History of the Polytechnic Subsector in Portugal

Portuguese learning institutions called "polytechnics" or "industrial and commercial institutes" were established in various periods with very different roles and objectives. They were designations for institutions ranging from university or polytechnic institutes to technical and vocational institutes.

The Polytechnic Schools at Lisbon and Porto:
The 19th century - the industrialization era - created the need for new education programs in the country, the "industrial studies". In 1837, the Escola Politécnica (Polytechnic School) in Lisbon and the Academia Politécnica (Polytechnic Academy) in Porto were opened. They were university higher learning institutions conferring academic degrees, fully focused on the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Apart from sharing the name, they were not related to the polytechnic subsystem which has existed in Portugal since the 1970s, or to any current institution belonging to it.

The label and legal statute of University had been reserved for exclusive use by the University of Coimbra, but with the Republican revolution in 1911, two new universities were founded. The Escola Politécnica and Academia Politécnica were the core from which the sciences and engineering faculties, respectively, of the new universities of Lisbon and Porto emerged.

The Industrial Institutes at Lisbon and Porto:
The Prime Minister of the Kingdom, Fontes Pereira de Melo, was not satisfied with the excessive academism of both schools (Escola Politécnica (Polytechnic School) in Lisbon and the Academia Politécnica (Polytechnic Academy)), as he considered the institutions excessively theoretical for industrial labour force needs, as both were modelled on the only Portuguese university - the ancient University of Coimbra. Thus, in 1852, the minister created the Instituto Industrial de Lisboa (Lisbon Industrial Institute) which awarded higher education degrees between 1898 and 1911, and the Escola Industrial do Porto (Porto Industrial School), which a decade later was also declared an Institute and awarded higher education degrees between 1905 and 1918. The Instituto Industrial de Lisboa gave birth to the IST in 1911, which with other institutions formed the Technical University of Lisbon in 1930.

The Industrial and Commercial Institutes and Schools:
The Industrial Superior Studies were cut in 1918 by the minister Azevedo Neves reforms, as the country suffered many social and political convulsions, and the creation in 1911 of the new universities in Lisbon and Porto covered the highest educational needs of the country at the time. Between 1918 and 1974 (until the approval of decree Decreto-Lei 830/74 of 31 December 1974), the Industrial and Commercial Institutes in Porto and Lisbon, plus new ones created in Coimbra (1965) and Aveiro, provided vocational and technical education, instead of higher education.

Modern-day polytechnic sub sector development:
The idea of creating a polytechnic sector in Portugal can be traced back to the OECD's Mediterranean Regional Project, MRP, of 1959. This project aimed at assessing future needs for skilled labour in five Mediterranean countries (Italy, Greece, Spain, Yugoslavia and Portugal) and had a lasting impact in terms of the political and social perception of education, with significant effects on the educational structure of the participating countries. These changes included the expansion of the higher education network by creating new university-level institutions, while a binary system was initiated through the establishment of polytechnic institutes and several colleges of teacher training (Parliament Act 5/73 of 25 July). After 1974 the existing polytechnics were transformed into University Institutes under the allegation that they should not remain "second class" institutions. It was in this context that successive governments established contact with the World Bank and, from 1978 to 1984, about nineteen different missions visited Portugal. A final statement was based on two main principles:

A basic emphasis on an economic approach to higher education to improve efficiency by attaining objectives at the lowest possible cost, e.g. containing long term university degrees while promoting shorter technical degrees, shorter teacher training degrees, higher student/staff ratios, etc.

A perspective of a world division of labour that led defining country specific roles.

Although the final report welcomed the expansion of higher education, correcting the prior situation of unequal and limited access, the World Bank did not favour further expansion: "...the enrolment represents 8% of the 18-22 age group and could be considered adequate. ...In view of the rapidly increased university enrolments, which represent an uneconomical drain in the economy...the Bank recommends a gradual introduction of quantitative restraints" (World Bank, 1977 Progress report). At the same time, the World Bank urged the Portuguese authorities to restrain enrolment quotas so as to make "better use" and rationalise the supply of higher education and improve the management of the system, namely in terms of accountability, coordination, and efficiency. Future expansions should be planned, taking into account manpower needs, and demographic and enrolment trends. Subsequently, the World Bank produced two "Staff Appraisal Reports", which provided insights about the negotiations between the Bank's Mission and the Portuguese government, and further confirmed the Bank's priorities. In the first Report of Assessment (No. 1807-PO, 1978), the Bank insisted on three criteria: balancing the supply of higher education graduates with the economic needs of the country, developing a persistent and consistent policy towards vocational education, and upgrading teacher training programs. The Bank suggested that Portugal needed not only to train high level technicians but also middle level personnel (on a yearly basis: 1400 technicians with short cycle post-secondary education, 500 agricultural technicians and 6000 middle level managers). Subsequently, the government passed Decree-Law 397/77 of 17 September, which established a numerus clausus for every university study programme and eliminated the threat to the new short vocational education programs - that without reducing the supply of engineering jobs, graduates of the technician training institutes would find employment too scarce. The World Bank was critical of the erratic policies toward the existing technical institutes, and of the excessive enrolment in university engineering programs and the lax approach on managing vacancy quotas, and raised the issue of diseconomies of scale in the system, suggesting that there were too many institutions with small dimensions. The government replied to the Bank's demands with Decree-Law 513-T/79, which established a network of polytechnic institutes, including Higher Schools of Education. The main objectives of Polytechnic education were: to provide education with an applied and technical emphasis and strong vocational orientation, and for training intermediate-level technicians for industries, service companies and educational units (first cycle of basic education).

