Porto (Wikimedia)Since 2005, Portugal has undertaken an in-depth reform of its initial vocational education and training system.

They have a large-scale task on their hands: quickly raising the level of qualification of the Portuguese. The country is currently running behind in this field. The number of years spent in school among the population of working age is one of the lowest in Europe. In 2001, over 62% of 25 to 64 year-olds had only had 6 years of schooling or less. This situation has an impact on the growth prospects of the country and its situation in the face of international competition.

The main areas targeted by the reform:

  • Extension of compulsory schooling until the age of 18.
  • Minimum qualification threshold: the 12th year of schooling. This means pupils enter the labour market with a recognised level of vocational training.
  • A double academic and vocational certificate is awarded for initial education and training.
  • Greater horizontal mobility between the various training pathways.


The Portuguese education system – 2014


Portuguese system (© Onisep / Elise Veteau)




The vocational pathway in Portugal


Secondary education

At the age of 15, following the basic education diploma (Diploma de Ensino Básico), pupils start their 2nd cycle. They can choose between 4 pathways:

  • the mainstream pathway focusing on access to higher education,
  • the artistic pathway,
  • the technological pathway,
  • the vocational pathway, focusing on preparation for working life, but also offering opportunities for gaining access to higher education. It leads to a professional qualification.

Post-secondary education from 18 years of age: courses specialising in technology (Cursos de Especialização Tecnológica = CET) prepare students to practise a profession. They combine theory and training in a work situation. A diploma specialising in technology validates the CET.


Higher education

Higher education includes university education and polytechnic education (higher level technical education). Polytechnic education leads to a Bachelor’s degree (licenciatura) and to a Master’s degree (mestrado).


Key figures

  • In 2008, 35.4% of 18 to 24 year-olds had left school without going beyond the 1st secondary cycle or following any training. In 2012, this figure stood at 20.8%. (Eurostat – 2013)
  • Between 2000 and 2007, the rate for obtaining a diploma in tertiary education rose from 23.2 to 42.6%(OECD – 2010)
  • Between 2006 and 2007, the rate for students accessing tertiary education rose from 53 to 64%.  (OECD – 2010)

Last update : 16/07/2014