Employability and Underemployment for Higher Education in Portugal

In Portugal, about 15% of the people with a degree are unemployed, and a larger proportion are underemployed. In 2008, the number of degree owners registered in the national network of job centers reached 60,000 (a registered graduate unemployment rate of nearly 8%).

After students graduate from a higher education institution, factors like the field of studies, the grade point average and the prestige of the teaching institution, are relatively important for getting a job. But most important is the current employment market.

Due to these factors, higher education courses with a higher employability rate include medicine (there is a very high demand for medical doctors across the whole country), some classic engineering specializations, and computer sciences.

Low employability is found among teaching, humanities and some social sciences fields of study, like history, geography, linguistics, philosophy, sociology; or to a lesser degree among the exact sciences and natural sciences, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology or geology, when these courses are oriented towards a teaching career instead of a more technical or scientific research career.

Despite their generally high reputation, economics, law and architecture degrees, even from some of the most selective and prestigious schools, have had an increasingly low employability rate due to an excessive number of new graduates each year.

There are courses which used to have high or very high employability rates (at least during the 1990s) and currently are among the most precarious in terms of employment for new graduates. These include business administration, management, nursing and some health technician courses. The reduction of (a traditionally high) State expenditure allocated to job creation inside the public sector of the Portuguese economy since 2002-2003, in addition to the boom of the number of places offered to new students in those fields by an increasing number of private and public teaching institutions, disrupted supply and demand equilibrium.

Higher wages and better job conditions are usually offered by companies to the best fresh graduates of a number of highly reputed universities. Most Portuguese civil servants usually have better-than-average pay and benefits regardless of their personal educational quality.

An article was published by the Expresso dated 2004 which listed the most desirable graduates of universities and polytechnics by Portuguese companies in the fields of engineering, structural engineering, marketing, management, economics and finance. This non-scientific report used a survey made by some human resources recruiting firms, which means that the population surveyed comprised only the candidates who were seeking a job through those recruiting firms, and excluded the highly qualified candidates who were recruited directly by the companies, by other important recruiting firms, or were recruited by headhunters before graduation. Additionally, some graduates are recruited from local higher learning institutions through partnerships with local companies or other institutions, bypassing full and open competition.

World Bank research on human capital flight by country, reported in 2005 a rate of 20% of Portuguese graduates leaving the country for working abroad, one of the largest rates for countries with over 5 million inhabitants.

Underemployment among fresh and senior graduates has increased since the early 1990s. Among the degree owners with the highest rates of underemployment are those who earned degrees in teaching, psychology, philosophy, economics, business administration, management, technical accounting, sociology, short-cycle engineering (technical engineering), some non-traditional engineerings, law, journalism, languages, history, and related fields of study. Several thousand people in this situation, have part-time or full-time occupations in a range of unspecialized jobs for unskilled or marginally skilled workers.