Portugal’s blurred binary line needs redrafting

EUA advises greater coordination for ‘confused’ system

February 28, 2013

Improved coordination between Portugal’s universities and polytechnics is needed to improve the country’s higher education system, a study advises.

A report by the European University Association, titled Portuguese Higher Education: A View from the Outside, highlights the country’s “confused” binary system of higher and vocational education providers as a key concern.

The report, which was requested by the Portuguese Rectors’ Conference, explains how the expansion of the country’s academy has been “rapid” and “ad hoc” since the Carnation Revolution of 1974 - “driven in many instances by local political considerations and uninformed by national strategy”.

During this time, some universities have partially merged with polytechnics to offer technical courses, while some polytechnics have offered highly advanced qualifications equivalent to some university courses.

There are also concerns that polytechnics are underfunded in comparison with universities.

“Portugal cannot be said to have a functional binary system, transparent in its dual mission, and attuned to individual and collective need,” says the report, which was published on 19 February.

“Academic employment statutes, funding differentials, contrasting degrees of research…and disparity of esteem - all these operate to keep the binary distinction alive without clearly specifying its content.”

The report recommends that polytechnics be given their own funding council, adding that overall higher education funding levels should rise. It also calls on the government to encourage the provision of short-term training courses at polytechnics, which could be used as pathways to degrees.

Such measures may help to reverse a national trend for falling student numbers by widening post-secondary participation and expanding lifelong learning.

The report also backs the continuing rationalisation of courses provided by Portuguese universities (which fell from about 5,200 in 2008 to 3,600 in 2010) to avoid duplication of provision.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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