Based on the key higher education policy objective of improving the suitability of educational provision, both for the diversity of demand and the country's need for qualified professionals, a cycle of non-degree higher education studies was created and regulated by Decree-law No 43/2014, 18 March. This is a short cycle linked to the first cycle designated vocational and technical higher education courses (Cursos técnicos superiores profissionais - CTeSP).
However, there were parts of this legislation that were not compatible with the character and vocation of a higher education course, nor with the autonomy of the institutions that teach them, which is why modification was important.
Decree-Law No 63/2016, 13 September, amended the legal provisions regulating vocational and technical higher technical courses, thus facilitating their role as a short higher education cycle linked to the first cycle (bachelor's degree) effectively. It included them in the legal framework for higher education degrees and diplomas, Decree-Law No 74/2006, 24 March, successively amended and republished by Decree-Law No 65/2018, 16 August.
Within higher education, vocational and technical higher education courses (CTeSP) gradually replaced specialised technological courses (cursos de especialização tecnológica - CET), benefiting from the existing training capacity in institutions offering polytechnic education at undergraduate and master’s level.
These courses provide a sense of continuity to the vocational training provided at upper secondary level and are linked to the needs of the regional business community, meeting the needs of the economy and the regions in which they will operation.
The expansion and diversification of higher education provision in Portugal and the increase in HE graduates contribute to the improvement of national competitiveness.
Creating courses involves a registration process, which includes an analysis by the Directorate-General for Higher Education that considers a set of requirements.
In addition to this, vocational and technical higher education courses (CTeSP) are subject to a quality assessment consisting of:
- self-assessment, carried out by each HEI, according to the parameters defined by the steering committee created for these courses.
- external assessment conducted according to the parameters defined by a steering committee and experts designated by the Directorate-General for Higher Education.
Branches of study
The training areas in which each HEI awards the technical higher education diploma are defined by each institution's legally and statutorily competent body, considering the training needs in the region within which it operates.
The technical higher education diploma in a certain training area can only be awarded by HEIs, that have:
- their own educational, scientific and cultural project, appropriate to the objectives established for the study cycle leading to it.
- their own teaching staff, qualified in the particular area, and in sufficient number. Most of these should be experts with recognised experience and professional skills.
- the human resources and materials necessary to ensure the appropriate level and quality of training, including suitable classrooms and lecture halls, equipment, libraries and laboratories.
Those eligible to apply for these courses are:
- students who have passed an upper secondary education course or legally equivalent qualification, as well as students who have passed the special entrance tests that assess their ability to attend higher education for people over 23, according to Decree-Law No 64/2006, 21 March, amended by Decree-Law No 63/2016, 13 September;
- holders of a technological specialisation diploma, a technical higher education diploma or a higher education degree, who wish to retrain.
The admission requirements for each vocational and technical higher technical course are set by the individual HEI, according to the respective training area, and established in the course description.
Admission requirements, as well as their verification, are established by regulations approved by the individual HEI’s legal and statutory competent body, as previously published in the second series of the Diário da República. The assessment of admission requirements is linked to the knowledge and skills that corresponds to the upper secondary level of education in the areas relevant to each course.
In terms of the registration process, each institution/study cycle defines the maximum number of students enrolled in each academic year and the total maximum number of students enrolled at the same time.
These limits can be subsequently modified through amendment of the profile, provided that the HEI proves the existence of demand and the right teaching conditions.
The vocational and technical higher education courses programmes have 120 ECTS credits and last for four semesters.
They consist of a set of courses divided into the following training components:
- general and scientific: aims to instil appropriate attitudes and behaviour in professionals with a high level of vocational qualifications and adaptability to the world of work and business. They also hone, where essential, knowledge of scientific areas underlying the individual technologies of the respective training area;
- technical, geared towards the understanding of practical activities and solving professional problems.
- work setting (internships): aims to apply the knowledge and skills acquired to practical activities associated with the respective professional/career profile, including supervised activities, using techniques, equipment and material involved in the production of goods or services via an internship.
Organisation of the vocational and technical higher education courses curricula must meet the following criteria:
- for the combined credits of general and scientific training with technical training components, the first corresponds to a maximum of 30% and the second no less than 70%.
- in the technical training component, all practical aspects (laboratories, workshops and/or projects) must correspond to at least 70% of contact hours.
- the work setting training component lasts no less than a semester, corresponding to 30 credits.
These courses operate during the normal academic year.
HEIs can define the teaching methods applicable to each technical higher education course.
A bibliography and recommended teaching resources for the course are presented as part of the registration process for courses.
Progression of students
Knowledge evaluation in CTeSP is conducted in accordance with the standards established in each course's regulations, complemented by the evaluation methods defined in the curricular unit record.
Higher education institutions collect information on their graduates’ career paths and publish a summary.
The methodology used to collect and disseminate the information is common to all institutions and is stipulated by dispatch of the Director General for Higher Education, after consulting HEIs and the steering committee.
The information should be considered as part of the annual processes of establishing available places and quality assessment.
Higher education institutions are free to define their own assessment methods.
The technical higher education diploma is awarded by polytechnics to those students who:
- possess the knowledge and capacity to understand a specific area of education to a level which:
o building on secondary education level knowledge, allows the student to develop it in greater depth.
o allows the student to use advanced learning materials.
o constitutes the basis for a professional activity, personal development and further studies, to conclude a study cycle leading to a bachelor’s degree.
- can apply the acquired knowledge in professional settings.
- can identify and use information to respond to well-defined concrete and abstract problems.
- possess the skills that allows them to communicate their understanding of the issues, skills and activities with peers, supervisors and customers/clients.
- possess the learning skills that enable them to study with a degree of autonomy.
The technical higher education diplomas are registered by the relevant body of the respective higher education institution.
The granting of the technical higher education diploma must be registered on an electronic platform.
Holders of a technical higher education diploma can enter the undergraduate and integrated master's degree cycles. Access is gained through a special application system regulated by Decree-Law No 113/2014, 16 July, modified by Decree-Law No 63/2016, 13 September.
Many higher education institutions (HEIs) have offered distance learning for years via e-learning and b-learning systems.
This occurs at different education levels, such as these shorter options, in degree or non-degree courses, as well as in modular and flexible options, both in terms of content and when they are studied.
In addition to the opportunities and dynamics created when they were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HEIs have institutional and pedagogical autonomy to define what provision and type of education they offer in this format.
The main objectives of this format are:
- to give students freedom to organise their work according to their availability, while working to deadlines
- to meet the needs of working professionals who want to enter the system, and to create a closer relationship between university and student
- to make learning more flexible and student-centred
- to contribute to sustainability and the environment
This teaching and learning model also aims to promote digital inclusion, social development, internationalisation, pedagogical and curricular innovation, as well as the acquisition of new knowledge and working methods.
The criteria for access, progression and certification are the same as face-to-face teaching and learning.
Portugal also has a public institution dedicated to distance learning (e-learning) - Universidade Aberta.