Higher education

Universities in Portugal

Higher education (non-compulsory) is made up of two main systems: university and polytechnic institutions. At university you can study more theoretical and research based subjects such as Law, Mathematics, Medicine etc. Polytechnics provide more vocational courses such as Nursing, Accounting and Business, for example.

Higher education (Ensino Superior) is now taught at a number of universities (universidades), polytechnic universities (Institutos politécnicos), and private universities.

Tuition fees for private universities are considerably greater than the tuition fees of public universities and polytechnics. Fees change regularly so it is advisable to consult the Ministry of Technology, Science and Higher education or the website  for general inquiries about higher education.

University admissions

Admission into state-run universities is granted to anyone that has a certificate of secondary education (Diploma de Ensino Secundario) and has passed the entry exams. People who did not complete their secondary education can still enter state universities via an extraordinary exam process.

Normal admission process: Students are made to sit entrance exams which test their knowledge of the subjects they studied at secondary school. Entrance exam results are combined with secondary school exam marks to give a final grade.

Students choose six universities they would like to attend, in order of preference. In addition to passing these exams, students must meet certain demands of the chosen course and university to be admitted. Depending on the outcome of the entrance exams, students will be admitted to one of their university choices.

Some polytechnic universities, in addition to the entrance exams, require previous work experience in the area of study, i.e. nursing.

Extraordinary exam process: Students who did not manage to complete their secondary education can still enter higher education via an extraordinary exam process (Exame Extraordinário de Avaliação de Capacidade para Acesso ao Ensino Superior). This process is only accessible for people aged 23 and over.

Applicants will have to sit a general Portuguese exam and attend an interview which will evaluate the applicant's motivation and CV. Depending on the course and university applied for, you may have to pass written and oral entrance exams.

Information on how to apply for university and registration for entry exams can be found on the Direcção-Geral do Ensino Superior website .

Foreign students admission

Foreign students must have a certificate to prove they have completed secondary education. This certificate should value the same as the Portuguese secondary education diploma (Diploma de Ensino Secundario). This certificate should be stamped by the Portuguese embassy or consulate in your home country.

Foreign students will also have to pass an entrance examination organised by the chosen university. They are also required to have the necessary visa and health certificate.

Foreign students are required to have a good level of Portuguese. Some universities arrange language courses.

Assessment and grading

Due to EU-standardization, undergraduate courses (licenciatura) that lasted five to six years have been adapted to a new three year system.

Postgraduate courses (pós-graduações) last for nine months, masters (mestrados) last for two years. PhDs (doutoramentos) last for a minimum of three years.

Assessment at university level is carried out via written/oral examinations and coursework. A thesis or dissertation needs to be written at the end of each degree. Students will present their thesis topic in front of a board of examiners. The examiners will then question the student on the topic of their work. The final mark will be given to the student at the end of the discussion.

Marks are awarded on a scale of 0 – 20. In order to pass, you must achieve 10 or above.

Erasmus in Portugal

EU nationals who wish to complete part of their studies at a Portuguese university may be interested in the Erasmus programme, which is funded by the European Commission. Students do not pay tuition fees at their host university and they receive grants that cover at least part of the cost of living.

Most public universities in Portugal participate in the Erasmus programme. Coimbra, Lisbon and Porto are in highest demand but they also offer a lot of places.

For information on how to apply you should contact your Erasmus representative at your university or the European Commission. Erasmus has become increasingly popular over the past few years and competition for places is getting bigger and bigger.

Other mobility programmes in Portugal

Portugal's universities not only participate in the Erasmus programme. Exchanges have been set up to allow Portuguese students to study abroad and for foreign students to study in Portugal. Some of these programmes are Erasmus Mundus , Jean Monnet , Edulink , European Union- United States Atlantis Programme  and IIC . Students should ask their university for information on which mobility programmes they are linked with.


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