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Third-cycle (PhD) programmes


7.Higher education

7.5Third-cycle (PhD) programmes

Last update: 30 March 2024

Organisation of doctoral studies

The Doctoral (Doutorado) degree (3rd cycle) can be awarded in university education and polytechnic education and corresponds to Level 8 of the National Qualifications Framework (Quadro Nacional de Qualificações - QNQ) and the European Qualifications framework.

Doctoral degrees being awarded in polytechnic education stems from Law No. 16/2023, 10 April, which amends the Education Act and the HEI legal framework.

Although limits to the length of this study cycle are not defined, it usually lasts from six to eight semesters.

The Doctoral degree is conferred in a given field of knowledge or one of its specialist subjects.

The cycle of studies that leads to the Doctoral degree includes:

  • an original thesis, specially written for that purpose, appropriate to the field of knowledge or specialisation, or the compilation of coherent and relevant research, or, in the arts, either a work or set of works accompanied by written documentation.
  • possible completion of curricular units geared towards research training (Doctoral course), whenever the respective regulatory standards foresee it.

Admission requirements

The following candidates can apply for third-cycle studies leading to a Doctoral degree:

  • holders of a master's degree or a legal equivalent.
  • holders of a bachelor’s degree with distinctive academic or scientific curriculum vitae which demonstrates capability for this third cycle of studies and is recognised by the competent scientific body of the university they wish to attend.
  • holders of an academic, scientific or professional curriculum vitae which demonstrates capability for this third cycle of studies and is recognised by the competent scientific body of the university they wish to attend.

Admission requirements to this study cycle, particularly academic and professional history, application rules and selection criteria are overseen by the HEI’s relevant body.

Those who meet the requirements for Doctoral degree studies can request to publicly defend a thesis, or any other alternative work, without enrolling in the cycle of studies or choosing a supervisor. It is the decision of the respective university’s scientific body to accept or not, after analysing the applicant’s curriculum vitae and the relevance of the thesis.

Status of doctoral students/candidates

Doctoral degree students have no specific status.

Supervision arrangements

The process of choosing a supervisor(s), the conditions necessary for co-supervision and the rules applicable to the supervision are set by the relevant HEI bodies, as part of its scientific and pedagogical autonomy.


As part of their social responsibilities, as stipulated in the legal framework governing their operation, HEIs should support their graduates’ entry into working life, collecting and disseminating information on their potential career paths.

Every year, HEIs draft and publish a report which details, amongst other aspects, the employability of their graduates. Graduate integration into the labour market is one of the parameters of the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education quality assessment process.


The rules regarding the public defence of thesis or other work and the award of a final grade are regulated by HEIs as part of their pedagogic autonomy.

As a parameter of quality assessment of study cycles, assessment processes are presented to the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education for accreditation.


The Doctoral degree is awarded to those who have successfully defended their thesis in public, or a compilation of a relevant and coherent ensemble of research, or those who have submitted an innovative work or several innovative works in the field of the arts.

The Doctoral degree contains a final classification according to the terms established by the applicable regulations.

The qualification is awarded by the panel assessing the public defence, taking into consideration the classifications obtained in the curricular units of the Doctorate programme, when relevant, and the merit of the thesis or other work analysed during its public defence.

The degree award is registered by the relevant HEI body, and the holder of the degree certified.

A diploma can also be awarded for the conclusion of the Doctorate course, provided it is no lower than 30 credits.

The award of the diploma is issued alongside a bilingual diploma supplement in Portuguese and English.

Organisational variation

Some HEIs teach some of their courses via e-learning and b-learning. There is a university designed specifically for this in public higher education called Universidade Aberta (Open University).