During the 1970s and 1980s, a network of polytechnic institutes replaced short-cycle technical training with polytechnic higher education. This network include the Higher Schools of Education (Escolas Superiores de Educação) They were opened in many cities as confederations of Escolas Superiores and Institutos Superiores providing short-cycle bacharelato degrees (in education, music, engineering, management, agriculture, and other areas), many of which lacked a solid and realistic strategy. Between 1979 and 1986, a few were almost immediately upgraded to create new universities, like the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, the University of Beira Interior, or the University of the Algarve. Some of those first polytechnics were transformed into University Institutes so that they would not remain "second class" institutions, and a few years later were upgraded to full chartered universities. The polytechnic institutes, heirs of a large network of reputable but discontinued intermediate schools with traditions in technical and vocational education, which also incorporated other older institutions formerly known as industrial institutes (see Instituto Industrial de Lisboa, Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa and Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto), were originally created to produce skilled intermediate technicians in specific areas. The short-cycle polytechnical degrees were mainly aimed at training of intermediate technicians for industry and commerce but also for basic health and education, instead of academicians (like biologists, chemists, economists, geographers, historians, lawyers, mathematicians, philosophers, physicians, physicists, et al.), engineers, lecturers, researchers and scientists that were already produced by Portuguese universities. In 1974, the Industrial and Commercial Institutes of vocational education were transformed into higher learning Superior Institutes of Engineering and Accounting and Administration and initially integrated in the university subsector; although originally exclusively focused on providing short-cycle degrees, the need for a stronger polytechnic sector, and these schools' history and purpose, led them to be integrated in the polytechnic subsector in the late 1980s (Administrative Rule 389/88 of 25 October 1988 - Decreto-Lei n.º 389/88, de 25 de Outubro). However, in the following decades 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.

After its creation in the late 1970s, polytechnic institutions used to offer a 3-year course (the engineering superior institutes created in 1974, awarded 4-year bacharelato degrees before have been integrated into the polytechnic sector in 1988), awarding a bacharelato degree (lower than a bachelor's degree) instead of a university licenciatura (licentiate) degree which was four to six years. The Portuguese licenciatura was a longer undergraduate degree, which included a licensure for working in a particular profession and an accreditation by the respective professional orders - ordens profissionais. The licenciatura diploma was also required for those applicants who wished to undertake masters and doctorate programs.

The publication of Administrative Rule 645/88 of 21 September 1988 authorised polytechnic schools to teach two-year courses of specialised higher education (CESE - Curso de Estudos Superiores Especializados) within the fields already taught at the school. This system guaranteed a prominent independence between the two levels (bachelor's and CESE) since it was not compulsory to maintain a coherence of subjects. The diploma of specialised higher education (DESE - Diploma de Estudos Superiores Especializados) thus emerged much more as a post-graduate diploma than a complementary education to the bachelor student who wanted a licentiate degree. Changing the structure of the CESE into two-stage degrees obtained in two levels known as licenciatura bietápica (bachelor's and licentiate, in which access to the second level is granted immediately after completing the first), as consigned in Administrative Rule 413A/98 of 17 July 1998, removed the formal differences between the university licenciatura and the new two-stage polytechnic licenciatura (licenciatura bietápica).

By the government decree of July 1998 the polytechnics started to offer a two-stage curriculum (the first three years conferring a bacharelato degree, the following two years a licenciatura bietápica degree); both are undergraduate degrees, but the universities were offering a single licentiate degree (licenciatura) of four to five years. This was changed with the Bologna process with a new system of three years for a bachelor's degree (licenciatura). Two additional years grant a master's degree (mestrado) which is conferred by the polytechnic institute under protocols with a partner university or alone when the polytechnic institution is in full compliance with the necessary requirements (proper research activity, doctoral teaching staff, and budget). The doctoral degree (doutoramento) is conferred only by the universities, as it always has been. By the time of the implementation of the Bologna Process (2006) in Portuguese higher education, 9.5% of the state-run polytechnic teaching staff had a doctorate degree in 2005 - 15% in 2007 after the Bologna Process.

