukraine have enrolled in higher education. 134 graduates are enrolled on courses to complete the training pathways necessary to access a regulated profession where their degree is not sufficient, while 300 Ukrainian academic degrees have been recognised and 1.8 million euros in scholarships are planned. These efforts will be continued as long as necessary, so that no one loses hope for a future of peace and prosperity.

Programme to promote good mental health in higher education students

In conjunction with the National Mental Health Programme and the Ministry of Health, the Programme to Promote Good Mental Health in Higher Education Students will be launched in the 2022/2023 academic year. This programme will support HEIs to consolidate psychological support mechanisms for students and implement early intervention strategies and a preventive approach.

Programme to promote success and reduce dropouts in higher education

Focussing primarily on new students, this programme has been launched to promote success and reduce dropouts, employing a tutor and mentor. The programme recently approved applications from 24 higher education institutions, funding projects with over 6.6 million euros from the European Social Fund and will soon be open to the regions of Lisbon, Algarve, Azores and Madeira to support the institutions located there.

The projects focus on the academic integration of first-time students in higher education, adhering to scientific evidence that indicates this particular year as decisive for preventing failure and dropout.

Several publicly funded projects are underway, such as dropout prediction mechanisms based on artificial intelligence. They have been developed using the HEI’s experience and knowledge of such phenomena, prizing the experience accumulated in mentoring and tutoring programmes, centring efforts on the integration and monitoring of groups more prone to failure and dropout.

Extraordinary scholarship consolidation

Considering the cost of living, and to offset the effect of inflation on students' spending power, the following measures were decided in December 2022 and will take effect, extraordinarily, in the 2022-2023 academic year:

  • a 10% increase in grants for higher education students on a scholarship
  • a 5% increase in accommodation supplements when these scholarship holders are displaced
  • a 50% increase in mobility supplements for scholarship holders undertaking Erasmus mobility programmes
  • specific accommodation costs support for all displaced public and private higher education students from families earning the national minimum wage (calculated by their inclusion in the third family allowance scale) and who do not have a scholarship, extending housing support (currently only available to scholarship students belonging to households with income up to €9,484.27 per capita, per year) to all households with income up to €10,548.16 per capita, per year.

National higher education accommodation plan (PNAES)

The National Higher Education Accommodation Plan (PNAES - Plano nacional para o alojamento no ensino superior) is the largest investment ever in student accommodation and the largest investment in higher education buildings in recent decades. The initial allocation of €375 million was boosted with another €72 million for construction and building renovation that will house over 18,000 beds. In 2026 there will be more than 26,000 beds for students. Comparing 2021 and 2026, the number of residences will increase from 157 to 246, and the number of beds from 15,073 to 26,868, an increase of 78% on current capacity.

Increase in the number of places in higher education

Given the country’s qualification goals and the high number of candidates able to enter higher education, extraordinary measures were needed to boost the places available through the general admission application, much like the last two years. This consolidation sought to highlight courses with the greatest demand, with the greatest number of first-option applicants and highest application grades. The number of places initially set for the 2022 national admission application represented an increase of 2.6% compared to the previous year.

A total of 49,806 new students were placed in the first phase of the national admission application for the 2022-2023 academic year in public higher education, with 84% placed in one of their first three options. The total of places represents the second highest number since 1989, with 81% of the national admission application candidates placed, increasing the placement rate by 4% compared to 2021 and demonstrating a growing match between student demand and institutional supply.

The number of students placed in institutions located in regions with lower population density increased by 6% (13,351 students placed), with several institutions in the country’s interior boosting numbers compared with the previous year.

A total of 7,327 students were placed on courses in the areas of digital skills, data sciences and advanced information systems, space sciences and technologies and aerospace engineering, which represents an increase of 9% compared to 2021.

Admission of vocational education students into higher education

In the 2022/23 academic year, 2,572 new places on 516 first-cycle and integrated master's degrees were made available to students who completed upper secondary education through vocational pathways and specialised artistic courses.


Measures to support higher education students

The following measures were implemented to combat inequalities and bolster the Portuguese population’s qualification levels, specifically 50% of graduates in the 30-34 age bracket by 2030:

a) An automatic scholarship in higher education for all students who are in the first, second or third family allowance bracket, and who enter via the national public higher education application system

b) Extending +Superior grants (worth 1,700 euros per year) to all students on scholarships (as a consequence of the previous measure, for those who are in the first, second or third family allowance bracket), this grant being attributed in addition to scholarships

c) A new complement to the study grant (worth a maximum of 250 euros per year) that aims to support grant holders’ travel between their place of residence and the institutions they attend

d) An accommodation complement for those scholarship students who are studying away from their usual country of residence, such as students in emergency situations for humanitarian reasons or those benefiting from temporary protection, as well as Portuguese emigrants studying in higher education in Portugal

e) Increasing the scholarship eligibility threshold from 18 to 19 times the social support index

f) Increasing the value of scholarships for masters' degrees, to better reflect the cost of tuition fees actually paid

g) Creating 2,572 places (2022-2023 academic year) for students who have completed upper secondary education via vocational pathways and specialised artistic courses, as part of the special application process for students completing dual certification courses of this kind.

