Criticism of Education in Portugal

Education has been a subject of controversy in Portugal due to a number of erratic policies and the state of flux it has experienced by several long periods, particularly between the carnation revolution coup of 1974 to the Bologna process of 2007.

There has been also concerns related to the large dropout rates (mostly in the secondary and higher education systems), and the high multi generational functional illiteracy (48% functional illiterates in Portugal, among the adult population; all over U.S.A. 30 million (14% of adults) are functionally illiterate) and illiteracy rates (7.5% = ~ 800,000 illiterates) - a quite mediocre statistical record when compared with other developed countries of Europe, North America and Eastern Asia.

The failure of many private universities and other higher education institutions in providing higher education to students due to generalized lack of quality and rigour has also been a major problem - for several years those institutions were awarding degrees to thousands of people who were spread into the economically active population. Some higher education institutions, in particular from the private and polytechnic sector, have been regarded as true diploma mills. In the following decades after their creation in the 1970s and 1980s, the polytechnic institutions didn't assume their specific role as tertiary education vocational schools, which were created to award practical diplomas in more technical or basic fields.

Non-university intermediate professionals and skilled workers for the industry, agriculture, commerce and other services where needed. As more new public university institutions were founded or expanded, polytechnics didn't feel comfortable with their subaltern status in the Portuguese higher education system and a desire to be upgraded into university-like institutions grew among the polytechnic institutions' administrations. This desire of emancipation and evolution from polytechnic status to university status, was not followed by better qualified teaching staff, better facilities for teaching or researching, or by a stronger curricula with a more selective admission criteria, comparable with those enforced by almost all public university institutions. Criteria ambiguity and the general lower standards in polytechnic higher education and admission, were fiercely criticised by education personalities like university rectors, regarding issues like the lack of admission exams in mathematics for polytechnic engineering applicants, and the proliferation of administration and management courses everywhere, many without a proper curriculum in mathematics, statistics and economics-related disciplines.

According to studies and reports, in the 1990s and 2000s, a fast growth and proliferation of private higher education and state-run polytechnical institutions with lower educational standards and ambiguous academic integrity, was responsible for unnecessary and uneconomic allocation of resources with no adequate quality output in terms of both new highly qualified graduates and research.

In March 2008, a mega-protest hit many Portuguese cities along the country, joining over 85,000 basic and secondary school teachers from all the country in the capital city of Lisbon (March 8), criticizing the Portuguese Minister of Education Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues (XVII Governo Constitucional headed by PM José Sócrates) and her new policies, including a new system of teacher's evaluation.

In addition, the XVII Governo Constitucional (the government headed by PM José Sócrates), created a policy of certification and equivalence of qualifications for adult people with low levels of formal education who want a 4th, 6th, 9th or 12th grade equivalence without returning to school (for example, through this process, called Novas Oportunidades,adults (18 years old and older) with the 9th grade might be granted an equivalence to the 12th grade after a process ranging from a part-time 3-month programme or a 1-day per week 8-month programme; those who have less than 9th grade have a similar programme to get the 9th grade certification and can then apply to the 12th grade programme). The curricula do not include any classical high school discipline or a traditional examination process. These diplomas are awarded based on vaguely construed life experience. Some critics alleged this policy was an effort to make up the poor national statistical indicators on education, with little impact on the quality of the work force's qualification of Portugal in the European Union context.