The Lisbon Superior Institute of Engineering (ISEL, one of the colleges resulting from the former Lisbon Institute of Industry, today part of the Polytechnical Institute of Lisbon), with the support of the University of Lisbon (UL), approved in 2005 the express will to reintegrate the university subsector as part of the University of Lisbon which do not have a Faculty of Engineering and through the assimilation and reorganization of ISEL could transform that polytechnic engineering school to a new university engineering school inside UL. For ISEL itself, this change could represent an emancipation from the limited polytechnic system, which has been regarded as a minor higher education subsystem in Portugal (although by the mid-2000s with many upgrades and the Bologna process, the formal differences are less notorious), due to limitations that were imposed by State Education Laws on polytechnics (such as the professor's career, the professor's wages, the State funds spending and the teaching competences of the polytechnics). The Porto Superior Institute of Engineering (ISEP) was never merged into the University of Porto (or one of its predecessor schools, the Polytechnic Academy). The original proposal was dropped, partially because the University of Porto has owned its own engineering school since 1911 - the Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto, known as Faculdade de Engenharia since 1926, unlike the University of Lisbon.

Nursing and health technologies technicians (technicians in clinical analysis, radiology, audiology, nuclear medicine and other technical fields in health) are also polytechnic higher education courses offered by nursing schools and schools of health technologies which are grouped into polytechnic institutes, and, in some cases, into universities (remaining in each of those situations as autonomous schools belonging to the polytechnic subsector). The nursing schools were legally defined as comparable to polytechnic institutions in 1988 (Administrative Rule 480/88 of 23 December 1988 - Decreto Lei n.º 480/88, de 23 de Dezembro), and started to provide higher education degrees in nursing in 1990 (Rule 821/89 of 15 September 1990 - Portaria n.º 821/89, de 15 de Setembro). Before 1990 nursing schools were not academic-degree-conferring institutions, and did not belong to the higher educational system. In 1995 they were fully integrated into the polytechnic subsystem (Administrative Rule 205/95 of 5 August 1995 - Decreto Lei n.º 205/95, de 5 de Agosto), and in 1999 the new courses in nursing were approved, conferring a licenciatura diploma (Administrative Rule 353/99 of 8 September 1999 - Decreto Lei n.º 353/99, de 8 de Setembro).

Between 1918 and 1974, some older schools that are today integrated into the polytechnic subsector were industrial and commercial schools of vocational education, as well as intermediate schools for primary-education-teacher training, schools of agriculture, or nursing schools. Current establishments for polytechnic studies in engineering such as the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa, Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Coimbra, the nursing schools, and the current polytechnic schools of education (Escolas Superiores de Educação) during that period had no relation with higher education, and were known by other names. Admission to these schools was open to people with no complete secondary education, with universities reserved for secondary school graduates. For decades, these vocational schools of intermediate education (known as ensino médio) did not have the higher education status or credentials they have now. However, the majority of current polytechnical institutes was fully created in the 1980s and 1990s. It must be remembered that the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Lisboa and the Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto, both born from the earlier industrial institutes (Instituto Industrial), were higher education degree-conferring institutions in engineering during a short period before 1919, and were known by other institutional names in their long histories.

However, in the 1990s and 2000s, a fast growth and proliferation of 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. While across the world polytechnics have transformed themselves into full universities, in Portugal, with the lowest higher education levels in Europe, continues to segregate the sectors based on the world bank model of the 50's and 60's.

Metamorphoses of current and Former polytechnic institutes:
During the 1980s, the former Polytechnical Institute of Faro, in the Algarve region, southern Portugal, was incorporated into the University of the Algarve, but as a totally independent institution in terms of staff, curricula and competences, remaining a full public polytechnic institution within a larger and independent public university but completely separated (economies of differentiation maybe?). The former and short-lived Polytechnical Institute of Vila Real, in northern Portugal, was closed and then reformed, having been reorganized into a university in the 1980s - the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro. The University of Beira Interior in Covilhã was founded in 1979 after the closing of a former (also short-lived) polytechnic institute - the PIC - Polytechnic Institute of Covilhã (Instituto Politécnico da Covilhã) (1973-1979). A remarkable level of achievements and a successful political lobbying, allowed PIC in 1979 to be promoted by the Portuguese Ministry of Education to a higher institutional level, university institute. Seven years later, in 1986, the University Institute of Beira Interior was granted full university status, becoming the current University of Beira Interior