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.

To encourage further progress, national authorities are reinforcing measures such as creating centres specialised in high-quality career guidance for young people and adults and expanding the apprenticeship offer. Moreover, the government initiated a reform of the teachers’ initial training system to improve the quality of teaching staff.

Entrepreneurship in education is also supported through the Strategic Programme for Entrepreneurship and Innovation created in 2011. Furthermore, the new Government has also announced a set of new measures to increase the attractiveness of higher education and pick up speed towards the Europe 2020 national target of 40%. The polytechnic institutes were at the centre of the strategy to modernise higher education over the past mandate and have finally experienced an upturn in enrolment since 2015.


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

  • While he participated in the 7th Congress of National Association of Professional Schools in 2017, President Marcelo Rebelo De Soussa pointed out data on the significant increase in VET participation, from 15.5% between 2001 and 2015. (CEDEFOP – 2017)
  • At 53.6% (41.6% in the EU) Portugal scores higher than the EU in the percentage of innovative enterprises with supportive training practices, and also in the percentage of workers with skills matched to their duties (75.7% compared with 57.3% in the EU). (OCDE – 2014)

Last update : 19/03/2018