National plan for accommodation in higher education

To provide an integrated and long-term response to the need for affordable accommodation for higher education students throughout the country, the Government has created a student accommodation investment programme, as part of the Recovery and Resilience Plan, funding the National Plan for Accommodation in Higher Education (PNAES). The Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education and the National Agency for ERASMUS + Education and Training, within their remit, called for "expressions of interest" from developers to submit proposals for higher education student residence projects by the end of February 2022.

COVID-19 - Resumption of classroom teaching and non-teaching activities

The Council of Ministers (January 2022) approved the amendment of measures regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, to adapt them to the current situation, as well as the considered reduction of restrictions set during the recent festive period. As stipulated in Decree-Law No 104/2021, 27 November, as of 10 January 2022, suspension of face-to-face teaching and non-teaching activities of HEIs ended, which should make institutions fully functional, without prejudice to the compulsory teleworking regime in the situations foreseen in the law. It was also recommended that scientific and higher education institutions ensure face-to-face activities in compliance with health authorities’ recommendations and technical standards in force, regarding health and hygiene, guaranteeing physical distance and use of individual protection equipment (e.g., masks for general use), in all areas of the institutions.

Public investment programme in research and development for 2021-2030

Council of Ministers Resolution No 186/2021 was approved on 21 December 2021, approving the public investment programme in research and development for 2021-2030. This resolution enshrines European terms of reference, while reforming and modernising mechanisms that support knowledge supply and demand through R&D activities. It includes support for innovation and promotion of scientific culture, strengthening and modernising national scientific and technological capacity, accelerating the dual digital and climate transition. Interface relations between knowledge supply and demand thus evolves, reconfiguring the knowledge-based economy and the creation of skilled jobs, as well as scientific, social and environmental robustness.

Vocational students in higher education

In the 2021/22 academic year, there were 2,524 new places in 493 undergraduate and integrated master's degrees for students who have completed upper secondary education, through vocational pathways and specialised artistic courses.  


Scholarship awards for higher education students

Some regulatory changes have been made to the scholarship awards for higher education students for the 2020/21 academic year. This was done to broaden the social support base and streamline the attribution process, as well as adapt its application to the pandemic of the previous academic year. Important measures include:

  • Setting a minimum scholarship of 125 % of the tuition fee.
  • Increasing the scholarship eligibility threshold from 16 to 18 times the Social Support Index.
  • Automatic attribution to 1st-year students, first time beneficiaries of level one family allowance.
  • Automatic attribution to scholarship students who finish a course and continue their studies ("between cycles").
  • Increasing the non-residence housing complement, with higher sums for regions where the cost of renting is greater.
  • Possibility of recalculating the scholarship considering 2020’s income (or the last 12 months), to support students with a reduction in income due to COVID-19.

Vocational students in higher education

For the 2020/21 academic year, there were 2,615 new places (covering 456 first-cycle degrees) for students who have completed upper secondary education via vocational pathways and specialised arts courses.

This new access route aims to improve the Portuguese population’s qualifications and skills, broadening the social base of higher education access for students who do not come from science-humanities upper secondary courses. Although 45 % of upper secondary school students attend vocationally oriented courses, their representation in higher education is poor. By 2023, the aim is for 40% of students on vocational pathways to enter higher education (around 10,000 enrolments).

Another objective is to increase adult participation in higher education so that by 2023, adults will account for about 10 % of new students on 1st-cycle degree courses offered by polytechnics and universities.

Recommendation to higher education institutions for the 2020/21 academic year

The negative development of Portugal’s epidemiological situation in early 2021 and the government’s decision to suspend teaching and non-teaching classroom activities on 21 January 2021, forced scientific and higher education institutions to temporarily adapt their activities to the new situation and the extraordinary state of emergency. To this end, on the same day, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education issued a recommendation to higher education institutions, as part of their management, pedagogical and scientific autonomy, to:

  • adapt ongoing activities (teaching, non-teaching and research) to the non-face-to-face regime, including student assessment.
  • adapt procedures to mitigate the risk of contagion by COVID-19 in situations where face-to-face assessment activities are considered essential and cannot be postponed.
  • ensure that telework is compulsory whenever compatible with staff duties.
  • identify the essential services that must be provided face-to-face.

Recognition of degrees and diplomas issued by foreign HEIs

Recognition in Portugal of higher education academic degrees and diplomas awarded by foreign higher education institutions has been regulated since 1 January 2019 by Decree-Law No 66/2018, which revokes Decree-Law No 283/83 and Decree-Law No 341/2007.

The new decree-law standardises procedures for foreign qualification recognition, making them more transparent, equitable and straightforward, amending previous regimes to better clarify concepts and extend recognition of foreign qualifications to higher education diplomas that do not confer an academic degree, with level, objectives and character identical to higher technical vocational courses. The legislation simplifies procedures, establishing a precedence system for level recognition, which provides a more automatic process regarding decisions, avoiding repetition, reducing costs and response times.