Private vs. Public

Private Basic and Secondary schools and also private higher education institutions do exist in Portugal and are sometimes elite institutions (like the Universidade Católica Portuguesa in Lisbon and Porto, or some private primary, basic and secondary schools, mainly located in the biggest cities), existing among them many religious or speciality institutions. Many of the best ranked secondary schools in the country are private schools, as well as some of the worst ranked secondary schools. This secondary schools ranking has been released every year in Portugal, and is based on the student's average grades in the National Examinations which are used for higher education admission.

Among the best ranked public and private secondary schools are those of Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra. Schools from littoral areas are better ranked than schools from interior and less populated regions. The worst gap between internal school marks by course and the national examination marks is seen among private schools, with higher grades attributed by the school to students who perform poorly in the national examinations.

Some Portuguese employers and families are of the opinion that the existence of private education institutions, where accessibility is based primarily on ability to pay, is not as fair as the public system and could gloom the meritocracy concept, leading to easier entrance criteria and lower teaching standards. Some private institutions are known for making it easy for students to enter and also to get higher grades - as long as they pay. Others claim that the private systems could prevent a significant portion of Portugal's population from being able to attend these schools that is also unfair. The quotas imposed on public education institutions to create room for students from former Portuguese colonies, who get automatically a place in those institutions also creates a big problem in terms of fairness, as some of these students can enter with very low grades excluding a portion of the Portuguese born students from studying in the public institutions and first choice courses they want.

On the other side there are some people who prefer to attend private institutions because they don't trust in the public educational infrastructure they have near their residential area. This could be related with overcrowded classes, bad reputation, criminality levels, incidence of ethnic minorities generally considered problematic, lack of quality teaching staff or bad infrastructures in that specific institution.

Without large endowments like those received, for example, by many of the US private universities and colleges, and with little tradition of excellence in the sector, the private higher education institutions of Portugal, with a few exceptions, do not have either the financial support or the academic profile to reach the highest teaching and research standards of the major Portuguese public universities. In addition, a lack of collaboration between the most prominent private sector enterprises and the private universities is also restrictive, and represents another comparative disadvantage between public and private higher education institutions.

Traditionally, public system's institutions are regarded in general as having higher quality and accountability, but private institutions have developed quickly after the 25 de Abril revolution of 1974, and some have today a great reputation. There are both public and private institutions considered of the highest standard and quality. However, a large majority of Portuguese students attend public schools, universities and colleges because it is considerably less expensive than the private ones, the public system has a much older implantation, and for the other side it covers well the entire territory. There are also some students who simply desire and can afford to attend an elite private institution, even if they have availability to attend one of the largest or most renowned public institutions.
A number of scandals and affairs involving private higher education institutions (Universidade Moderna (1998), Universidade Independente (2007) and Universidade Internacional (2009), among others), and a general perception of many of those institutions as having a tendentially relaxed teaching style with less rigorous criteria, have contributed to their poor reputation which originated a state-run inspection of private higher education institutions in 2007.