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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Types of higher education institutions


7.Higher education

7.1Types of higher education institutions

Last update: 29 March 2024

The Portuguese higher education system is organised as a binary system that consists of the university and the polytechnic systems.

University education is more geared towards scientific training, combining efforts and skills of teaching and research units and aims to guarantee a solid cultural and scientific preparation and to give technical training that allows students to exercise all kinds of cultural and professional activities, promoting the development of critical analysis, as well as conception and innovation skills.

University education is taught at universities, university institutes, and other institutions within thi area.

Polytechnic education focusses on vocational and advanced technical training, concentrating on applied research and development. It is geared towards understanding and solving problems while providing a solid technical and cultural training at a high level. It also develops students’ ability to innovate and critically analyse, teaching theoretical and practical scientific knowledge, and their vocational applications.

Polytechnic education is taught at polytechnic institutes, and other institutions within polytechnic education. Despite the Portuguese higher education system’s binary character, polytechnic institutions can be integrated into universities without changing their institutional profile.

The Portuguese higher education system includes public higher education, made up of institutions belonging to the state and the foundations it has instituted, as well as private higher education, consisting of institutions belonging to private entities and cooperatives.

Higher education institutions are governed by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education. The military and police higher education institutions are overseen by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education and the Ministry of National Defence and the Ministry of Internal Administration (Home Office) respectively. In some respects, special systems apply.

The Portuguese higher education system boasts an institution that is focussed on distance learning (e-learning) - Universidade Aberta (Open University).

Established by the Holy See on 13 October 1967 and recognised by the Portuguese State on 15 July 1971, the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, one of various private higher education institutions, operates according to Portuguese law.

Higher education institutions by type, 2021/2022

Mainland Azores Madeira
Type of HEI Total Norte Centro Greater Lisbon Alentejo Algarve
  288 272 95 54 91 20 12 8
Universities 127 119 38 18 52 5 6 4
Polytechnic 161 153 57 36 39 15 6 4

Source: DGEEC. Estatísticas da Educação

N.B.: Higher education establishment types according to Law No. 62/2007, 10 September.