University and Polytechnic in Portugal

Portugal has two main systems of higher education:

The university system, which is the oldest, has its origins in the 13th century. It is composed of thirteen public universities, one public university institute, a public open university, and several private universities and university institutes.

The polytechnic system, that began offering higher education in the 1980s after the former industrial and commercial schools were converted into engineering and administration higher education schools (so its origins could be traced back to some earlier vocational education schools of the 19th century). It is composed of fifteen state-run polytechnic institutes, public and private non-integrated polytechnic institutions, and other similar institutions.

The state-run universities (Universidades) are governed by a Rector, and are groupings of faculties, and university institutes, departments or schools. They have been created mostly in the most populated and industrialized areas near the coast (although strategically balanced with three establishments opened after 1970 in the northern, central and southern interior regions), being established in the main cities. Two of these universities are located in the Azores and Madeira Islands, and the remaining eleven in Continental Portugal. Three of them are located in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal (four considering also the Lisbon University Institute ISCTE, a large public university institute). Public universities have full autonomy in the creation and delivery of degree programmes, which are to be registered at DGES - Direcção-Geral do Ensino Superior (State Agency for Higher Education). Universities are regulated by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, and are represented as a whole by the CRUP - Conselho de Reitores das Universidades Portuguesas.

The state-run polytechnic institutes (Institutos Politécnicos) are governed by a President, and are groupings of superior schools (escolas superiores) and institutes, in major cities these also include superior institutes (institutos superiores). They have been created across the country after 1980. The fast expansion of the polytechnic institutes, whose entrance and teaching requirements before the mid-2000s were in general less demanding than the universities' criteria, was an administrative attempt to reduce the elevated rate of pre-higher education abandon and to increase the number of (under)graduates per one million inhabitants in Portugal which were dramatically below the European average (this does not imply that its students haven't become competent professionals). For the Portuguese State it was also considerably faster and cheaper to build the Institutos Politécnicos (Polytechnic Institutes) in almost all district capitals across the country, than build a few new universities - in average, state-funding per student is about 60% higher for university students than for polytechnic students; however, even university students' average funding per capita is about 60% lower in Portugal than in Scandinavia or North America. The number of doctorate-level teaching staff in the universities has been much larger than polytechnic's - only after the 2006 Bologna Process, polytechnics reached a 10% share of doctorate-level teachers, while universities had always been home to a teaching staff with over 40% of doctorates. Since the mid-2000s, after many reforms, upgrades and changes, including the Bologna process, the polytechnic institutes have become de facto technical universities with little formal difference between them and the classic full chartered universities (polytechnics can't award doctorate degrees and, in general, they are not true research institutions, with few exceptions). The creation of degree programmes by public polytechnics require their prior approval from Government, through DGES - Direccção Geral do Ensino Superior (State Agency for Higher Education). Polytechnics are regulated by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, and are represented as a whole by the CCISP - Conselho Coordenador dos Institutos Superiores Politécnicos Portugueses.

The creation of private institutions and delivery of degree programmes by them, require prior approval from Government, through DGES - Direccção Geral do Ensino Superior, after assessment by experts teams, which are nominated by the Government.

This system has resulted in increasing manifestations of concern from polytechnic and, above all, private institutions, arguing against discretionary attitudes and unnecessary bureaucracy. Government replies defend the necessity of maintaining selective mechanisms to secure a minimum level of institution quality, rationalize the whole system, and protect educational standards. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was anyway a fast growth and proliferation of private higher education and state-run polytechnical institutions with lower educational standards and ambiguous academic integrity.

Admission to public university programmes are often more demanding and selective than to their equivalent in public polytechnic and private institutions. Many specific university institutions and degrees are also regarded as more prestigious and academically robust than their peers from the polytechnic system or from certain less notable university institutions.